Posts filed under ‘culture’

Library futures

Andrew Curry and Victoria Ward write:

Last week Francine Houben of Mecanoo Architecten talked about their design of Birmingham’s future library as a “living room for the city”. More than just storage, a dynamic space for movement, openness and exchange. In a blog she calls libraries “the cathedrals of our millennia”, which seemed a useful precursor to Saturday’s National Libraries Day

The future of the library is, in some ways, a paradox. So many long term trends are running against it that it is easy to assume that is an anachronism of the 19th and 20th centuries. Such trends include the rise of digital technologies, and the accompanying rise of audio-visual culture; the long wave of individualism since the late 1960s; the shift from public provision to personal provision; the pressures on public expenditure; the emergence of the e-book and the digitisation of books generally. It seems only a matter of time before the library withers away.

But look again, and some other, emerging, trends come into focus. Rising oil prices and greater work flexibility increase the value of the local; the rise of digital rights management fuels campaigns around openness; the number of books published every year continues to rise; issues of access and equity – and affordability – come into sharper focus as one austere year rolls into another; the relationship between the tangible and the digital object becomes increasingly complex; new attitudes to ownership (using, not having) make the library appear as a pioneer.

Look again, and you can start to think that if libraries did not exist, it would be necessary to invent them. But what sort of library would we invent?


8 February 2012 at 9:28 am Leave a comment

Holiday collection # 2

Liz Walkling: Graffiti Classics:

I can’t remember an evening where I came away with my face aching from laughing and my hands sore from clapping so much.  Our local Arts Centre hosted an evening performance by Graffiti Classics, a professional string quartet of four (two guys, two girls) who met in 1997 when busking in Covent Garden and now perform worldwide.  Playing beautifully while dancing and singing energetically, from Ravel’s Bolero and Strauss to McCartney and Gershwin, cannot be easy. But they made it look so.  Great entertainment, very interactive with the audience, wonderful music performed to a lively stand-up-fall-down routine. Catch them if you can.  Or look them up on Youtube if you can’t.

Eleanor Cooksey: Four Lions

Smothering laughter whilst hiding my face behind hands was how I watched Four Lions, a film directed by Chris Morris about a group of Bradford-based jihadists who try to plan their own UK suicide bombings.

Why did it have this effect on me? I think because it represented the creative equivalent of ‘uncanny valley’ – a term used in robotics to describe how when a robot looks and acts almost like a human, it makes people recoil. Four Lions painted a scenario which seemed so believable and close to reality, it was frightening and almost unbearable. And still terribly, terribly funny.

Lindsay Kunkle:  Food, Inc., by Robert Kenner

A documentary that could change the way you eat forever, shines light on the messy politics of the food industry. Channeling popular food author and activist Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Kenner highlights the not so appetizing origins of our food. Genetically modified produce that refuses to rot, cows raised on unnatural diets of indigestible corn, the sheer over-abundance of corn in the marketplace, and the backhandedness of the soy industry are leaving us the victims as we battle food-borne illness, an out-of-hand obesity epidemic, and an economy that rewards unfair business, literally starving the small farmer.

The picture of Graffiti Classics is by Astralsound, and is used here with thanks.

28 December 2010 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Myth comics

Anand Rao writes:

There is no escaping it. Religion has always been the zeitgeist in India and despite the strife it causes, it is beloved to the Indian psyche. India’s unique proposition is as the home of spirituality, the place to go to get a soul. Caricature aside, religion and mythology are also a popular business proposition in India – and in a good way. Companies use religion to appeal to consumers and this is not considered a negative thing in India.

Two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharataboth are collections of stories about life and death, about morality and ethics, governance and corruption, about love and warfare, and much more – have always been the mainstay of Indian mythology. Stories from these epics have been produced in every medium of communication throughout the ages in India, including the comics industry. While the Indian comic book giant Amar Chitra Katha (ACK) has illustrated stories from these epics for Indian audiences for years, it has now attracted interest outside of India, with a £4 million investment from the London-based private equity firm Elephant Capital.

