Salford Media Festival at MediaCityUK this week brings together over 500 media professionals, ranging from traditional and new media content creators, to commissioners, producers, broadcasters and policymakers. And academics. This year the festival celebrates its 20th anniversary, going back to the very first Television from the Nations and Regions conference in 1993.
I have organised a panel about Media and Community in Research Projects for Tuesday afternoon. Speakers:
- Prof Ann Light (University of Northumbria)
- Tamar Millen (Arts Co-ordinator, Community Media Association)
- Dr Sarita Malik (Brunel University)
- Dave Harte (Birmingham City University)
- Gemma Thorpe (Photographer and Educator)
- Dr Toby Pillatt (Researcher).
This panel introduces some of the ideas behind the AHRC’s Connected Communities Programme, and has presentations—including some screen extracts—from four projects that work directly with media and media partners. Dave Harte will talk about the Creative Citizens project, one of the Connected Communities large grants in the creative sector, and in particular about his work in hyperlocal news / media. Sarita Malik will present on her project Community Filmmaking and Cultural Diversity, which is in partnership with the British Film Institute. Gemma Thorpe and Toby Pillatt will discuss their project with Cumbrian hill-farmers, and the notion of filmmaking as (creative) research. Ann Light and Tamar Millen will talk about their project, in collaboration with the Community Media Association, to conserve the various media outputs that the Connected Communities programme has funded in a dedicated archive or collection.
DE2013 is the fourth All Hands annual meeting of the Digital Economy RCUK priority areas. This year it is being held at MediaCityUK, Salford Quays, with the theme of Open Digital. 4-6 November. As part of my Connected Communities Leadership Fellow activities I have organised a workshop at DE2013 this week where we will be showcasing some of our activities around digital community.
Workshop A: Working digitally with communities: the Connected Communities Programme, digital activities, culture and community
Date and time: Tuesday 5 November, 3-5.30 pm
The purpose is to introduce the digital research of a small number of the many projects funded in the AHRC Connected Communities Programme. The projects to be discussed are focused on understanding and harnessing the potential of digital technologies in two specific areas:
- extending the creative practice of knowledge exchange into co-production and co-design (projects working with community partners
- using digital devices and technologies within contexts of community identity / resilience / arts practice.
I will briefly introduce the AHRC Connected Communities Programme—both in terms its funded projects (with emphasis on those with a digital / cultural brief) and in terms of current and future funding opportunities, both for academics and community / industry partners in the audience. Then there will be presentations, with screenings / hands-on demonstrations, from four researchers / community partners from different projects about their work.
Here are our workshop contents:
- George McKay, University of Salford/AHRC Leadership Fellow for Connected Communities Programme, chair: Introduction
to the Connected Communities Programme, funding, partners, scope and aims.
- Colin Lorne, PhD researcher, Birmingham University: ‘MapLocal’ – Engaging Communities in Participatory Planning through Mobile Technologies
MapLocal is designed as a tool to help communities gather information about their neighbourhoods. The idea is that people walk around their neighbourhood taking photographs and making voice recordings using our smartphone app. The pictures and audio clips are then uploaded to a central map which can be accessed on the MapLocal website. As more people from the local area take part, more and more information about the neighbourhood appears on that community’s map, building a detailed picture of the area.
MapLocal can be used for different purposes, for example, gathering information about a local area in preparation for the production of a local plan which communities in England and Wales have been empowered to make under the provisions of the Localism Act, 2011. It could also be used for local campaigns to highlight issues in a neighbourhood that need addressing or as a means of recording the history of an area that is about to be radically changed as part of a regeneration scheme.
The MapLocal app is available to download for free via Google Play, search: ‘MapLocal’ https://maplocal.org.uk
- Prof Chris Speed, Edinburgh College of Art/Edinburgh University: Mr Seel’s Garden, Digital Sentinel work: the role of territorial clouds
Mr Seel’s Garden was a Connected Communities project in Liverpool, focusing on urban horticulture and history, and working with museums, community gardeners, beekeepers, and Transition Liverpool; the Digital Sentinel is an output of a Connected Communities project in Edinburgh, working with a local community to produce a new, online version of a defunct community newspaper, the Wester Hailes Sentinel. http://www.mrseelsgarden.org http://ds.iamts.co.uk
- Dr Josh Cameron, University of Brighton: Constructing a resilient community of practice across the Connected Communities Programme: online connection of researchers
With 280 funded projects and 400 community partners to date, how do we communicate across the Connected Communities Programme? An online ‘community of practice’ (CoP) approach will promote inclusive discussion. CoPs were developed as a way for groups made up of people from differing backgrounds (eg social, cultural, occupational) and with different types of expertise (eg personal experience, practitioner, academic) to effectively collaborate around a shared area of concern. Whilst originally developed for face to face discussions, there is a promising, but limited, body of research suggesting that digital CoPs can be effective. Indeed CoPs may be even more inclusive when online as it becomes possible for discussion to be open to the wider public. This form of Community-University collaboration represents a much more ‘horizontal’ form of engagement than the more traditional ‘vertical’ model implicit in the Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCS) that has gained much recent attention.
