2007 - 2020

Reimagining our Cultural Landscape as Reimagining our Future

As part of our Cultural Landscape and Power series Briana Pegado asks: with the challenges we face from income inequality, white supremacy, the epidemic of violence against women and girls, and environmental crisis, can we use culture, creativity, and our imaginations to vision a new future?

Reimagining our cultural landscape in Scotland means re-imagining our relationship to culture. First let’s start with our relationship to culture. Culture as a term has many meanings and for those of us in the cultural sector, creative sector, and the creative industries more widely these terms can prove to have incredibly loaded meanings. For the person reading this these words might be entirely interchangeable. For the sake of this piece, I would like to define culture as an creative activity that spans institutions, individuals, businesses, and mediums of a creative disposition. I think too often we see culture as something we travel to, consume, or engage with rather than the truth of what culture is – the very means with which we live and experience being human. How have we ever been able to communicate our experiences with words, ideas, motions, or tangible materials to another human being? Creativity is embedded in everything we touch – to the bed we get out of in the morning and bed sheets designed by a designer, the public transportation we use (less so recently) to get from one place to another, and even the language we use to communicate with one another. As human beings, we inherently create each day simply by waking up and we are inherently creative. Now the artistic skill, study, practice, and talent that is involved in careers that might be more traditionally related to culture shall not be undermined by my earlier statement, but I think if we are to re-imagine our society and everything in it we need to acknowledge the role that culture plays in it – it is fundamental.

With the challenges we face as a nation and as a world system from income inequality, white supremacy, the epidemic of violence against women and girls, environmental crisis, and the breakdown of many political systems as we know it – can we use culture, creativity, and our imaginations to vision a new future? Can we vision and design a society that is equitable, sustainable, and embedded with data or information that can help us make more informed decisions? Even more radically, can we take this moment to grieve the loss of life and sacrifices made to do better? Can we have the courage to use the tools at our disposal to radically redesign and redefine our society, so that we can all live healthily, happily, and with purpose?

If the answer is yes, here are some practical solutions to get us there. First, we need to get acquainted with data. Not only do we have a cultural deficit in our society with arts and culture being removed from our school curriculum and being replaced with tools decision-makers have deemed more important, employable, and skills based, we also have a data and digital literacy gap. 15% of households in Scotland still do not have access to the internet.[1] We need to address this gap in our country, but more importantly, embed curriculum within our schools that embeds data into learning journeys but does not remove this from the need for creativity, arts, and the creative thinking required for this data to be used in meaningful ways that help our society.

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Also in this series:

Sara Sheridan ‘Where are the Women? Imagining a  Different Landscape’
Talat Taqoob ‘Solidarity Requires Facing up to Uncomfortable Truths’
Adam Ramsay ‘Dundas, Charles II and Bessie Watson: Options for Edinburgh’

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Second, we need to radically rethink our curriculum and creativity needs to be at the heart. Critical thinking, context-setting, and truly understanding our nation’s past cannot take place to allow us to make informed decisions about our future if we do not reform our education system. The five most popular skills employer cite as being the more important for the future of work include:

#1 Creativity
#2 Emotional Intelligence
#3 Analytical Critical Thinking
#4 Active Learning with a Growth Mindset, and
#5 Judgement and Decision Making

according to Forbes and the World Economic Forum.[2] We have designed the creativity right out of our school system and defunded the incredible people providing our young people with their education.[3]

Third, we need to restructure our society as we know it. Having or cultivating a growth mindset is impossible without basic needs and necessities being met in our society. We know as a country we are facing the highest unemployment rate as a result of COVID19, an economic crisis, higher rates of people working freelance or as self-employed, and a generation of young people facing an uncertain future – not for the first time in history, but with the added threat of a climate catastrophe, which is new.

We know that unsustainable economic growth does not work. We know that unchecked capitalism that promotes consumptions and preys on our self image, mental health, resources, fear of those that do not look like us, and false belief in scarcity leading to unhealthy competition is not working. It never worked. The practical steps to change this are manifold – put pressure on local government and national government to change policies, put pressure on the private sector to change their habits by investing your spending power elsewhere, have conversations about the society we want to live in with family, friends, and loved ones, and start to hold all those in power to account.

What is the cultural sector’s role in all of this as theatres close, venues cannot host events to their normal capacity, the cultural sector is in free fall as workers that rely on interaction with audiences through events, exhibitions, selling work, gaining entry to their studios, using physical materials that are no longer available, and having a dialogue with people outside of a screen have to do with all of this? It is the creative people in our society that have always allowed us to reflect, have challenged the status quo, given us a lens with which to vision our future through their work. We need the cultural sector and we need to bail it out more than we are massive corporations that have exploited labour, insecurities, and supply chains. We need to address the #freelancer pay gap. We need pensions for freelance workers. We need parental leave. We need you to value all of the work that comes from culture as much as other essential workers that make our lives liveable because without the dreamers of the future what vision do we have to work towards?

