Mobilise The Inactive Citizen: Participate! Participate!

‘Active Citizens not smart cities’ Dan Hill’s call to arms at the FutureEverything 2013 summit keynote speach. Themes of ownership, empowerment and access weaving through the conference. After Graduating in 2012, I made DIY Art School, a project as much to do with human relationships as it is alternative education. A gang, a community, a network and a trauma support group, it lies firmly in the physical realm via minimum weekly contact at the School’s HQ. Week in week out we pick each other up and cheer each other on, sometimes people don’t turn up and things fall apart a bit, but so far so good. positively contributing to the Manchester art’s ecology and earning a living doing whatever it takes, I’d say we are active citizens already but I am not convinced we are the norm either.

I navigated the summit looking for the human story through all the smart data, code and the algorithms, The people not the technology story continued through to ‘Platforms’, we heard from Jermey Boxer of Vimeo warmly talking of the talented and jolly Vimeo community. How do you tell the difference between the users of Youtube and Vimeo? ‘read the comments’ he suggested, Vimeo users were self selecting and opting into a classier and shinier world than that of the trolling free-for-all over at the world’s second largest search engine. Stephanie Pereira of Kickstarter spoke of the generous communities ready to fund the arts. A cold sweat ran through me at the thought, Pan handling for art! Quelle Horreur, we who are used to filling in forms for grants and hosting intimate parties for peers. It can feel grubby enough putting a bowl out next to the booze and suggesting a £1 donation, and ive seen uncomfortable examples of artists using crowd funding sites to fund work, we are so used to seeing things for free and translating the cultural value into cash and dealing directly with an audience as a consumer is uneasy territory to say the least.

The subject of curation popped up throughout the sessions I attended. The conversation around it appeared to be evolving into a more human story. I loved how through access to these platforms that people are developing curatorial behaviours instinctively, demonstrating complex multi-layered narrative. I enjoyed Steve Crossan’s presentation (Interfaces for Culture) from Google’s Cultural Institute about the possibilities to open up archives and create platforms that give people the room to tell their own stories, Emphasising that technology was ‘not the point’ and that young people don’t even talk about the Internet because well,’ it’s just there’, Crossan demonstrated their product which should launch this summer. A kind of interactive digital museum… hmm internet mimics physical spaces? Really? Well it appeared that there was more to it than that and Crossan appeared aware of the limitations of these somewhat crude formats (however nifty and slick) but focused rather on the potential of users getting their hands on these cultural objects that they had never before had access to, and tapping into this desire to tell stories.seeing how citizen curators use and develop the platforms. The push for opening up archives was echoed in ‘Bringing Archives to life’ by both Tony Ageh of the BBC and Jill Cousins of the Europeana Foundation, who spoke of the challenges of working with institutions to get them convince them to release their archives before ‘we wait for them to retire and do it anyway; and I admired the position of Ageh that it was a moral duty to release these archive into the public realm immediatly and deal with the mess later. Reflecting on the Summit, I felt my project chimed with the behaviours of what might be expected on these new active citizens, but felt that citizen control was not the aim, rather more citizens taking more control but with limits and boundaries set by authorities and institutions. As recent graduates, we are heading out into a very different climate to one 10 years ago, where I am informed it was a time of plenty where ‘you could of pick and choose your funders’. Well the good thing is we never knew what it was like, just like babies being born today won’t know what it was like without smart phones. We like they will adapt and create new paths is this what active citizens do? Make our own way, shrugging off the past, adapting quickly. My biggest question from the Summit is how do we support participation and active citizenship, is is possible without various degrees of manipulation? How does Active Citizenship sit with a post riot, Occupy indifferent city. like Manchester? how do we get there?

Marcelle Holt was part of the FutureEverything Bursary scheme.

The post Mobilise The Inactive Citizen: Participate! Participate! appeared first on FutureEverything.