What is the future for the cultural sector in the wake of Brexit?
How Global? was the name of an international conference convened by Arnolfini and Bristol Culture with support from Art Fund in June 2016 to discuss issues around international art collecting in public institutions.
How pertinent that became on the second day, as we awoke to the British people’s decision to leave the European Union and all the mixed emotions that prompted. The currency of the debate was heightened and the nature of the debate took on a strong political edge.
We welcomed a truly international list of speakers to Bristol over those two days; from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe. We discussed how museums and arts institutions globally, with a focus on the UK, could keep step with a changing world, what responsibilities the staff, governance and funders of those institutions have to provide representation and what that actual means to the sector in our globalised society.
I believe everyone involved in arts and culture has a role to play in building social cohesion and integration.
The theme of ‘Elsewhere’ was returned to regularly by the speakers, prompted by the context of Arnolfini’s current exhibition Art from Elsewhere which was the stimulus for the debate. We were reminded, essentially we could say all come from elsewhere and with the current decision of the UK people we may all be feeling a little more elsewhere then we were 10 days ago!
An overriding issue, which dominated the debate, was the need for the arts sector to take more responsibility in tackling inequality and not proliferating it further. The cultural sector and its institutions are still largely exclusive and segregated, struggling to break free of a top-down, colonial model led by museums. This is a heavy legacy, which is embedded and difficult to change.
Cuban-based curator and writer Gerardo Mosquera used his thought provoking key note address to challenge us to diversify judgement and adopt horizontal agency (in other words, involve communities and empower difference). He argued that if we adopt some of those strategies we may stand a chance of creating dynamic, relevant collections and institutions for the future of society. If we don’t: we risk our own irrelevancy and extinction. So, nothing unequivocal there!
But fundamentally, I couldn’t agree more. I believe everyone involved in arts and culture has a role to play in building social cohesion and integration. We see it as our mission at Arnolfini to work with others to provide a space and place to reflect on diverse perspectives and promote individual agency. After 55 years in our role as a civic institution, we know that art can be central in enabling this.
This is also pertinent as we will find out later this week whether Arnolfini will win the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2016. As finalists, we have stood very firmly on a campaign for transformation and inclusion for our city. Should we be lucky enough to win this accolade, it would provide us with a powerful platform to widen the reach of this message, reaching the sector and other peer cultural organisations.
It is a message which could not be more important as we seek a new political reality for our city, our country and reconciliation of our divided people.
Kate Brindley, CEO, Arnolfini
How Global? was held at Arnolfini and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery on 23 & 24 June 2016. It was generously supported by Art Fund to coincide with the presentation of Art from Elsewhere across both sites.