New entrants to the Indian comic book industry have been creating content based on new interpretations of these epic stories. These include Ramayan 3392AD, a fantasy interpretation set in the future, and DevaShard, a comic based on stories from the Mahabharata.

I caught up with Vijayendra Mohanty on Twitter, a popular blogger and writer, who recently started writing for Level10 Comics, a new comic book venture in India. Mr. Mohanty, ‘Vimoh’ in the Indian blogosphere, is also writing a graphic novel called Ravanayan – a fresh take on the pivotal characters from the epic Ramayan. He told me:

“Ideas from Indian mythology are deeply ingrained in all of our daily lives. Comics are a pop medium. They tell stories, just like Bollywood does. But comics in India are not as pervasive as movies are. So comics as a medium can ride on the reach of mythology as a language that every Indian understands.

“On the other hand, stories and ideas from Indian mythology haven’t really had the ‘pop’ treatment until recently. Comics dealing with mythology, both as retellings and as reinventions, can expose people to a whole new way of looking at our thousand year old stories.”

While comics and graphic novels are still mostly an indulgence in India for urban, metro consumers, they are growing in popularity. Because of the inherent appeal of mythology and religion in India, it won’t be long before smart marketers figure out how to use the mythology comic medium to reach out to their audiences, and across the rapidly growing mobile platform.

The image at the top of the post is from the videogame Ramayan 3392 A.D., based on the comic, and is used with thanks.

19 December 2010 at 10:00 am 1 comment

The return of rhetoric

Emily Pitts writes:

King’s Place in London held an elegant discussion last week on the art of rhetoric, led by Tony Benn, Simon Schama, Polly Toynbee, Geoffrey Robertson and curated by English PEN. The panel examined whether a speech is made great by careful use of rhetorical techniques, or whether the art in fact lies in choosing the right point in time for the speech to occur.

Three of the four panellists argued against the power of rhetoric, stating instead that dramatic speeches occur at dramatic points in history. The moment, they said, defines the language, rather than the other way around.

Simon Schama dissented. He argued that Obama is the best modern-day example we have of an artful rhetorician, citing the use of iambic pentameter in his inaugural speech; “I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors”, and his skilful use of the plural personal pronoun; We can do it, Yes we can”. There has of course, been much written on Obama’s exemplary use of rhetoric – take a look at Max Atkinson’s blog for in-depth analysis.

During the course of the discussion, various other politicians came under scrutiny. It was suggested that the restraint of Gordon Brown’s language contributes to the perception of him as an inaccessible personality. Similarly, the “everyday Joe” language of Nick Griffin and his active oratory in local communities could be a significant factor in his success. Tony Blair was touted as the inventor of the ‘verbless sentence’ – a rather brazen grammatical omission – which allowed him to offer a promise without ever, in fact, making an actual commitment. “Our education system – a beacon to the world” is one example.

It is clear that artfully constructed language can be hugely powerful, especially when the point in history is hungry for words that can lead and provide strength. But more recently, blogging and instant communications seems to have had a ‘content over form’ effect on language – just getting the message “out there” has often become good enough.

However, with high-profile figures such as Obama leading the way, I suspect we may see a reversal of that trend over the next few years. We could see a return to more traditional values of well constructed and stylistically sophisticated language, both spoken and published. In the UK, the possible introduction of US-style televised political debates might raise the game for politicians and the language they use. It may not be Cicero, but the art of the spoken word could be about to resume an important place in public life.

The image is from Allan McDougall’s blog, and is used with thanks.

30 November 2009 at 2:56 pm Leave a comment

Eight tips about segmentations

Insight Day (c) Jake Goretzki 2009Sarah King writes:

At The Futures Company we do a lot of segmentation work, for organisations trying to get really new insight into their audiences – who they are, how they behave, their attitudes and values. Segmentation helps our clients to drive genuine customer orientation across their businesses, with a shared perception of customers resulting in far more relevant offers. We shared some of our current thinking on how to get the most out of any segmentation project at a breakfast briefing for clients earlier this week.

