Friday, June 12, 2009

Ideas, we've had a few

On the one hand you could say we live in an age where the "big ideas" are no more, or, at best, are antediluvian (the rise of fundamentalist religion, for instance); but on the other, there's a culture of ideas being thrown around which can only be a good thing. This week alone there's been a number of conferences, in the North West, and elsewhere; and this afternoon, I was reminded of the ongoing intellectual freight of the country, when I was asked to be an observer at a PhD Viva at MMU. I was at a consultation for Manchester's Cornerhouse on Monday; and one of Cornerhouse's aspiration's is to build on its almost accidental role as a "creative hub." It's long been the unofficial capital of Manchester's literary community, as well as housing art gallery, bookshop and cinema. It's interest to surmise whether it is our art galleries and other cultural venues that are returning to a previous role as "salon". Perhaps the rise of the Universities since the 1960s has isolated cultural thought in the ivory towers - and now ideas are beginning to break out again.

Cornerhouse's "The Art of With" debate the week after next, has another contribution, this time from Tom Fleming, called "Embracing the Desire Lines." Things still aren't "open source", of course, but curated, invited, but I'm imagining that the new Cornerhouse - as a hub for ideas as well as art and film - may well need to think on how it might expand on this. Something like n+1's event/pamphlet series would come to mind. Their pamphlet on "A practical avant garde" is one of the most stimulating things I've read over the last few years - and, key to this, I think, brings the "ideas" culture beyond the big think pieces of Charles Leadbetter, Richard Florida, Malcolm Gladwell and others, and into more specific frameworks. It's why the Social Media Cafe in Manchester exists, as well, of course, to not be too prescriptive or "top down." Open source ideas have to come from the left field; from the audience; and - key to that - the participants need to be able to "curate" the ideas, not merely respond.

And I'm always keen to see art find its own place - I should get to Lancaster next week to see my first Litfest event, the launch of their exciting new Flax edition, "The Crowd Without."

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