 

 

[1] https://www.gov.scot/publications/scotlands-people-annual-report-results-2017-scottish-household-survey/pages/8/

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2019/04/29/the-10-vital-skills-you-will-need-for-the-fut

ure-of-work/#15f993b93f5b

[3] https://revisesociology.com/2017/07/30/ken-robinson-changing-education-paradigms/

Comments (16)

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  1. aayawa says:

    Good article.

    The 5 skills are important for more then the future of work (aside: why do we worship the idea of waged labour so much?).

    However I think the powers that be, employers, government and others are scared of a populace that has these. It would make them so much harder to control, so much harder to fool. It would threaten their power and money.

    “higher rates of people working freelance or as self-employed.”

    I would like you to have said “higher rates of people working freelance or as self-employed, who want to be in regular employment”

    Otherwise you seem to be implying freelance and self employment are inferior.

    I argue government (all parties) do not like the self employed because you cannot pressure the employer to sack and aother employers to blacklist politically active employees ( as has happened before).

    It’s harder to pressurise the self employed.

    1. Daniel Raphael says:

      “It’s harder to pressurize the self-employed.” It’s impossible, if there’s no “someone else” to pressurize working people. Why not rule ourselves cooperatively? Why not get rid of waged work (“a job”) and do what needs doing, sharing the bounty of our creation…without a Gates or a Bezos or The City or a Party or the State or any other incarnation of capital, to rake off the greater part of the wealth we produce with our labor?

      We don’t need “checked” capitalism–we need socialism. There is no more need for capitalists–nor is there any more justification for them–than there was for kings, queens, and feudals lords ruling by Divine approval. We’ve evolved, now let’s mature. We’d best, as the globalized greed psychosis is driving our planet to destruction. This isn’t just utopian–it’s a mandate for survival.

      1. aayawa says:

        My first thought is you have much more faith in human nature than I do. The urge to be dominant appears to be ingrained in us and at least two branches of our primate cousins. It seems to me to be worse in chimps than in gorillas. No matter how you try to organise society cooperatively some will always want to be the boss. And as we have seen, and Plato pointed out, those who want power should not be allowed anywhere near it.

        As I understood it the corporate capitalism we have now arose when no one person could raise enough capital for a project. It was abandoned for a while after the south sea bubble. It revived later. The telegraph and telephone allowed multinationals to arise. Then some bright spark decided corporations should be treated as people except not punishable for what they did wrong.

        The human desire for power and security (via money) did the rest. The fact that corporate life and the career ladder favour the sociopath and psychopath was just the icing on the cake.

        As one author (name escapes me) put it “History is made by lazy greedy frightened people seeking easier cheaper and safer ways to do things.

        I have no objection to people, including those you mention, becoming rich. I DO care how they got rich, what they did with their money and how they treat the “little people” on whom they rely. There are billionaires and leaders of industry treat their workers well. I suspect we only hear about the bad ones. Gates, by the way, established a charitable foundation. So have some other billionaires.

        I am, for the record, no fan of the capitalism we have now, especially neoliberalism.

        1. SleepingDog says:

          @aayawa, not all chimps:
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonobo#Peacefulness
          and I think your argument about human tendency towards domination in medium to large groups is based on the few, the exceptions rather than the norm, and will vary due to cultural, environmental and developmental variations. You might instead (from a psychological viewpoint) ask why socialization of young humans sometimes fails. As to billionaires, well, they can write and fund their own public relations, and pay for redemption for their sins, so I would not place your faith in some of their goodness (which you don’t extend to normal people).

  2. James Robertson says:

    Very good. Briana Pegado has set out a range of issues and challenges and offered some broadbrush solutions. None of this is easy and most of it is a long-term project, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t be building on these ideas and shaping them for a sustainable, equitable future to which culture, as Briana defines it, is central. This article is worth reading in conjunction with Peter Arnott’s earlier BC piece published on 5th June.

  3. SleepingDog says:

    OK, I accept the distributed creativeness, the analytical and critical arguments. Sure, emotional intelligence, and all the literacies (including digital) that this now requires. Judgement, yes, and interpretation of cultural products and an understanding of how they are made, which is a necessary (but not sufficient) defence against forms of fakery and manipulation. Active learning as the basis of active citizenship, sure. I would add *collective* to decision-making.

    What I think we need to understand better is how modern cultural products are selected, filtered, promoted (such as algorithmically). How they are evaluated, and how Value in the largest sense is created, without losing too much dissent or innovation or variety. If culture is a kind of working memory in which we store the patterns of interaction between humans, humans and living-, and non-living world, then we should be concerned with improving those patterns, casting those better templates.

    In some senses this is more obvious in children’s programming, but this should not form an isolated and temporary value framework, but integrate with things like family-friendly satire, so a comfort zone for dissent can be extended.

