What Next?!?????

What Next is a national movement aiming at…many things. I think for some its about making a case for publicly funded arts, and why we should defend the arts against further cuts…in fact, making such a good case for the arts, to sooo many people that the public themselves turn on the government cuts and simply say ‘no more, we need this’. For others, What Next is not only about advocacy, its about exploring what kind of world we want to live in, and asking how the arts and creativity can help us create this place. Another aim of What Next is widening these conversations, to politicians and the public, trying to learn from their responses in the meantime.

This all sounds very noble. But not exactly easy to get our heads around. This is made especially difficult when there are 16 What Next groups across the country and all interpret this differently.

In July, myself (acting on behalf of The Bare Project) and Teo and Ruth (from Encounters), initiated the first What Next Sheffield meeting. It took place at Sheffield Theatres, with an excellent turn out of the cultural scene of Sheffield. Some interesting conversations were had and interesting questions were raised. It felt clear that What Next in Sheffield was about Sheffield, rather than bigger philosophical questions. But still, our aims didnt feel clear and we did not all leave feeling we knew just what to do next. The conversations were fantastic, but did not lead to ACTIONS.

A month later I got an email inviting me to the first What Next National Meeting in London…. It took place on the 4th of September.

I felt like the meeting clarified the What Next movement a bit for me. It seemed like what people valued most about the movement so far is how it has brought people together and the sense of collaboration.
I took a lot of notes, these are some of the things that were said that I found interesting:

– There is currently no definition used across the sector or within public policy for ‘culture’. It is generally seen as a commodity. Should defining culture be a project for What Next?
– Regular meetings meant more people were reached and easier to publicize.

– Strong links with government, influencing cultural policy: perhaps role of What Next is as a CONDUIT FOR CONVERSATIONS between policy makers and cultural sector?
– In my discussion group we talked a lot about what the overall aims of What Next are and agreed that whilst there may be an overarching aim of What Next, such as ‘Widening the conversation’, regional aims will naturally be different and more specific to a set area.
– What Next as a movement which aimed at public support for publicly funded arts. For example, the public outcry against the selling of the forests. Could we imagine that outcry in response to public arts funding? Why not? and how could we change that?
– In terms of the more general discussion, I liked the idea of having clearer invitations into the conversation: the Mumsnet idea. This may allow us to share ideas on the questions of What Next with wider audiences, and therefore potentially come to some answers or more questions (probably both).

– They are looking at having 3 part time roles for What Next nationally in order to better organize internal communications (between groups: what works/what doesn’t/ whats going on around the country), public engagement, opening up conversations, and looking at a strategic lead.
– It was also raised that we are potentially speaking with too many voices? If our objectives and questions were clarified we may be able to listen better?

Some thoughts I have had since then can maybe guide some actions for What Next Sheffield… The value of the arts in part can be found in its ability to create communities: it is a social thing, an incredible catalyst for social capital, creates wellbeing and can overcome all sorts of barriers, much more effectively than other methods. The arts itself is a method of communication. Surely this is something we can use to our advantage? If What Next is looking to widen the conversation, why not do it with the arts? It needn’t be blogs and articles and twitter feeds, (although by all means, those things are useful), what about storytelling, music, visual arts and such to get conversations going?