A one-day symposium about socially engaged arts and cultural democracy titled Uncommon Ground crumbled upon the slightest scrutiny, and left a good number of the audience disappointed and let down to say the least. In advance of the event which took place at The Lowry on 22nd March 2018, little information apart from two underwhelming personal blog posts were given as lead-in material. The morning session involved four presentations, and NO discussion or Q&A of any kind. Tweets were welcomed to be responded to later – I wondered if they have replaced real nuanced discussion?
It’s the Economy, stupid!
By mid-afternoon it was clear that nobody was going to bring up the economics of inequality or within the arts, nor how arts can have an impact on such structural inequality. An embarrassing omission given that there is a common understanding of inequality being first and foremostly related to economic and political power. In most symposia or conferences, a subject is usually given some broad sweep overview of the history and key pieces of work and debates that have developed over the decades, plus some critical and fresh perspectives on the gaps – those areas which still need addressing. This kind of basic context was completely absent at Uncommon Ground, an insulting slap in the face for those who have tirelessly worked in the field and against the grain for those decades.