In defence of Arts Education investment

"...The returns on investment in performing arts are significant, but the strength of any country and its people is about far more than the financial wealth it generates. We must challenge the dangerous narrative that equates success with the level of a graduate’s income and which reduces education to a financial transaction. If we don’t, we risk losing the next generation of artists and all that they contribute to our wellbeing and society…”

David Ruebain makes the case for protecting arts and creative education not only because of a financial return but because of its creative and social capital. This is a move that New Zealand is trying to capture more of by setting its budget by more than only looking at GDP.

The conservatoire David leads has one of the only Circus perfoming arts schools in the UK in its federation. The teaching of this art form we may be losing due to continued cuts to arts education.

His op-ed here:

On New Zealand and non-financial capitals:

And here you can see a YT of the Circus School:

World echoing language and lacuna choices

Four observations on the power of language and lacuna.

Language can take us out of context. But, language and artistic choices will and should always reflect the wider world, when made public.

The choice to use a puppet to portray a severely autistic boy in a recent play in London has had much criticism from the wider world outside the play.*The creative decision is mediocre, but beyond that the social political world beyond the play cannot be ignored. We live in a world of metaphor and symbols.

The decision for a German CEO to use words that echo the phrase that appears on the entrance of Nazi Auschwitz, even if accidental shows a lack of judgment for the reflection it would bring to the wider  Germanic world.

The casting of a queer-phobic actor into a leading bisexual role (the Color Purple) has echoed angrily and awkwardly with queer audiences and creatives.

On the flip side, the New Zealand Prime Minster, Jacinda Ardern has evoked  “Damnatio memoriae”. In Roman times the state condemned the memory of a person and erased their name from history, it’s been done within many civilizations.

"I implore you, speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them. He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless."

She’s condemned the recent terrorist to no name, such that their cause and “fame” fail.

Our words and actions echo like small and major myths. If you will speak to the wider world, the world will judge what words and actions you use.


CEO blunder:

UK casting of Color Purple

No name to the terrorist.

Launch of the Developer, architecture and placemaking site

“The biggest risks are the ones we never talk about… If development, design and government doesn’t join forces, unite as a powerful lobby and face the challenges ahead, we may stumble into a future in which the real value of everything we’ve built is nothing, writes Christine Murray…


The architectural press is a tidy place to be an editor. For the past 10 years, I visited buildings in the hazy afterglow of construction, between practical completion and handover. The projects were rich in artistic intention and unsullied by human inhabitation. Walking around with the architect, there was an air of celebration, because the difficult birth of the building was over.


Writing about these projects, I was often troubled by the fact that I didn’t know yet whether the building actually worked. That nagging feeling was formative in what would become The Developer – the need to look at places as they develop, from concept to decades after completion, and take the long view. With regards to successful city-making, everything about the journey counts, especially what’s there before you begin.


Plunging into the waters of place over the past few months, I’ve enjoyed meeting developers on muddy sites and hearing how on these plots of land will grow orchards of offices and homes. The scale of urban redevelopment in the UK is staggering.


Just as interesting as the stories developers have told me, however, is what they’ve failed to say.


Unmentionables in conversation often reveal our fears and their silence speaks of risks to UK investment. Brexit has been the most avoided topic. This week, at Mipim, there is magical thinking in action that if Brexit isn’t mentioned, it won’t scare investment away. The only person to bring it up was the French taxi driver.


This week, at Mipim, there is magical thinking in action that if Brexit isn’t mentioned, it won’t scare investment away. The only person to bring it up was the French taxi driver


There are other spectres scary enough to make crashing out of the EU (almost) a distraction. They also remain off the agenda…..

…Even those with major projects fronted on UK waterways don’t explain how their buildings will cope with the expected 60-fold increase in flooding. The number of floods in the UK has already doubled since 2004. The Thames Barrier will fail within 40 years – what then?


No longer a distant threat, the risk of frequent heat waves, water shortages and floods now falls within the investment timelines of major UK redevelopments completing in 10 to 30 years.


By 2030, we are expected to pass the 1.5ºC marker, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. If that seems a small or even a welcome degree of warming on an unseasonably warm, winter morning, let David Wallace-Wells’ new book, The Uninhabitable Earth, scare you. In it, he describes how seven million people are already dying of air pollution globally in “an annual Holocaust”.


