Saturday, January 4, 2014

Limerick: ask the question.

The recent controversy emerging from Limerick City of Culture stems from that unresolved debate on the function and purpose of culture and the arts industry: who is it all for?

There would be no controversy if the answer to the question "who is this for" was made and given clearly and unambiguously at the start of the process.

Is the City of Culture for the people of Limerick? A year long initiative to improve the quality of life.

Is it for the artists of Limerick? An opportunity to develop and create work.

Is it a commercial opportunity? A chance to use culture and the creative arts to rebrand the city internationally, attract some tourists and some FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) and boost the local economy.

These objectives are not mutually exclusive but thier prioritisation needs to be clear from the outset and all the stakeholders need to understand and AGREE  on it.

Shared vision. Clear objectives. Agreed outcomes.

I suspect that this open and frank conversation did not happen in the first phase of the project. Which is why the stakeholders are now viewing each other with suspicion and pulling the project in opposing directions.

(What's most shocking is that you would expect a city council to be up to speed on best practice in project management. Clearly they're not.)

If this assessment is correct, that the important conversation did not take place at the outset, this begs the question, "why not?"

There are numerous reasons we don't have frank and open conversations at the start of any relationship - business, personal or otherwise. The reasons are nearly always a mixture of fear and contempt. Harsh words, but reflect on them for a moment, and consider the words that have been used by all sides over the last few days.

What the City of Culture controversy has highlighted is a national, systemic and cultural problem: we have no shared vision of our society that can incorporate the needs, skills and aspirations of all stakeholders. We have no common language nor mutual respect and the default mode of engagement is how we can exploit the other. 

With regards to the Limerick situation no amount of resignations, reappointments or apologies will mend the situation. It needs an intervention: everyone, EVERYONE, needs to talk about Art.