My arrival on Monday 17th November in Kaunas at the University of Department of Philosophy and Cultural Studies at Kaunas Faculty of Humanities began a busy and fruitful week in which I developed a wealth of new intellectual and professional relationships. Having never visited Lithuania, it was pleasant indeed to have a wealth of local guides to point out some of the features of the city of Kaunas which, for a period of independence in the early twentieth-century, formed the country’s capital.

From Monday I began discussions with Faculty colleagues on the possibilities of collaborations between staff and for student exchange. Ideas were based on a mutual exploration of expertise and our institutional bases and given our common interests and pedagogical commitment there is much to build upon. Of course, I should note that my stay and ideas were aided by the fact that staff and students are so well versed in English!

Tuesday saw the first of my classes, this for the students of the BA in Cultural Management. This was the outline of what I spoke about:

‘What does research and development mean for the creative industries?’

This lecture explores issues from a UK perspective on initiatives to develop digital innovations in the creative industries. It looks in particular at the role of Nesta (National Endowment for Science Technology and the Arts) in developing a programme of research and development (R&D) for the sector.

Issues arising include those of the culture of the creative sector, ideas of cross-innovation as well as instrumental imperatives for development that might be at odds with particular ideas of the creative sector. Questions concern ideas about the role of the digital in the worlds of traditional arts in particular: theatre, galleries, dance and so on.

The lecture focused on a number of issues arising from research on the Culture Cloud project as well as the current Nesta-funded Audience Development Project with Birmingham’s Town Hall/Symphony Hall and 1-UP design.

Wednesday saw further meetings (and introductions to colleagues from Latvia and Serbia) as well as a chance to visit the Pažaislio Monastery and Church

Thursday was conference day. My keynote paper was entitled ‘Researching place, culture and creativity’. Here is the abstract:

This paper presents insights from Cultural Intermediation & The Creative Economy, a UK project that aims to discover how the value of cultural intermediation can be captured and how this activity can be enhanced to create more effective connection between communities and the creative economy.

Building on project research exploring the dimensions of cultural governance, the agency and understanding of cultural intermediaries in Greater Manchester and Birmingham, researchers are currently exploring experiences of intermediation with ‘hard to reach’ communities in order to evaluate their relationship with cultural work and sense of what this entails.

Questions emerging from this vista of work concern the visibility/invisibility of intermediation projects how these are recognised amongst communities deemed to be beneficiaries of such work as well as their own sense of cultural ‘needs’ and local assets. Such issues (and their definition) extend to considerations of relationships between professionalised interventions and ‘organic’ cultural projects in the context of the specificity of demands, histories and experiences of communities in each location.

Asking ‘whose culture, whose creative city?’, I offer a critical eye on the positive and negative impacts of connection/disconnection, evaluating the nature of the ‘right’ to the creative city and a sense of cultural citizenship in the structuring relationship between communities, intermediaries and policy makers.

Having given my keynote I was pleased to deal with a number of challenging and interested questions from colleagues in attendance. These concerned issues of how cultural policy is a means of managing diversity (a question currently occupying my project colleague Dr Saskia Warren) as well as the space for creative work amongst the intermediaries discussed in my paper and clearly overloaded by bureaucracy, financial worries not the mention the expectations put upon cultural work to resolve a wide set of social issues. In addition, it was a pleasure to discuss aspects of the empirical work with the communities of the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham.

Issues arising in my own research resonated throughout the day as I chaired one of the conference parallel sessions ‘Creativity in the city: conceptual and methodological issues’. The first speak was Tatyana Markova of the Ural State University of Economics who spoke on the culture of Yekaterinburg in the Russian Federation. This paper pondered the nature of political engagement in a culture where there is a distrust, even fear, of political authority but where significant numbers of citizens are willing to mobilise in support of civic issues and indeed, the turn-out for recent elections reflection how a disproportionate amount of those who did vote were those willing to actively mobilise – notably via social media platforms. Victorija Zilinskaite of Vilnius University spoke on the conceptual ideas of ‘Participatory Creativity’ as a relatively new and challenging concept for the arts academies of Lithuania while Jekaterina Lavrince (Vilnius Gedimas Technical University) outlined some empirical detail of a community arts intervention in the relatively impoverished area of Šnipiškės in Vilnius. In the latter paper, images of the area and project resonated  with work from my own project in the Ordsall area of Salford in Greater Manchester, UK. Questions arising concerned the durability of art produced by communities particularly in a space subject to rather unsympathetic urban planning developments.

Dovile Jankauskaite of Vilnius University gave her first ever conference paper on issues of city branding, raising some interested questions about logo commissions and representations of Kaunas itself. In an admirably clear and expansive paper, Dovile engaged with some crucial questions about the nature of identity and evaluation for city branding exercises, issues that resonated for me in relation to my own research on the city of Birmingham and aspects of the teaching I have been doing in the university over the course of the week.

