Becky Coles recently attended the annual CAMEo conference. She reports….
CAMEo is an interdisciplinary research institute, set up in 2016 at the University of Leicester, to explore the dynamic relations between culture, media and economy. I went to their conference to get inspiration while writing up the longitudinal research I’ve been doing, with Pat Thomson, following young people involved in Tate’s ‘Circuit’ programme as they find places for themselves in the arts. Education was a prominent topic of conference discussion in many ways. There was a particular call to ‘re-think talent’.
Dave O’Brien and colleagues presented their growing body of work about class and inequality in the arts and creative industries. They have clearly established that the industries are not the force for social mobility they are sometimes said to be. Their analysis of large scale survey data shows that, overall, workers come from privileged backgrounds – not quite so much as doctors and lawyers but more than scientists and teachers. They also beginning to demonstrate statistically that work in the arts and creative industries has become more exclusive in recent times.
At the conference roundtable, Mark Banks and Kate Oakley started with this finding and turned to themes of pedagogy and assessment. Banks spoke about how mechanisms for selection in the arts could be particularly opaque. They are less formally prescribed, he argued, because of a belief in the importance of innate, unique, individual talent. This leads, he said, citing the work of Pierre Bourdieu, to the increased significance of classed ‘deportment’, ‘homophilic communication’ and ‘the whole capital of experience’ in selection processes. But ‘talent’ is social as well as individual and it is this social dimension of talent that needs more emphasis. Oakley described how the issue of ‘diversity’ is generally framed in terms of the importance of individual talent. A lack of social mobility results in talent being ‘wasted’. But we need to recast the idea of talent altogether, she said, pluralise it, perhaps make it ‘common’ in the language Angela McRobbie used in her plenary talk the following day.
Education had also been the topic of the first plenary session that had explored the disappearance of the art school as independent institution. Matthew Cornford and John Beck presented photographs they had taken of art school buildings across the country – almost always closed, sold off, torn down. They were not nostalgic, they said. But it is difficult not to be nostalgic for the local institutions that, no longer needed by the industrialists for whom they were once built, became, for a period, ‘outposts of the avant garde’ and while producing few great artists allowed moderately qualified local young people to experiment with making art.
Cornford and Beck also photograph the expensive ‘destination’ art galleries showing ‘international’ art (disparagingly termed ‘culture sheds’) that have replaced art schools as the most visible arts institutions of regional towns. It’s not hard to see a link between the different purposes of these two kinds of institution, a contemporary focus on ‘talent’, and increasing inequality of assess to the arts and cultural industries.