No longer a distant threat, the risk of frequent heat waves, water shortages and floods now falls within the investment timelines of major UK redevelopments completing in 10 to 30 years


As the Earth warms, the risks grow: in a 2º warmer world, 150 million more people would die. Wallace-Wells writes: “Numbers that large can be hard to grasp, but 150 million is the equivalent of 25 Holocausts… It is more than twice the greatest death toll of any kind – World War II.” Within 20 years, there will be 200 million climate refugees fleeing and in search of a new home, according to the UN.


The difficulty with carbon emissions, as explained by Wallace-Wells, is that we can no longer afford to do one or two token eco-things per development as an offset – we need to do everything at once and at speed: less waste, no concrete, fewer diesel vehicles, smarter estate management, more wildlife and biodiversity, and more innovation. But in return, we get the chance to future-proof investments.


“The risk of not engaging with these debates is obsolescence or worse – the loss of the real social, cultural and financial value of our places”


In the face of immense challenge might creep an inkling of futility, but we have the power to change how and what we build.


True visionaries see opportunity in every risk, while the peril of not engaging with these debates is obsolescence or worse – the loss of the real social, cultural and financial value of our places.


In our first edition of The Developer, we come at the topic of risk from many angles – from risky procurement to the anodyne public spaces created by the risk-averse.


On the whole, placemaking has always been a risky business, volatile in the short term but resilient in the long term, with high-stakes winners and losers.


“It’s the developer who takes the bulk of the risk, if they’ve acquired the land and have conditional funding arrangements, long stop-dates and need residential units to be sold before profit can be recovered,” says Theresa Mohammed, construction litigation partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins.


But developers are not afraid of risk, perhaps because this is a well-heeled industry – CEOs with affluent roots take more risks than those from poorer backgrounds, according to a 2014 study published in the Academy of Management Journal.


True collaboration is a refreshing concept, because the time for finger-pointing is over. As makers of place, we must take great strides and big risks together


Fear of risk might explain why nimbys dig their heels in so deep – communities have a lot at stake, too. From residents decanted from social housing to small businesses ousted from their market stalls, embracing change can be a leap of faith too far. And are we worthy of their trust?


Tackling the risks of our time will increasingly require sharing them. In an era of finger-pointing and what Paul Berg, partner at insurer Griffiths & Armour, calls “back covering”, sharing risk is a challenge in an industry where an “integrated, collaborative environment is the exception, not the rule”.


Berg says: “Where it exists, it invariably requires an insurance solution that recognises that among the team delivering the project, there is no blame, no litigation, no fault, so that between team members, there is no finger-pointing.”


This industry has a handle on charm, bluster and glib retorts, but in the age of social media activism and hyper-accountability, more thoughtful responses are now required


True collaboration is a refreshing concept, because the time for finger-pointing is over. As makers of place, we must take great strides and big risks together. This will require a search for common ground and shared goals among the whole design, development and management team, including planners, architects, contractors, politicians, investors, engineers, policy workers, developers, asset managers and end users – especially the marginalised ones.


My ambition for The Developer is to bring the whole industry together to break down barriers between our siloed professions, first at the Festival of Place on 9 July. At our events, there will be frank discussion about the future of cities and no ‘unmentionables’.


The Developer exists to unpick the key ingredients to successful placemaking and promote evidence-based findings to help us mitigate risks.


This industry has a handle on charm, bluster and glib retorts, but in the age of social media activism and hyper-accountability, more thoughtful responses are now required.


Launching The Developer is a risk, too. But I believe we need more thoughtful reporting on the user experience of our cities. The Developer is an experimental space where we can grapple with the most difficult questions as an industry and work out inspiring solutions together.”

Check out the site and the full article here.

Creativity: be a slow-motion multi-tasker

Tim Harford: “"Different researchers, using different methods to study different highly creative people have found that very often they have multiple projects in progress at the same time, and they're also far more likely than most of us to have serious hobbies. Slow-motion multitasking among creative people is ubiquitous."

“...Slow-motion multitasking feels like a counterintuitive idea. What I'm describing here is having multiple projects on the go at the same time, and you move backwards and forwards between topics as the mood takes you, or as the situation demands. But the reason it seems counterintuitive is because we're used to lapsing into multitasking out of desperation. We're in a hurry, we want to do everything at once. If we were willing to slow multitasking down, we might find that it works quite brilliantly.”