- Prof Mike Wilson, Falmouth University: University of the Village project
University of the Village explores a learning model which focuses on the community, rather than the individual. One of the key aspects of the project is the co-design of a creative curriculum which can be then delivered from the university campus directly to the village via superfast broadband. University of the Village looks at new modes of delivering learning opportunities, enhanced through Next Generation Access (NGA) Broadband. NGA or superfast broadband is already recognised as being critical to the development of business and the economy in the UK; university of the Village explores how it can be harnessed to support learning, which in turn supports the development of the creative rural economy and the sustainability of village communities. http://www.falmouth.ac.uk/research-case-studies/university-village
… a bright girl with multi-coloured hair extensions called Kata Kolbert tried to break through [in the 1980s pop scene in Britain]. Her debut single ‘Live your life’ on her own Nevermore label had cool song-writing and soft vocals that invited comparison with Nico and Kate Bush. The only drawback was that, restricted to a wheelchair with severe arthritis, Kolbert was unable to promote it in the acceptable way. Her wheelchair was not sexy. While trucking her demo tape around record companies, she was met with both uncomfortable comments and blank rejection. ‘I couldn’t be a singer in a wheelchair in my own terms’, she said. ‘They wanted me to be a brave struggling cripple in a nice long dress.’ — Lucy O’Brien, She-Bop II
… So, some other versions of the real in disability pop, it seems, we do not desire—and in particular we do not want female pop singers in wheelchairs. Never heard of Kata Kolbert, or ‘Live your life’? Precisely. In her relative obscurity and pop failure, despite what O’Brien sees as her high promise, Kata Kolbert stands, sits as a symbol of the enduring masculinist imperative of the pop industry and media, the gatekeepers of which help a few disabled men up the steps to the golden stage, but try to keep the women off, or in the wings or the shadows, or (like 1930s singer Connie Boswell, who remains the one extraordinary exception) with their physical disability veiled. The press release for that 1987 single, ‘Live your life’, situates Kolbert’s story within the pop industry, in an awkward mixture of accusatory and plaintive:
- Kata Kolbert has her first single out now. This is it…. She is wheelchair bound with arthritis, and was turned down by all the major record companies because of this, DESPITE her opera trained voice. She formed Nevermore to put out her own records….
- Kata cannot play live more than once a month. It’s taken her eight years to get this far. She does not have the money for a concerted publicity campaign. All she asks is for a chance to be heard.
- Is that too much to ask?
If the feminist English novelist Virginia Woolf—still writing on one side of the Atlantic when Boswell was beginning to sing solo on the other—could declare in the early twentieth century that she could not tell ‘the truth about my own experiences as a body’ (followed by a universalising addendum: ‘I doubt that any woman has solved it yet’), it is the case in popular music even in the early twenty-first century that we still can only tell (some of) the truth about men’s disabled bodies. How surprised should we be at such exclusions and silences? Even (even?) academics cannot hide their distaste for or discomfort with certain corporeal categories, as the cripping of, for instance, theoretical lacunae lays bare. Disability scholars have argued that ‘recent body theory has never confronted the disabled body…. [D]isability is as much a nightmare for the discourse of theory as for ableist society’, argues Tobin Siebers. Susan Wendell agrees: ‘In most postmodern cultural theorizing about the body, there is no recognition of—and, as far as I can see, no room for recognizing—the hard physical realities that are faced by people with disabilities’. Kolbert may not have made it on to the leading British charts television programme of her times, Top of the Pops—though, as the earlier experience of singer Robert Wyatt illustrates [read the book!], that could be a mixed achievement for a wheelchair user. Let alone a girl—but surely she is due more than the odd melancholy paragraph in popular music studies such as O’Brien’s or mine, a shade in a skirt in a chair to confirm the gender and disability limits of the industry….
[Note: I think Kata Kolbert is today writer, poet, performer Penny Pepper, who also blogs at Penny Pepper: writer, activist, disabled, passionate. I've written to her for confirmation, but will remove this if I'm wrong! I haven't been able to locate a version of 'Live your life' online yet.]