Monday, May 28, 2007

Tessa Jowell - and the Dreaming

Now here's a clever way into the ears of the mighty. Roisin Rae, who played Linda in Orientations for its second outing, and who runs a company called Crescent Theatre, also lives in Tessa Jowell's constituency. Which means she can get an MP's surgery with her. I, of course, am a mentor and advisor to Crescent - so on Friday morning I found myself sitting opposite the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. Roisin had written in, expressing concern about the recent cut to the GFA fund, so Tessa already knew why we were there. "I can quite see why you're so concerned about this...." she began, "... but I have to tell you it's been blown up out of all proportion". And then we got the usual party line about how much the arts budget had increased under Labour (it had to!), how this cut was really very small and how what really mattered was the Comprehensive Spending Review in October, and how somebody known as "Gordon" had given a "categorical undertaking" that no further Lottery funds would be re-directed towards the Olympics.

There seems to be a pretty serious conflict between the Arts Council and the DCMS / Secretary of State. I asked why it was that the cut had only hit the smaller-scale, experimental companies - those of us who are project-funded. Because that was where the Arts Council spent its Lottery funds. And whose decision was it that this sector should be Lottery-funded, while funding for national institutions and rep companies came from the taxpayer? The Arts Council. Not DCMS. Not Tessa Jowell. And, in any case - "The level of fuss is disproportionate." Not where we're sitting. Why do we sense a cultural shift in the Arts Council over the last couple of months, from an organisation wanting to say "Yes" to one looking for excuses to say "No"? That, she says, is "ridiculous". She seems to feel that the Arts Council was looking for a fight - and now has found one. But, if all this spin is true, then why would the Arts Council want the fight at all? "Look", says the Secretary of State: "if your project is something they want to fund, they will fund it." So - I suppose that means the Arts Council has been funding an extra 35% of projects they didn't want to fund. Just for the sheer hell of it.

I'm not sure what to make of all this. The language of the whole conversation felt so alien to what culture is really about - we could have been talking about any publicly funded sector of the economy. Transport, health, culture.... these things are not the same as one another, and they cannot all be treated the same. We need to find new ways of assessing value, which are not just about money, but which allow the nation to make sense of investing its money.

After this, plus a week of endless admin, it's a relief to go into the Laboratory at the weekend. Sam Cook from Yirra Yaakin does a workshop called Enter the Dreaming. In many ways, it's about clearing the creative space inside us, and shutting out the chaos which gets in the way of the dream. A journey away from modern living, which shows us what indigenous cultures can really offer by way of an alternative. Sam's technique is actually very simple: it's a bit like certain sorts of voice training, or yoga. By breathing, and concentrating on the breath in the abdomen, she puts us in touch with our Liyan – pronounced Lee-anne. For Aboriginal people the centre of our personal world is in our stomach. Certainly this works for us in practical terms: through this meditational process, everybody in the room starts to make contact with their creativity, and often in ways which they're not used to. I did a painting..... And of course, on the most basic level, Sam is expressing a very simple and profound truth: that our dreams do not happen in our heads, but in our bodies. So when we shut out the rational, we have a much more direct route to our personal Dreaming - to the place beyond the rational.

If only Tessa Jowell would come into our Laboratory, lie down on the floor and breath a bit. This is my public offer of a complimentary place on any workshop you choose, Tessa. And feel free to bring Gordon.

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