Our Clubs and Club Historians get talked about in Berlin and Bulgaria!
Ruth from www.clubhistorians.co.uk has recently been taking the message about our much loved clubs on the road in Europe. She was invited to give talks about club history and contributions to local communities and cultures at several events and venues in Berlin and in Bulgaria. All of these were arranged through the efforts of Ruth’s Bulgarian colleague, Petya Koleva, who runs a small but very active cultural agency- Inter-Cultura Consult. (www.inter-cultura.eu)
It’s clear that there is strong interest in other countries about our clubs and how they compare to other cultural institutions and activities elsewhere. We at Club Historians are keen to promote the cause of clubs in any way possible and continuing this work with Intercultura-Consult is definitely one way ahead.
What follows is a brief summary of the Berlin event.
‘For What it’s Worth… a Culture Evaluation Workshop’ June 12th-14th 2010
It was a very early start for the Bulgarian contingent of Inter-Cultura Consult attending the event in Berlin. We first had to get there, so, with bleary eyes we gathered not long after sunrise at Sofia airport for our Berlin bound flight. It was the first time for Ruth to meet colleagues from Inter-Cultura Consult. Over the coming days, they proved to be a good bunch of people, mostly with arts/culture backgrounds and good rapport was established. They were also a good source of support when England failed to defeat USA on the Saturday evening, but let’s not dwell on that!
The venue was the office and meeting space of a small arts and cultural organization called NGBK (New Society for Visual Arts) on Oranienstrasse, in the very multicultural district of Kreuzberg. It was part of a joint project called -ANIMATED Learning Partnership (2009-2011)- a capacity building and creativity project resulting from the cooperation between Intercultura Consult (Sofia), uqbar e.V. (Berlin), VIVO Foundation (Budapest). (http://animatedlearningpartnership.blogspot.com)
I was interested to see and hear how my own work on clubs in the UK would ‘fit’ into the fields of arts and cultural evaluation. At first glance, there might not seem to be much in common with the clubs, where people gather to have a drink, chat, play a game of snooker, darts or bingo, and museums and other places traditionally considered to be more about ‘high culture’ than popular culture.
But times they are a-changing all over and high culture/ popular culture are not so far apart as cultural activists and workers attempt to diversify what goes on in different venues for ever-changing audiences. Listening to the speakers helped me to make many links and to see my own work on clubs as even more relevant to arts and cultural policy.
Leonie Baumann of NGBK talked about how we can we measure the impact of cultural events such as exhibitions in art galleries and museums. Counting numbers is not enough, as it only offers quantitative measures and not those to do with the quality of the experience.
What about emotional impact, I thought? What about when people may be so moved by something they see or hear, so attached to a place, that it changes their behaviour or increases their sense of identification with a particular cultural group or class? I reflected on how many of people I have met and talked to in clubs are so fond of their clubs which are central to their daily life. This is hard to measure indeed. But not impossible and should certainly be taken into account when considering the future of clubs. Statistics and economic measurements alone underplay the quality of experiences and emotions.
In the UK, Leonie reminded us, there had been an emphasis on numbers which was due to some extent by the ‘league tables obsession’ of the former Labour government. We have a new government now so maybe, just maybe, things will change but I won’t hold my breath!
Dorothea Kolland, spoke about a project she was involved in the relatively socially deprived area of Neukoelln, Berlin. Artists to work there but these residencies were quite short lived. They took advantage of the cheap rents, did their projects, then moved on which made it difficult to evaluate the impact of their work on the local community.
She lamented the excessive amounts of bureaucratic measures which tell us little about the artwork involved. This increases the fear of venturing off the beaten path, into more adventurous work. Staying with the familiar and gaining funding is the safe option. Innovative work may not be highly evaluated at first because it is unknown: acceptance and even liking may come later and this needs to be taken into consideration.
My own reflections here was of how some clubs in the past used to hold art exhibitions, both of their own members work and also of other artists. Many clubs have good spaces for art exhibitions, including for interactive ones where anyone can get involved. Wouldn’t it be great if clubs were used once again for such community arts projects!
There were other input sessions by participants from various countries
Petya Koleva of Inter-Cultura Consult gave an informative presentation about how to do good funding applications. This is something we at Club Historians should take note of if we want to progress our own work which at the moment remains unfunded and done in our spare time, just like a lot of the work in the clubs is done on a voluntary basis.
Petya explained why she deliberately chose the term ‘valuation’ rather than the more commonly used term of evaluation. As cultural and arts workers, surely we are in this field of value and this should be uppermost? This certainly resonated with the participants and reinforced points made by the previous speakers.
Ruth Cherrington- Clubs and Implicit Cultural Policy
It was getting near the end of a long day but finally it was my turn, with my presentation on clubs rounding off things. I focussed on how they are part of implicit cultural policy.
I wasn’t sure how this topic would be greeted by participants who mostly worked in artistic interventions, museums, and other arts areas. I explained that my work wasn’t a ‘project’ as such but more ad hoc, unfunded, and personal. I then set out the key points about clubs and communities and why they matter. There was and still is a lot of ‘cultural work’ being done by clubs, on a voluntary basis, with clubs being agents of cultural policy from the grassroots level up rather than top down. People get on with things, without authority figures or agencies telling them what to do. This is how it’s always been in clubs.
I finished by showing the great DVD made by a group of final year film students at Sussex University (June 2010) about their local club, the Brighton Trade and Labour Club. Jackson Ducasse and his colleagues produced a film- New Members Welcome! - that is poignant, humorous and insightful with many informed glimpses into club life. The film went down really well with the participants who, though ‘workshopped out’, seemed to get second wind and asked a lot of questions. They were amazed by the dedication of the people in the clubs and how important it was to keep the clubs going.
This was very encouraging and convinced me that making international links and working with partners in other countries is valuable to all of us. I will be flying the flag of clubs and www.clubhistorians.co.uk in other countries so watch this space!
"New Members Welcome is an observational documentary about the Brighton Trades Social Club on Lewes Road, Brighton. It explores the subjective experiences of the club's members and considers the role that the club plays in their lives."
Involves Jackson Ducasse.
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