    The other point that needs to be made is that a lot (really a lot) of creative people are employed in propping up the status quo, or parts of it (or do it voluntarily, even). They may do this subconsciously, or bend all their art towards it. Somebody crafted all those statues…

    But I do not know how to manage the tension between corporate tendencies towards groupthink and freelance tendencies towards clamorous novelty. There a need for more citizenship-relevant content and form in computer gaming, which is not affected in the same way as public-space culture: indeed, there has been an uptick in play and many games are being produced without pandemic hindrance by home-workers. My suggestion would be that creative people who have not previously considered computer games as a means of expression should take a look, and maybe find both inspiration and significant opportunities for them to contribute.

    1. John Learmonth says:

      So human salvation lies in playing computer games?

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @John Learmonth, human salvation can be a topic of, and explored through, computer games. The potential of computer games for modelling social change in relation to many factors is vast and in a very early stage, compared with other cultural forms. I would note that as yet there appear to be more games devoted to simulating pandemics than confronting historical slavery, in spite of the often-popular underdog appeal of taking on such a role as an anti-slaver/rebel. I believe that deficit should be addressed.

        1. aayawa says:

          The problem is how to design a game that is (a) Entertaining (b) “Box office” and (c) not “preachy”. Ideally it would show the complexity of the situation from both sides.

          Not being a game designer I can only not that it would be a tricky technical and creative challenge. Not least would be the challenge of abandoning social and other biases when designing.

          Nice idea though, and board games as well as computer games should be in the list.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @ aayawa, well, generally a qualified yes to your points, with some caveats. ‘Papers Please’ was not your usual box office formula. I found it so traumatic that I scurried back to my under-resourced village rather than complete the role of a border guard in an authoritarian-paranoid state. This War of Mine all-too devastatingly (and game-atypically) answered the question of what would it be like to be a civilian in a war zone. Every new game genre has broken the rules of previous norms.

          2. aayawa says:

            Well, games etc that change society tend to work better, if slowly, than in your face ones.

            In another realm, Terry Pratchett’s work is, subtly, subversive and critical of current culture by taking the piss. Hiss lat two books from THUD onwards, in particular SNUFF discuss racism and slavery. Outside these books his treatment of Golems and bankers ( e.g MAKING MONEY) seems to me to cover slavery. Pratchett was highly political but chose to make his criticism in a way that was hard to confront and bored into the unconscious of most readers.

            I would not claim that Discworld was responsible for the current wave of unrest but it may have been a factor.

            in summary, we need to proceed subtly, as authors did in the Soviet Union.

            I confess I tend to lack subtlety.

          3. SleepingDog says:

            @aayawa, I accept your points about Terry Pratchett, although he had to develop the array of interlocking systems of Discworld over many novels. Individual novels or plays are generally not so good at developing systems. In a similar way, Shakespeare’s plays form a collective critique of the system of hereditary monarchy, although some cultural gatekeepers deny that interpretation. There are also types of games like some massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) which let the players collectively build their own systems of interaction. In this, the game themes are of an emergent nature, and can be of interest to sociologists.
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergent_gameplay

    2. aayawa says:

      “The other point that needs to be made is that a lot (really a lot) of creative people are employed in propping up the status quo, or parts of it (or do it voluntarily, even). They may do this subconsciously, or bend all their art towards it. Somebody crafted all those statues…”

      Even artists need to eat, and if they have families the family needs to be fed. The people who crafted those statues needed clients.

      What else could they have done?

      I read in one of Seth Godin’s books that early protestant theologians deliberately crafted a theology that case the poor as the authors of their fate in order to get the support of rich businessmen and aristocrats for their ideas.

      Selling out has always been with us. Some of the people who sold out used the money to let them keep on with their real interests. Some, like New Labour, did not.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @ aayawa, whose examples should we follow, then? In the medium to longer term, well, we should be wary of UnAmerican blacklists, perhaps:
        https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0003wxk
        and indeed make some informed decisions about who the false friends of progress might be. After all, destruction of the USAmerican Constitution has been the goal of Fascists, not Communists.

        1. aayawa says:

          I do not see how your reply relates to my point that many artists face a choice between starving and their political principles.

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @aayawa, in the fact-based movie Trumbo, [spoiler alert] many of the blacklisted writers keep writing under pseudonyms. They may dial down their political messages, but do not necessarily have to write in ways that support the status quo (which was coloured by USAmerican anti-communism for a time). Anyway, it is a false dichotomy: artists can always take other jobs to avoid ‘starvation’ (a rather melodramatic painting), and perhaps create in their spare time. Nowadays, with self-publishing and the Internet, there are many avenues to get one’s work seen or published without going through gatekeepers. Artists can set up their own collectives and pool resources, and compete commercially too. Sorry, the idea that artists are forced to produce work to meet state/elite propaganda guidelines does not sound at all convincing, and even under totalitarian regimes there was an amount of leeway (there was an interesting series on Soviet animation propaganda with a series of interviews).

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