Reimagining the Landscape, Resetting the Narrative

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Reimagining the Landscape, Resetting the Narrative

How we can collectively reimagine our narrative, take control of our own stories and, empower and support others to take up space?

Streamed online as part of the Creative Coalition Festival 2022, Reimagining the Landscape, Resetting the Narrative explored the ever-shifting creative industries, shaped by social and technological change.

Jude Kelly CBE, CEO and Founder of The WOW Foundation, chaired the event which included speakers: Sophia Smith Galer – Senior News Reporter, VICE; Renell Shaw – Award-winning Composer and Songwriter; Leonie Bell – Director, V&A Dundee.

Grounding the discussion in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests of Black Lives Matter and COP26, Jude Kelly asked the panel how we can imagine a new world and make it a reality.

Sophia Smith Galer highlighted the need for embracing digital innovation, noting its impact on social and political events: “There have been social movements that have happened during the pandemic in which people have conducted digital activism, that has very much helped to make real seismic change happen.”

Equal access to digital technology is, she believes, key to telling new stories especially in journalism. Focusing on the issue of language, Sofia suggests that we must move away from an English-centric approach to digital: “Upping resources to translate and creating excellent places where new research that comes out doesn’t simply stay within a largely English speaking academic community, but that it’s put in the hands of multilingual storytellers and translators.”

For Renell Shaw, the pandemic changed his approach in composing music, inflecting new stories through sound. “I had a few composition commissions that were to be performed at a later date and because we couldn’t perform, it made me think, well, I don’t want to not speak about some of the subject matter that I’ve been asked to compose the music for. So let’s figure out how we do it online.”

Exploring the human stories of the Windrush generation in one of his commissions, Renell had to find a way to reach people through their screens that wasn’t simply presenting the facts. “It always sounds very matter of fact when we speak about these things until you put names to these people, and names to their stories, and the people who have gone, who they may have come over here with, and it makes it a bit more personal.”

Early in the pandemic, Leonie Bell was left questioning the value of her role in a new, destabilised world. “We realised it actually wasn’t just about food distribution, it was about people’s connections to the place, to people, to community.” Moving on from her role in local government in Paisley, Scotland, where during the pandemic she was responsible for food distribution and volunteer coordination, to her current role at V&A Dundee, she struggled with using the term ‘institution’: “It means something that regards itself as self-important, that thinks about its power and not its influence.”

For Leonie, the institution must also become a place of sanctuary and safety for its visitors: “[It’s about] thinking of ourselves as a civic organisation that’s democratic, that convenes all different sectors, that holds itself as a leader, but also thinks about its participation in terms of who we’re here to serve.”

Addressing the generational divide across the cultural industries, Sophia uses the term ‘Zillennial’, an apt descriptor for those who find themselves between Gen Z and Millennial. Jude reflects on this by asking Sophia: “Is there a power being between two generations?”

“With regards to the journalism industry and when you’re trying to encourage people to innovate, I have really found that the appetite for innovation is not generational. It’s a mindset.” Sophia described the need for digital innovation as “existential to accurate independent journalism surviving,” challenging those in positions of seniority who have traditionally been hesitant to adopt technological change.

When it comes to resetting the narrative, Renell believes the potential is there in the music industry, there just needs to be people willing to take those risks. However, that change isn’t immediate: “I think sometimes the change we want to see, we want to see immediately. And I think that’s part of an issue because it’s taken so long to get to one place that the reverse won’t happen straight away.”

So, what structural changes are the panel going to fight for?

“Not to use the word creative industries anymore,” said Leonie, “because I think potentially it separates us.” For Renell, it’s the language of value he is most concerned about: “For the value of work to be focused on a success rather than the amount of numbers the work might have produced.” And for Sophia, digital is at the forefront of her fight: “The reprioritizing of digital is very important… it is not enough that lots of organisations are still considering it as an add on.”

Reimagining the Landscape, Resetting the Narrative was sponsored by TikTok.