Last week something happened in Guernsey which got people talking, more specifically talking about culture and the arts on small islands and even more fundamental to that was the conversations that happened about culture and arts in Guernsey. For only the second time in 2 years a large scale debate was started between academics, politicians and ‘locals’ about whether or not the arts and cultural tourism really do play such an important role in our society as we art bods would have you believe. These conversations were exciting, controversial and most importantly engaging. Whether contributors to the discussion were passionate about the arts or not, the Arts and Islands Conference gave everyone an opportunity to ask questions and offer their opinion.
What gave this Conference its cutting edge was quite simply the contribution made by delegates from the Small Islands Cultures Research Initiative who had literally come from all over the world to present their academic research and present various arguments as to why it is important to develop small island cultures. This element ensured those who had come to listen were given glimpses into the worlds of other islands and cultures and why Guernsey has the opportunity to be revolutionary in its thinking towards cultural tourism, the arts and our own culture.
Intertwined with these research papers were presentations from Eric Snell, the Director of the International Artists in Residence Programme who argued the case for art being an economic driver and how other areas that have held one or two unique events have benefitted both from a financial gain but also through increased tourist traffic through their cities. The Conference also heard from Graham Daldry the Creative Director from Specsavers Optical Group who presented on the benefits of creativity on a small island and how he himself has found inspiration from working in such a remote location.
The Art and Islands keynote address was this year presented by Matthew Taylor the Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts who talked on Creativity and Sustainable Citizenship. This presentation was perhaps one of the most enlightening and inspiring lectures from the whole Conference. Matthew argued that in a time when the industries we thought indestructible have started to crumble and the sense of security and certainty begins to fade, we need to address our sense of place and purpose, through creativity and what the creative industries can bring to a declining economy.
The result of Matthew’s lecture was a further debate and question time which really developed that argument for Guernsey’s sake. What was most exciting was the amount the audience bought into Matthew’s concept nearly everyone sat there agreed that Guernsey needs to move forward and as such needs to embrace with more rigour the influence and power creative industries can have.
For the Guernsey Arts Commission it is further evidence that however slight, there is a shift of thinking happening in the island and it may very well benefit us as the charitable body set up by government to be the voice for the arts in the island.
It will be interesting to see what happens over the coming months, if opinion and support for the arts can turn into greater financial and political support. After all there’s no doubt about it, last week’s Art & Islands Conference started something in Guernsey, the question we have to ask ourselves now is, how do ensure the momentum of last week’s Conference continues and doesn’t just fade to become a past memory on the islands ever busy calendar? What do we need to do now to ensure that arts and culture in the island become a focal point not an optional extra? The answer to that may end up being really rather surprising.