Missed opportunities for Co-creation

On of the changing facets of modern life which encourages me is the tendency for more people to become creators rather than consumers. New technologies and social media have been important tools in this new environment. More young people are watching and commenting on YouTube videos than are watching TV, and substantial numbers of these are creating their own videos. Facebook, twitter and blogging platforms all encourage people to create their own content. In many spheres, the advent of social media has served primarily to highlight trends that have been going on for years, not always in the public eye.

Music is one of these spheres. People have always made their own music, but various events have given stimulus and encouraged widening of participation. Many people would point to the arrival of punk rock in the late 1970’s as “democratising” music creation, but I think it goes back further than that, with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s being perhaps the first global music phenomenon, which was followed by the fame of The Beatles, which was important in encouraging musicians to form groups and this gave them collective power to bargain with the moguls of the industry and take a degree of control over their careers. Punk gave a new stimulus to these trends when they were flagging, and the digital age has created new ways of people making a living out of music without being beholden to big companies; and of connecting with their audiences.

But there are still a lot of people who don’t get how the world has changed. And I’ll cite the opening of the new Leeds Arena as an example. Leaving aside the arguments about whether so much money should be invested in a massive venue in an age of austerity (and let’s face it, they’re pretty big arguments), there is the question of how the facility should be launched. A lot of Leeds council tax payers’ money is going into this. Originally, it was announced that the opening night would feature the Kaiser Chiefs, pretty big stars, yes, but they come from Leeds, and this seemed to be a fairly good choice. But then, another announcement came, saying the launch would feature Bruce Springsteen, much to the public annoyance of the Kaiser Chiefs, who seemed to think some promises had been broken.

Now the problem with all this, I think, is what it says about how those who make big decisions like this view the world. OK, to justify such a big outlay and investment, you probably need to attract massive stars like Springsteen, and Elton John (another big name on the list to play the Arena), but, this suggests we are still in consumer mode here. Music is something to be consumed and the big stars deign to play in the venues that can bid the highest fee. But, in reality, music is the ultimate co-creation industry. Leeds, like most cities, has a thriving local music scene, populated by people who make music as well as consume it. The Arena might take some of that audience away from local events. Wouldn’t it be better to invite the musical co-creators in to see how they might use the venue themselves, rather than setting up in opposition to them?

So, I think the opening event at the Leeds Arena should have been a day-long festival of local acts, headlined, probably, by the Kaiser Chiefs, with main support, obviously, the doyens of the local music scene, the awesome, Hope and Social. That would have been a showcase for the crossover between the creation and consumption of music, and the fact that it is not happening is a massive missed opportunity.

I’ll sign off with a bit of Hope and Social

2 thoughts on “Missed opportunities for Co-creation

  1. Nice piece John. You just need to look at the Leeds City Priority Plan (http://www.leeds.gov.uk/docs/Leeds%20City%20Priority%20Plan.pdf) to find a clue. Tucked away under the section on ‘Best City for Business’ (because this is the key role of culture) is a 4 year priority to ‘get more people involved in the city’s cultural opportunities’ – and success will be measured using a headline indicator of ‘increasing the number of adults and children that regularly participate in ‘cultural activities”. Now let’s set aside the tricky questions of what counts as a cultural activity. I guess we can be pretty sure that rocking out to Bruce Springsteen will be counted. As will watching the Peleton whizz by at the Tour de France. But what about a much beloved game of doms? Is that not a cultural activity too? Who decides? So big numbers, easily countable, consuming culture become the easy win on this one.

    I suspect the real problem is that despite stumping up the money to pay to have the arena built Leeds City Council actually have little or no say in how it will be run. That is the job of the operator, to get the place full, the cash registers ringing and the those that can access the opportunities having fun and making profits. I am not even sure we know how the revenue will be split between the operator and the council and how long it will be before the Leeds rate payers stop serving the debt we have incurred (£40m borrowed I think, plus another £40m taken out of reserves – though I maybe wrong…).

    But your point about a changing world, a culture of creation as well as consumption of culture and missed opportunities? Well, those things happen anyway in dozens of local festivals and carnivals. Its just a shame that while the thick end of £80m provides a publicly owned edifice for apparently private profits to be made, much of the £55m of cuts to be made next year are likely to fall on exactly the kind of community based co-creation that you desire..

  2. Interesting post John, and a great comment Mike.

    Personally, I love the idea of a day long, even two day, festival to celebrate the opening. There’s certainly enough amazing talent in and around Leeds. Different times could be “presented in conjunction with The Brudenell Social Club” for example…. and we could have a selection of the finest independent foodies in Yorkshire represented; Manjit’s Kitchen, Sunshine Bakery, Fish&. The walls would be decorated with the works of local artists, and obviously I’d love Hope and Social to play it; better still though, why not celebrate the stories of Leeds and the happy memories of the people of Leeds by including Invisible Flock’s “Bring the Happy” (and I’d still get to play at that), or holding bettakultcha talks between each of the musical artists? It’d be great.

    My best guess is that by involving people who care about Leeds and continually produce great things and make great culture (the aforementioned venues, foodies and artists for example) that it could be turned into a fantastic spectacle in Leeds, of Leeds and about celebrating Leeds. Maybe we could even sell it out, though obviously we’d like to make it as affordable for the people of Leeds as possible; maybe even give some free tickets to those not so fortunate… something nice anyhow.

    The thing is though, Leeds Arena isn’t shaping up to be *about Leeds*. The kinds of people they’re bringing in so far aren’t going to be bringing prosperity to Leeds so much as taking the cash and moving it out of Leeds. Bruce to the US, Elton to his private money mountain in the sky, and I don’t know about the Kaisers… do any of ’em still live round here? Spend their money in local shops here? Contribute to the local economies of money, community, art? I hope so.

    We’ve asked about support slots (to Leeds Arena directly – who, to be fair, would argue that they don’t have a say in who gets supports) – https://twitter.com/hopeandsocial/status/303805860390502400 – as I think it’d be great to use Leeds Arena to showcase great local stuff in conjunction with larger, arena-filling artists; a re-distribution of attention if you like, like a progressive tax system for art. We’ve not had a response.

    As for having Bruce play… that’s awesome. Bruce rocks our world. He played Glastonbury the same year we did, a fact which is no doubt included on his press- release [grins] and was the highlight… as you can see…http://youtu.be/6h99temRrm8?t=6m49s

    Maybe it’s time for an open letter to Bruce and Leeds Arena? Bruce gets it. He loves his City, supports the Democratic Party, sings of the Backstreets… He’d have us. 😉

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