Here are some tips from the presentation:

  1. Understand what you’ve already got – companies have plenty of data already, and it’s almost always more cost-effective to build on this. Add it to our insight and it can give you a real head start.
  2. Make sure you know what business question you’re trying to answer with the segmentation.
  3. Plan how you’re going to implement the segmentation before you begin – make sure you have a clear view of the end from the starting line and design your segmentation accordingly.
  4. If it’s your first time or there is a lot of change in your category, consider whether you need some exploratory qualitative research to help you understand how people divide and what questions you need to ask in your survey
  5. Remember that the segmentation work sits inside the business, which needs to be engaged in the process – before, during and afterwards. Bear in mind that you will have to resource embedding it in the business – both socially and in your daily business processes. You might need to access budgets other than the Market Research one.
  6. Avoid “the big reveal”. Get senior sponsorship for your project and take people along with you as you go, rather than trying to surprise them with the brilliance of the insight at the end. Less dramatic, more productive!
  7. Keep the segmentation story as simple as you can, without compromising the quality of the insight or the data. It makes a big difference if people in the business can keep the segmentation in their heads.
  8. Choose names for the segments which show respect for your customers and don’t caricature them. As the segmentation gets used by the business, the names will end up framing the way you think about customers.

It’s also worth looking at the post about segmentation in the public sector, based on an IIPS event held in the spring.

The cartoon is by Jake Goretzki.

9 June 2009 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment

Sounds like the future


Andrew Curry writes:

Anyone with a passing interest in modern jazz knows the ECM label, now 40 years old, with its distinctive roster and innovative design. To mark the anniversary it has released 40 of the best from its back catalogue as ‘Touchstones’ – with performers ranging from Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett to John Surman, Anouhar Brahem and Jan Garbarek. The price is low (“at download prices”) and the packaging reduced.

It’s a move which pushes some obvious buttons. The €9.90 price is a response both to the digital download market and also to the recession, the card covers more environmentally friendly than the typical jewel case. But it also touches on some less obvious trends. The packaging design reduces the amount of space the CDs take up, in an age of decluttering, while also evoking the glossy look and feel, if smaller, of the original LP sleeves, creating a kind of nostalgia for the future. It can only be a matter of time before ECM’s new releases follow suit.

The picture is of pianist Chick Corea and vibes player Gary Burton, both on the Touchstones series.

20 January 2009 at 9:36 am Leave a comment

Repairing the material world


Emily Pitts writes:

Demos’s recently launched ‘It’s a material world’ argues for the social value of heritage conservation, at a time when budgets for conservation courses are being slashed and the future of the discipline seems threatened. It calls for a national conservation strategy that includes education in schools, involves local communities in preserving the public realm, more support from government and a call to arms directed at professionals in the conservation and cultural sectors. If we don’t make the effort to be inclusive in how we look after the public realm, they argue, and make choices collectively about what to conserve, then social capital also declines.

An increasing interest in preserving social capital and a renewed vigour in community life is something we have been tracking for a little while, and early signs are that the economic downturn is increasing the extent to which we think of collective good. According to Yankelovich Monitor, 41% of American consumers define being a good citizen as ‘Not buying a home that is larger than you really need to help reduce energy usage’ compared to 34% just a year ago. Our data from the UK, whilst not directly comparable, hints at a similar sense of personal empowerment and responsibility, with the majority of consumers agreeing with the statement ‘I feel that I can make a difference to the world around me through the choices I take and the actions I make’. Interest in community life is also strong; according to our Planning for Consumer Change survey, since 2005 more people agree that the quality of life is better improved by looking after the interests of the community than those of the individual.

With changing attitudes towards community in evidence, the time might be right for the cultural sector, and conservation in particular, to push away from the individualistic outlook of the early ’00s and emerge in the schoolrooms and town halls of every community as a mainstay of our society. But is it possible for conservators to be more professional and more inclusive of the public at the same time, as Demos asks? Resolving conflict between public priorities and those of the experts could prove tricky, but rather than seeing these clashes of opinion as either/or tradeoffs, can we instead look to them as latent energy areas for future innovation?

The image is of the filming of the final of the BBC series ‘Restoration’ Village‘at the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. More images can be found on their Flickr site.

22 December 2008 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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