Harford has a new Ted Talk address creativity. Harford’s recent FT article has already persuaded me to delete a few social media apps and partially take back control.

His arguments on creativity I find persuasive - because I essentially practise what he advises. I have multiple projects slowly on the go (short summary on 2019 in below picture) and they range across arts, investing and connecting. I have serious hobbies as well.

It is not multi-tasking in the sense of trying to - in the moment - do more than one thing, but it is switching between many projects over time. It also ties into my thoughts on breaking or working across silos of expertise.

Transcripts here:

He also references Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I have blogged about him before when speaking about Flow (and why you should turn email off and not check email so much as it breaks flow.

My blog on email management and why it’s important not to break Flow.

Why breaking silos is a good idea


Three examples of this research. First: Howard Gruber and Sara Davis emphasize how often highly creative artists and scientists maintain a "network of enterprises" -- different projects at different stages of maturity. Their examples include the novelist Dorothy Richardson and the scientist Charles Darwin.

Howard E. Gruber and Sara N. Davis. "Inching Our Way Up Mount Olympus: The Evolving-Systems Approach to Creative Thinking". The Nature of Creativity, 1995

R. Keith Sawyer. Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, pp. 75-76 and 376, 2012

Second: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his research assistants interviewed around a hundred highly creative people, including astronomer Vera Rubin, jazz legend Oscar Peterson and the activist and Nobel laureate for Literature, Nadine Gordimer. Among many tendencies discussed is the habit of keeping multiple projects going on simultaneously, letting some simmer on the back burner while others take priority. One of Csikszentmihalyi's research assistants, Keith Sawyer -- now a respected creativity researcher in his own right -- drew this to my attention.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, 2013

Third: Leading scientists are vastly more likely to have serious hobbies.

Root-Bernstein, R., Allen, L., et al. "Arts foster scientific success: Avocations of Nobel, National Academy, Royal Society, and Sigma Xi members". Journal of Psychology of Science and Technology, 2008

Eurasia, new ways of seeing

Theatre and a play writing tradition remain vibrant in Britain partly as because one of the great playwrights was an English bloke called Shakespeare. Outside of this western tradition, there are many performance forms, many of which don’t place the writer in the same place. And some countries traditions don't have playwrights.


As local arts meets a global stage and the collisions and intersections ensue, it will be interesting to note how the arts scene develops. There is already a very valuable Asian arts, particularly Japan and China (from ancient to modern), market but more radical artists wish to claim their own ways of seeing.


This clash, I picked up reading, on recommendation a book looking at the history of Europe and Asia - debunking some of the artificial divides commentators have built up and observing the current jibes amongst cultural models (Dawn of Eurasia - Amazon link).  This from an arts lens.

“Arefe Arad is an artist in Tehran. She makes bodies by patching different fabric pieces together, and if the result evokes different kinds of human-size alien creatures and monsters that is very much deliberate. She told me she wants to create monsters, textile models close to mythical characters with no identity or individuality.

I met her at Etemad Gallery in North Tehran while spending a few weeks in the city, mostly among contemporary artists and gallery owners. Her sculptures are flexible, viscous, patched together in deformed shapes, a reflection –she said –on the everyday life of Iranian women. Stopping at Tajrish Square, I immediately understood what Arefe meant.

One young woman was going up the pedestrian bridge escalator wearing a black headscarf covering all her hair –very proper hijab few women in North Tehran are keen on –but she combined it with knee-high pink stiletto boots. The whole square turned to watch her walk.

These are not creative cultural hybrids but distorted chimeras. The authorities want a token of subjection and that is why every woman in Iran must sport her headscarf, wherever she is, as a public proclamation that her choices are, in the end, worthless. For some, the humiliation is powerful and deliberate. At the same time, they fight back by blemishing in every way they can the almost aesthetic dreams the clerics have developed for Iran. The result is not creative but destructive, just as the parties in North Tehran are less festive celebrations than distorted affirmations of the will against a stunting force.

