Author Archives: jonhawkes

Knopfler, Cooder & Kelly

I’ve just finished listening to Mark Knopfler’s new CD, Get Lucky.  His guitar work, voice and lyrics have always resonated with me.  And this one as much as any since Sultans of Swing (was it really 32 years – half a lifetime – ago).

I suspect my softest spot has always been for the folk rock thing – at least that form of it exemplified by the early electric Dylan, and that reached its peak with the Grateful Dead on Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty and of course Music From The Big Pink.

Which is why I suppose that Ry Cooder is my desert island artist.  I could listen to I, Flathead forever.  And while listening to Get Lucky, that’s what I kept being reminded of.  Songs about ordinary, nameless, invisible men, songs about music(ians), songs about work, songs about putting one foot in front the other.  Songs of haunting bittersweet melancholy.

Which is when I started thinking about Paul Kelly.  Not the gun guitarist that the other two are, but, at least to my uneducated ear, very similar obsessions, both in terms of investing rock’n’roll with the layers of musics from other times and places (or is it the other way around?), and of writing songs from the underworld.

Perhaps I’m just a sad old man, and identify with music from other sad old men (as soon as this occurred to me I started finding others – Leonard Cohen, Nick Lowe, Dylan, Levon Helm, JJ Cale – there’s a lot of them).

But it’s not that they are sad so much as accepting of their lot.  It’s not self-effacing or self pitying (or when it is, it’s always with a an ironic twist).  One thing’s clear – it is very male – this is men’s music, but perhaps post-feminist men’s music.  Seems to be the very opposite of macho.

Don’t know why I’m writing this really; I’m certainly no music critic.  But I was very moved by Get Lucky and this is my outlet – and it’s certainly a matter of culture.

Anyway, now I’m going to listen again to Cohen’s Live in London – ‘there’s a hole in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.

Imagine a Department of Cultural Affairs

Another of the constant questions that’s been put to me since The Fourth Pillar has been for suggestions about how one might go about creating an effective way of ‘planning for culture’ (thank you Charles Landry) within local government.

I believe that the crucial issues are attitudinal (see Challenges for local cultural development) but they are also structural. The burgeoning of ‘Arts & Culture’ branches in local government appears to be an effort to recognise that culture is important BUT, while it may improve local government’s capacity to engage with the arts, I think that it makes ‘planning for culture’ even more difficult.

Public space, communications, education, and active citizenship are all profoundly important aspects of ‘the social production of meaning’ – ‘making sense together’ – CULTURE. Festivals, libraries and art galleries are, of course, also important but they provide nowhere near the full picture of cultural processes in a community. A structure that is designed in response to this recognition might offer a fruitful way onward.

I have therefore, with some trepidation, and not much hope of a positive response, imagined a ‘Cultural Affairs Department’ that brings together those functions of local government that significantly impact on cultural development. I know it’s a pipe dream, but, given that I have them, the least I can do is pass them around.

Cultural planning in local government

I guess not surprisingly, I keep being asked for real-life examples of local governments applying ‘four pillar thinking’ in their planning practices.

To me, that would mean applying a cultural perspective in the development and assessment of ALL their policies and programs.

And the sad news is that I’m unaware of ANY local government that is doing this. Which is not to say that it’s not happening, but rather that I’ve become so downhearted that I’ve stopped looking. The weird thing is that the idea has gathered huge traction, but the practice (as is perhaps always so) drags way behind.

There are many obvious reasons why this is so. Chief among them, to my mind, is the persisting concept of ‘arts and culture’. Most ‘cultural’ plans art really ‘arts’ plans, despite my constant harping that ‘the arts’ while they are hugely important, are in fact a relatively tiny part of the way we make, store and transmit meaning.

Anyway, in response to the original question, I’ve just added a page to The Hawkes Library that lists local government material on cultural plans that mentions the Fourth Pillar.

I hope this will be useful to those looking for examples; please let me know what I’ve missed.

Getting started

Much as I’m used to writing without a direct sense of an audience – the occasional essay at uni, editorials in Go-Set, grant applications and acquitals, press releases – I’m finding it weirdly difficult to write in the blog context. I have begun reading other peoples’ with great interest, and I presume I’m just one of millions that wander across the musings of the multifarious web authors. Nevertheless, I’m betting that absolutely no-one will read this.

As part of my research on the function of music in human development, I invented (or perhaps discovered) a distinction between expression and communication.

One can make a noise simply for the pleasure/need of making it. There needs be no communicative intent. (Some) musicians may make music simply because they enjoy making it – no grand idea/emotion to pass on; no desire to make someone else feel in a particular way; no desire to have someone understand the way one feels; no need to be appreciated – no message. That is, ‘expression’ pure and simple.

So, at least at this early stage in what I’m hoping will be this blog’s long life, perhaps I can relax into ‘mere’ expression. The Hawkes Library has plenty of communicative material, so, if anyone looking at this is really looking for meaning, you can go there.

And in the meantime, while no one is listening, I’ll just talk to myself. Why am I doing this?
First, I have what I believe is a very common obsession – I love making lists and inventing patterns. The desire to shape one’s reality, to transform chaotic and random experience into a meaningful narrative appears to be something we all want to do.

This may be an existential need (I can only ‘be’, if I’m a character in a story) but I don’t think that that’s where I’m coming from. I think my desire arises from an aesthetic dimension – framing chaos is satisfying – I recognise that it may be futile but it is fun.

I now have to go meet my daughter in the city so this meander will be continued.

Values, leadership, dialogue and identity

I attended the 2009 Not For Profit Futures Summit on Saturday September 19.

It turned out to have been a day well spent.

Apart from the pleasure of sharing time and space with such a large and diverse mob, who as the day passed, appeared to find more and more in common, it led me to ponder a bunch of issues that I probably would not have otherwise.

I won’t try to record the complete details of what was, for me at least (and I’m sure for most), a day of frenetic mental activity, but instead attempt to distil what I came away with.  And what that was, was not a series of answers, but rather a much clearer sense of what the ‘right’ questions might be:

The fundamental question

What values and aspirations do activists/entities in the community sector share?

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