The AMA’s Head of Programme Lucy Jamieson recaps on a new initiative at this year’s (2019) conference, Rewire – Culture, Audiences & You and calls for the debate to continue.
At our 2019 conference, Rewire – Culture, Audiences & You, we tried out some new things - one of those things was The Big Debate. We wanted to explicitly acknowledge how much of a weird and difficult time it is in the world at the moment, and give a platform for discussion; an opportunity to thrash out ideas, questions, thoughts. This grew into the idea of The Big Debate, for which we settled on two BIG topics, invited some interesting and interested people to be on the panels for those topics, and then asked delegates to put their questions to us.
The motivation for it was to push our conversations forward – get beyond polite agreement – and to get uncomfortable. The topics for the debates were on:
what we should stand for
‘What is our role (as arts organisations) in increasingly polarised times?’
‘Are we really still talking about this?’
The brief for our panellists was to encourage debate by not necessarily politely agreeing with everything being said. While we of course weren’t looking for antagonism, we were going on the basis that no new ideas or movement of any sort can come without a point of friction or discomfort.
And so we wanted to push the conversation beyond what might be expected at an arts conference. I will add here that the panellists were chosen because they’re strong-minded individuals with strong opinions, and the Chair – Melanie Eusebe – was chosen because she’s brilliant in lots of ways, including being able to handle a group.
The discussions that came from the two sessions really surpassed my expectations. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the depth of the questions and discussions was exciting – and also difficult to contain. We kicked off the first debate with this question:
“Has the need to be impartial led to cultural/arts organisations failing to take a lead in addressing the key challenges in our communities? and is it time that we now start properly acting like charities, as many of us claim to be, in order to protect the future of society?”
And while I anticipated we might discuss whether or not we as organisations should be impartial, the debate by-passed that completely and got straight into how we can use our positions to effect change – not if or why we should, but how we can. We quickly moved on to discuss where the balance of power really lies – who should have a voice and how we can encourage those voices.
With our diversity debate, the questions got straight into how we can even know if we are being inclusive, if our understanding of inclusivity is all about what we can see. And took in who has the right to call themselves working class (does someone have the right to tell you what your class is? No is the answer...) And how to avoid tokenism.
So this is all BIG STUFF, which we absolutely must talk about. Did we get it all right in terms of how we ran the debate? Of course not – it was an experiment. What I know for next time, is to give more time to fewer questions. Or maybe the topics need to be less all-encompassing. We have to make sure more of the people in the room have the opportunity to get on the mic. And – crucially – we need a follow up session, where we can decide what happens next and turn the debate into action.
That’s next time though. When I said earlier that the conversations were difficult to contain – what I meant was that there was so much in there that we need a ‘what next?’ element. So we’re going to take the conversation forward and keep it going here on AMAculturehive.
Lucy Jamieson, Head of Programme, AMA
If you're interested in joining the debate leave a comment below or email us your thoughts.
More to say? We're keen to include more blogs and thought pieces exploring the two main topics in The Big Debate:
What is our role (as arts organisations) in increasingly polarised times?
Diversity: are we really still taking about this?
Contact our Editor, Carol Jones to start the ball rolling.