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Guest Blog: Elizabeth I returns to Nottingham Castle

What a week! And this is without a weekend. As a CEO many people and situations demand my time. In my case it’s easy to get distracted as there are so many interesting things to explore.

A new world order?

This week Arts Council England announced their new National Portfolio funding programme, with the East Midlands chair Francois Matarasso, highlighting what went before was no longer what will happen ahead, as we are living in a new and different world order – a diminishing public funding pot and more reliance and involvement of corporate and private sponsorship as an example. Interestingly I had a visit from a group of Tate Patrons yesterday. Their question to me was – “How do you feel about the need to get more corporate sponsorship and having less reliance on public funds?”. My response was that chasing corporate funding and private sponsorship alone is a full time job and a bit more! Will time allow smaller organisations to do this and will the corporate and/or private donors go for the big boys for personal gain, position and power? And also what will it mean for arts organisations with regards to choices and decisions, will there be an expectation by corporates and investors to shape artistic programmes – i.e. will money buy power? And will the corporate world shy away from experimental and edgy organisations and work? Will their influence grow so big that we as a sector become too safe in order to simply attract funds or will we actually attract art lovers, like the lovely visitors from the Tate who invest in art because they genuinely love it.

Her Majesty transformed

So talking about risky and edgy work here is some food for thought. This week on Wednesday I experienced the Side Show, Hatch event at Nottingham Castle and then wandered over to the Surface Gallery for an intimate David Lynch-like wine and nibbles evening. The evening was memorable and very cold! I was captivated by a performance by Daniel Somerville, who through a very stimulating and engaging, entertaining and humorous dance-movement lecture, explores the intersection of cultures, the manipulation of time and the playful distortion of history. Dressed as Elizabeth the First, Somerville twists our understanding of the Queen’s sex delivering a lecture performance with Donizetti playing beautifully in the background in the famous Nottingham Castle drawing room. The performance finalises into a slow-motion and dramatic strip show, revealing that the Queen is actually a man! The audience were in stitches, in particular two young students to my left who wanted to laugh hysterically. That was a brilliant moment. Then on my way out, Frank Abbott enthralled audiences on the dark green plains of the Castle re-enacting a tour of the Tales of Robin Hood from 20 years ago using audio video devices and a lap top. Watching Abbott deliver the tour was surreal as he swerved and manoeuvered in the darkness, dressed like a playful alien! Frank’s such a legend!

Below the Surface

From here I trotted along to Nadeem Choudry and Emma Dexter’s exhibition on the top floor of the Surface Gallery – great raw space – I felt like I was at risk of electrocution! Nadeem, who exhibited at New Art Exchange with Even the Animals, presents a sex and death based theme. It is beautifully dark and sensual too, playing on tradition and sexuality. The gallery culminates with Choudry’s sculptural exotica – a circular, ritualistic arrangement of male bodies draped in beautiful textile materials, in blood-like red. The irony is that all the bodies are left in a state of sexual arousal…i.e. with full blown erections all draped in textiles cloth from the East working with Dexter’s deep concepts drawing on experiences from her Mexico residency. And that is what I love about Surface Gallery that they can play with extreme danger as they answer to no one, being independent and volunteer-run.

Who’s the audience now?

Yesterday at the Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) in Birmingham, who amazingly have already hit 500,000 visitors in six months since reopening, I experienced Michael Pinchbeck’s Post Show After Party a playful interactive show where Pinchbeck performs with his parents, jumping backwards and forward in time drawing on a real life situation from 1970. The real life scenario is a post show party where his Dad met his Mum after an amateur performance of the Sound of Music. It’s cleverly delivered and picks up on the new wave of audience expectation. Today audiences increasingly want to be more than being a spectator. There is a growing shift in roles and identity. Choice, distraction and purpose is blurring and growing. Audiences are shifting to becoming producers of their own work, inspired perhaps through the democratising of society through the internet, technology and UK’s vibrant arts and cultural scene. Pinchbeck’s unconventional performance takes this risk and plunge experimenting with the fourth wall.

We must protect such excellence and risk I’ve drawn on above and therefore not as an artistic landscape homogenise to mainstream expectations or lose investment on what is really working and growing.

Well the working week culminates with Nottingham Contemporary celebrating their 1st birthday tonight at 5pm… In Nottingham our cultural ecology and terrain can switch from the prestige of brand new venues like New Art Exchange and Cotemporary but be bolstered by a critical mass of independents making a rich and vibrant scene. For me on the weekend, courtesy of Sampad, I will meet Sharmilla Tagore, a famous Indian actress an ancestor of the mighty writer Rabindranath Tagore. Perhaps mixing popular and the experimental is an important part of how we could work…or not?

What a week indeed!

PS. Don’t forget to check out the 24hour screening of Christian Marclay’s clock on 10 December at the New Art Exchange.