After a break we heard a further four papers (unfortunately, Gilberto Marzana of Rezekane HE, Latvia was unable to give his paper). Martyna Radzevicius spoke on cultural heritage preservation, issues emerging from his PhD. He gave an admirably clear and incisive outline of the importance of cultural heritage for the creative industries raised challenges for the situation in Lithuania. Andrius Martinkus spoke on Charles Landry’s ideas for the crative city and its applicability for Lithuania. This provocative paper framed Landrys’ ideas with an engagement with the ideas of neo-liberalism and the rather pessimistic conditions it has created for thinking about human creativity and freedom. Monika Incertyte of Vilnius University (and a graduate of my own MA in Creative Industries and Cultural Policy at BCU, UK) reflected on methodologies for understanding creative spaces, a more manageable concept that the hyperbolic descriptions of creative cities. I was pleased to see that Inceryte drew upon her own research in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham, the location of the empirical portrait I gave in my keynote. Finally, Audrone Rimkute gave an outline of city cultural policy with reference to Kaunas and wider models of policy implementation and evaluation.

Overall, this polyvocal, interdisciplinary and geographically wide-ranging session presented much to consider and a remarkable amount of common concerns. I look forward to seeing more of further work from each of the participants.

Give the cultural remit of the conference, an evening meal for attendees was made livelier by a participatory performance from a local folk song and dance troupe. Adorned in traditional dress the reflected various aspects of Lithuanian traditions and regions, the group regaled us with songs and tales about the country’s folklore. They also performed a number of dances which, inevitably, invited conference speakers and university staff to participate. In brief, I should say that this proved to be most invigorating and instructive!

Video: This lady plays the kanklės which, upon the death of a loved one, you make from hardwood tree found in the forest. The essence of departed loved one will inhabit the instrument which you might play or simply keep on the sideboard. Tracing the collective folklore, dance, music and identity for a 1000 years (an invented tradition nonetheless) is important here as you might expect for a culture oppressed for several decades by the Soviets – previously by Tsars, Poles etc with but a brief few decades of independence which were centred on Kaunas

On Friday I gave a series of lectures to the MA in Art Management. These were as follows:

The Poetics of Place: Policy, Creativity, Culture.

At the heart of contemporary ideas of the creative economy is a notion of the USP of the culture of specific places. This idea is writ large in a current promotion that claims ‘Britain is Great’, based on a celebration of native genius manifest in the creative work of filmmakers, game designers and popular music for instance (a range promoted most recently around the world for instance in the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games of 2012).

This lecture seeks to explore the relationship between specific places and spaces and our ideas of creativity and culture. It examines the notion of a cultural and creative ecology, of the relationship of ideas of locality (from nation to city), culture and history, of the expressive limits and possibilities of place.

The lecture is concerned in particular with methodologies for examining culture, of the spaces of creativity and modes of engagement with the objects of cultural policies, projects and marketing: individuals and communities.

While I will use reflections from work on the nature of Birmingham, UK, students might come prepared with reflections on and evidence of the nature of creativity and culture in Kaunas and Lithuania in general.

‘New Modes of Cultural Heritage, Regeneration and Place Making’

This session explores the role that policy for culture and creative industries has played in the regeneration of post-industrial cities. In particular, it explores the role that cultural heritage has to play in the branding and promotion of place.

It focuses in particular on the ways in which popular music cultures have proven to be important modes of promoting civic cohesion and attracting tourists to particular sites. Case studies are drawn from my own work in the City of Birmingham and a series of projects:

Home of Metal

Birmingham Music Archive

From Soho Road to the Punjab.

‘Connecting Communities: Cultural Intermediaries and Participation in the Creative Economy’

This lecture derives from participation in the UK project ‘Cultural Intermediation in the Urban Creative Economy’.

(http://culturalintermediation.wordpress.com).

The project examines how formal processes of cultural intermediation have engaged with different communities, particularly those that have been deemed to be ‘hard-to-reach’.

The lecture explores the concepts of intermediary and ‘hard-to-reach’ audiences in relation to purposeful ideas of culture. It explores the project’s assessment of the extent to which intermediations have served to facilitate the connection of communities into the creative economy how they might be critically evaluated.

Case studies concern work already undertaken [on history and governance] in order to connect what different institutions think is happening to how intermediation activity is experienced on the ground.

This final session also developed practical ideas from the current Nesta-funded work mentioned above.

The MA students were lively and engaged and despite the length of the afternoon (and its Birmingham-centric nature), it was very rewarding.

I took away a great many contacts and insights from Kaunas and hope that I will be able to do justice to these in terms of research development and the nature of contacts and exchange between BCU and the University of Vilnius. With regards to the success of my visit it should thanks, in particular: Virginija Jureniene; Raminta Pucetaite; Jadvyga Kruminiene; Aiste Urboniene and the inimitable Monika Inčerytė

 

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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