When contemporary art arrived in Tehran in the final years of the Shah’s regime it was an opening for Western values and tastes. As the founder and inaugural director of the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art put it in 1979, since Iran already imported Western technology and science, it should import Western art as well. That project of imitation failed when the Shah was deposed and no one in Iran wants to repeat it. The art scene still represents the drive to break free of conventions –to become modern –but today it is a much more primal and destructive force, because there is no model left to follow. To become modern is no longer equivalent to becoming Western.

Talking to young Iranian artists, I learned one important lesson. While they were rebelling against the confined spaces of life in Tehran, they also insisted that they did not want to follow the same path as Europeans or Americans. Contemporary art had taught them that there is always a different way of seeing. Art must foresee other pictures, other worlds. Western modernity is for them just another form of tradition to be uprooted and overcome.

When discussing world politics today, we often revert to one of two models. The first, popularized by Francis Fukuyama, sees the whole world converging to a European or Western political framework, after which no further historical development is possible. Every country or region is measured by the time it will still take to reach this final destination, but all doubts and debates about where we are heading have been fundamentally resolved. The other model, defended by Samuel Huntington, is sceptical of such irreversible movement. The world it depicts is that of a clash between different civilizations having little or nothing in common, particularly since Western political culture will remain geographically limited. This book adopts a third view.

I agree with Fukuyama that the whole world is on the path to modern society, but there are numerous paths and, naturally, different visions of what a modern society looks like. Everyone is modern now, but there are different models of modern society. From this fact the essential terms of the new world order follow more or less directly. The hard distinction between modern and traditional has broken down, giving way to a deeply integrated world, but its most distinctive trait is the incessant competition between different ideas of how worldwide networks should be organized…”


I find the book maybe a little less insightful on Russia (or it may be I know Russia less) but fascinating on the Asia / Europe part. Amazon link here.

The current Arts blog, cross-over, the current Investing blog.  Cross fertilise, some thoughts on autism.  Discover what the last arts/business mingle was all about (sign up for invites to the next event in the list below).

My Op-Ed in the Financial Times  (My Financial Times opinion article) about asking long-term questions surrounding sustainability and ESG.

Current highlights:

A long read on Will Hutton looking at Brexit causes and solutions.

Some writing tips and thoughts from Zadie Smith

How to live a life, well lived. Thoughts from a dying man. On play and playing games.

A provoking read on how to raise a feminist child.

Some popular posts:  the commencement address;  by NassimTaleb (Black Swan author, risk management philosopher),  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes;  JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Charlie Munger on always inverting;  Sheryl Sandberg on grief, resilience and gratitude.

Buy my play, Yellow Gentlemen, (amazon link) - all profits to charity

Tate Exchange

Quick visit to the Tate Exchange space. A wonderful space.

"Tate Exchange is an experiment. A space for everyone to collaborate, test ideas and discover new perspectives on life, through art. Whether you are an observer, commentator, researcher, creator, hacker, tweeter or just curious, join artists and organisations to explore the issues of our time. Drop in for a talk, join the conversation, enjoy a chance encounter and learn something new." says Tate. Blurb here.

Currently, it's a great space to think, to be, to exchange, to write, even to play and have a secret dance... (see above) - it is particularly great for freelancers at the moment as

Thick/er Black Lines are "hosting a dedicated co-working space in the Tate Exchange space for the duration of the project, with dedicated desks, outlets and refreshments for freelancers who want to work."


 "Thick/er Black Lines presents We Apologise For The Delay To Your Journey – a map identifying and connecting Black British women/femme artists and cultural workers. Emerging from conversations with Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter - a collective of Black women, queer, and gender non-conforming artists working in solidarity with the movement for Black lives - that took place amidst the Tate Exchange project Psychic Friends Network with Simone Leigh, the map is a catalyst to make visible past and present networks and practices. Using Lubaina Himid's artwork Moments and Connections as a reference, the map is supported by exchanges in print and conversation that critically question the history of artistic production by Black British women and its present condition.

Cross fertilise. Read about the autistic mind here. On investing try a thought on stock valuations.  Or Ray Dalio on populism and risk.

If you'd like to feel inspired by other addresses and life lessons try: Ursula K Le Guin on literature as an operating manual for life;  Neil Gaiman on making wonderful, fabulous, brilliant mistakes; or Nassim Taleb's commencement address; or JK Rowling on the benefits of failure.  Or Charlie Munger on always inverting.