Monday, 14 April 2014

Cultural Community Centre Watch

It seems that at least once a week I discover some new community centre project in the UK, providing vibrancy and culture to local communities.  A recent article in the Guardian proposes a transformation of cultural organisations into “vital, cherished hubs of their local community, making their disappearances unthinkable.”  Many centres are already hives of activity including classes and workshops at the Battersea Arts Centre and the Albany’s commitment to open its doors to the people of southeast London.

Outside of London, however, the funding climate is harsher.  Annabel Turpin of the ARC in Stockton insists that “arts have a much bigger part to play in the lives of local people.”  She plans to open up her organisation as much as possible to the community, “giving people permission to come in and use the building.”  Her centre provides activities for young, old and every demographic in between.  In a similar vein, mac Birmingham boasts high levels of local engagement.  Its multi-art form centre allows for a wide range of activities.

A key asset of cultural community centres is obviously their space.  This is recognised by Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and Farnham Maltings in Surrey.  The director of the latter, Gavin Stride, said, “For us to thrive – to be truly popular – we need to become relevant to more people and improve our usefulness.”

As public space shrinks, art centres remain some of the only places that can be enjoyed without necessarily having to buy anything, a fact many people are not aware. Some centres are actively handing ownership over to local people, such as Contact, Manchester where a group of young people from the area play a key role in how the venue is run.  This allows for a greater interactive conversation with the audience as their voices are increasingly being represented in the arts organisation’s decision making structures.

These anecdotes are a sample of some of the exciting new ways in which local communities are coming together to produce and enjoy the arts.  Here’s hoping that these centres remain vibrant, become sustainable and stand as examples for other communities.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Ultimately, Reality is Personal

Yesterday morning Rabbi Lord Sachs presented a provoking Thought for the Day on Radio 4.  In light of new research and development at Ohio State University into algorithms that identify human facial expressions, he asked what differentiates humans from machines.  A fascinating question to with which all worldviews must come to grips, but which I think Christianity handles in a more truthful and hopeful way, particularly in contrast to monistic faiths and philosophies.  Lord Sachs concludes that the distinguishing feature of humans vis a vis technology is the particularity of love. Quoting his former philosophy tutor, Sachs says:
We love individuals, not types.  We love what is unique and irreplaceable, not what can be mass produced.  That is what gives love its poignancy: its inseparable connection with the possibility of loss.  It’s what makes human life sacred: the fact that no one is a substitute for any other.
This calls to mind the dystopian vision of the film Never Let Me Go in which clones are produced and raised to ultimately perform the task of supplying organs to their originators.  Loads of moral and ethical ideas here on the nature of what it means to be human.  I’d really like to hear how monism addresses some of these.  From what I know of some of this thinking, reality and the particularity of the individual are supposedly illusions which would seem to indicate that the clone concept might not be much of a problem at all.  The particularity of love means that it is personal, that ultimate reality is between individuals/among community.  I think many people assume that the foundational notion of compassion in Buddhism is akin to empathy or love, but this isn’t the case.  As Marcia Montenegro explains on her website:
Many admire Buddhism because its teachings on ending suffering often include references to compassion. Compassion, karuna, arises from wisdom and in Buddhism, wisdom is "understanding or discernment of the Buddha's teaching, especially the teaching of anatta, no self." Compassion is the desire to free "all sentient beings" from rebirth. "Sentient beings" include all living creatures, including animals, residents of all the realms (similar to worlds of spirit beings), and demi-gods. One must be human to attain enlightenment, so compassion is needed for these non-humans (including demi-gods) to be reborn as human.
It seems that if the goal of monism is an ultimate reality where all life is freed from rebirth into enlightenment, then ultimate reality wouldn't be characterised by love, but perhaps something more akin to an endless void, dare I say a world of algorithms and nothing else.