Godfrey Worsdale, chair of the Turning Point Network, debates with Will Gompertz at the first day of Turning Point National Summit, 9 May 2012
Godfrey Worsdale, chair of the Turning Point Network, debates with Will Gompertz at the first day of Turning Point National Summit, 9 May 2012

Turning Point Network Summit

14 May 2012

Over the past couple of days, we've been in London at the National Turning Point Summit, and the TED Salon. By Honor Harger

City Hall in London, venue for day 2 of the Turning Point National Summit, 10 May 2012
City Hall in London, venue for day 2 of the Turning Point National Summit, 10 May 2012

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, me and Jamie Wyld, our programme curator, have been attending the key national meeting for England’s visual arts sector, the National Turning Point Network Summit. The Summit was held across two venues, the ICA on Wednesday evening, and City Hall on Thursday.

Turning Point began it’s life as an Arts Council England initiative to develop the country’s visual arts sector. Regional Turning Point chapters popped up around the country, comprised of arts organisations and artists. Lighthouse is on the steering committee for our region’s chapter, Turning Point South EastTPSE for short – and it is a hugely important network for us. It was with TPSE’s support that we commissioned the works by The Otolith Group and Invisible Flock, as part of the RELAY programmme.

The Turning Point national summits are a great opportunity for us to meet with colleagues from galleries and visual arts organisations across the country. The conversations had at meetings like these are invaluable for future work. Partnerships are forged, ideas are shared, and plans are hatched. This is perhaps the true value of networks like Turning Point.

As for the Summit itself, well it really was the quintessential game of two halves. The first part, held at the ICA on Wednesday 8 May in the evening, kicked off with a very lively debate chaired by the BBC’s Will Gompertz. Charged with the task of being provocative, Gompertz did just that, challenging the publicly-funded visual arts sector’s relationship with sponsors, donors and commercial galleries; suggesting the visual arts sector is guilty of protecting its own ivory tower; and perhaps most controversially, asserting that radical political art isn’t being made any more. Many of the assembled curators and gallery directors took the bait, and refreshingly honest exchange followed, with Stephen Snoddy (New Art Gallery in Walsall), Sarah McCrory (Frieze Projects) and others making fine arguments in defence of the visual arts sector. On the issue of the apparent extinction of political art, I asked Will if he’d read his colleague Paul Mason’s article on the art of the Occupy Movement which suggests that political engagement within the visual arts is alive and well. It just may not be living in our galleries at the moment.
It’s unusual that the visual arts sector has frank, open conversation about these kinds of issues, and despite the deliberately provocative tone Gompertz adopted, the debate was held in good spirit. It was an excellent start to the Summit.

The second part of the Summit took place in the salubrious surrounds of City Hall, headquarters of the Greater London Authority, our hosts. The day was divided into four debates on Measuring Value within the arts, Alternative Economies, Conceptualising Engagement with audiences, and Visual Arts and the Education Agenda. Interestingly, some of the most insightful remarks of the day were made from speakers outside the arts sector. James Rebanks, an economist who took part in the first panel on Measuring Value, called on the arts sector to think harder, and more honestly, about what exactly it wants to measure, subtly calling into question the value of the metrics some funders use to measure impact within the arts. He noted, “if art is forced to play someone else’s game – economics and number-crunching – it’s already lost”. He asked the question, “Why hasn’t art won the bigger argument? That art is a public good”. He argued the need for champions outside the art-world making the case for art to wider society, and reminded us that beyond the instrumentalised value of art – as a means to educate, a tool for economic regeneration, a way of engaging young people – we have to better make the case for the importance of art as a civic good.

Sam Hopley of Timebanking UK was the final speaker in the Alternative Economies debate. Coming from the charity sector, with a history of working within mental health and drug and alcohol charities, Hopley offered some searingly insightful views about on the incompatibility of the market economy and public services. He argued that time can act as an alternative to money, and described the time-banking model. Timebanking is a means of exchange, whereby participants ‘deposit’ in a timebank, perhaps by giving practical help and support to others, and are able to ‘withdraw’ equivalent support in time when they themselves are in need. His insistence that we need to look beyond money, beyond the traditional capitalist market economy, as a route to becoming more sustainable, struck a chord with many in the room. His remark, “the Market Economy is based on valuing scarcity. But everything that makes us human is abundant”, was my take-home point of the Summit.

Mid Summit, Turning Point abruptly re-branded itself, dropping the Turning Point moniker and re-emergeing as the Contemporary Visual Arts Network. The new name certainly makes sense, since that’s very much what the network is, but the suddenness of the identity change caught some long-term network members a bit off-guard. The repositioning is a positive move though, and it’s going to great to see how the network continues to evolve.

Whilst being a thoroughly worthwhile get-together, it must be said that some of the debates somewhat struggled to take off. As Gill Nicol, noted during the Conceptualising Engagement debate, “everyone in the arts works well beyond their hours. I’m quite concerned about a knackered arts sector”. There was a sense of lethargy at certain times of the day at City Hall. The contrast between the latter part of the Summit, and the TED Salon, which I attended immediately afterward was quite dramatic. But that aside, I am enormously grateful to the Summit organisers – particularly Julia Bell and Lucy Moore – for bringing us together, orchestrating some much needed provocation, and for providing us with a highly valuable opportunity to talk, exchange ideas and plan future endeavours. And thank you also to Gregor Muir at the ICA, for being a genial and generous host, and to the team at City Hall for welcoming us.



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