Outdoor Arts & the EU Referendum back to listing

The Future

It’s stating the obvious but in the light of the result of the EU Referendum, and whatever side of the debate you’re on, there is much concern and confusion about so many things. Of course, over the past week I’ve had many conversations about what Brexit might or might not mean for those of us working in the Outdoor Arts sector.

The clear message at the moment is simply that we know very little. As the party leadership battles play out, like a strange Punch and Judy show, everything feels unresolved. A new Prime Minister, a new Chancellor and, potentially, a new Culture Secretary will affect the whole arts world and lobbyists are already working to put cultural matters into the candidates’ thinking.

What I do believe is that the Outdoor Arts sector is in a strong position to demonstrate the ability of the arts to impact on society. Our work is naturally very public and we know from ISAN’s partnership with the Audience Agency that our work brings communities together and gives a sense of local pride; we have evidence of the wide age ranges, engagement levels and diversity of our audiences. In what feels like an increasingly divided country these factors are going to be ever-more important.

We must also take advantage of the broad geographical reach of the Outdoor Arts sector, our national and international network with its unique ability to be so mobile. Freed from the restraints of buildings and walls, we must continue to reach out to communities that may otherwise feel ignored, isolated or excluded. We must continue to be bold and brave in the content of our work; Outdoor Arts is a dialogue, not a monologue.

In terms of practical matters, ISAN will be keeping a careful eye on developments that will affect us directly and next week I will be attending the first Creative Industries Federation event to start addressing the detail of these matters. Change is unlikely to happen swiftly, but we will keep you informed on any restrictions on free movement around Europe, new visa regulations, European funding reductions and changes in the broader cultural, social and financial landscape.

I’ve also been attending the ‘What Next?’ meetings, which gather many different arts and cultural sectors together; it’s been good to be part of the discussion about a collective response to developments (there are ‘What Next? Chapters’ all over the country, if you’re interested in being part of that conversation).

At present, the major public funding bodies are saying very clearly that we should continue as normal, and, in theory, for now we can still apply for EU funding.

Some Outdoor Arts members have voiced concern that they are in a potentially vulnerable position performing on the streets in certain places – in the context of some of the incidents that have been reported post-Brexit.

It’s really worth remembering that there have been no occurrences involving Outdoor Arts performers, but if you are worried, I recommend that you talk frankly upfront with the festival or presenter and make sure that you are all confident that you will be working under the best possible circumstances so that performers, staff and audiences feel safe. I know that all producers will want the same thing.

Finally, these confusing times were certainly lightened for me by watching performances over the weekend at the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival. As I found myself smiling, clapping and feeling a little bit better about the world, I was reminded of our amazing ability to lift the spirit.

This is just one of our many functions and it is a pretty powerful one, so if you’re performing, volunteering, producing or watching over the weeks ahead, remember that some of the currencies we trade in are light, hope and happiness.

Angus MacKechnie, 1 July 2016

Executive Director, ISAN

Image: Tim Etchells: Will Be, neon sign 2010; courtesy of the artist.