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Welcome to the arts and society blog. The voices you’ll be hearing most from will come from the Arts and Society team of Jocelyn Cunningham (Director) and Georgina Chatfield (Senior Developer) but we also have an extended team that lead on various parts of our programme.

This first posting very appropriately is by Michaela Crimmin who was previously Head of Arts at the RSA, and curated Arts and Ecology. She is co-founder of Culture and Conflict, a new brokering agency developing networks of people across disciplines and sectors to build the role and recognition of cultural activity in conflict and post-conflict situations. 

Michaela is programming a key event in Peterborough this week and offers her reflections:

Reflection for too many of us comes fleetingly, often at the wrong moment, and tends to stay within our own heads. But for me, now, a pause as I look back to Arts & Ecology, a five-year programme I ran for the RSA from 2005 until last year. It is the week before a related event is presented by Citizen Power in Peterborough. Entitled 'Cross Pollination', this takes place next Wednesday 19 October. We have the rising star artist Andy Holden talking, together with the ingenious Marcus Coates. They will both bring, I know, everything that I value about art. With them Peter Holden, a remarkable ornithologist, who does a double act with his son demonstrating that connections reach from within families to the natural world with consummate ease, imagination and astuteness.

Despite the gamut of evidence, there are always too many people shrieking ‘Why Art?’ as soon as you take art beyond the confines of a gallery or museum as we do next week. Max Andrews (someone who both ‘gets’ art and the complexity and wonder and terror that is sometimes called ‘The Environment’) edited the book that was one of Arts & Ecology’s consummate successes and this is his riposte:

Whatever its mode of address, art always exhorts an infinite capacity and context for our critical acuity. And as we look to the future, it would seem that a keen aptitude for sensing what we really value is more invaluable than ever.

Arts & Ecology was all about value in its biggest sense of the word, with artists exploring its various meanings. It was about a network, about mutual support and about collaboration. These will be demonstrated afresh next week. The exchange of interests between different, shall we call them, disciplines, only serves to amplify that what is seen by an ornithologist is not always registered by a politician; that what is made visible by an artist, can be an entirely fresh perspective for that same ornithologist – and so it goes on. We know why we compartmentalise and ring fence and build barriers, but so must there be opportunities for exchange as are fostered variously by the mighty Wellcome Trust that runs awards expressly to encourage this; and the small but potent Wysing Arts Centre that particularly welcomes non arts people into its domain. There simply are not enough of these opportunities. Not in higher education, not in civic life, not in environment circles, not in the arts.

There is a talk available online delivered by dramatist and politician Vaclav Havel that I recommend reading. Havel, a poet and a politician, writes of both value and connections. In a modest way Arts & Ecology sought to amplify perspectives on diminishing natural resources and the conflict that often results, on fragility, but also continuously to reassert the joy of being genuinely related to the world around us in ways that will help to ensure it flourishes.


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