Friday, 17 July 2009

Creating Spaces: Social Anarchism vs Social Enterprise

Changing Spaces is a council-led project that wants to see more and more of the disused shops on our streets used by charities and community groups. Positiveworld Studios are opening our first show with the project in a gorgeous, but empty, shop in a very upmarket part of Cambridge showing the work of one of our resident artists, Alice Hill (see above). The excellent initiative is encouraging community groups to get in touch to make use the spaces but - of course - is riddled with legal complications, making some of the empty shops unaccessible, despite there being a huge backlog of groups desperate to use the space. This show is the first of four happening over the next two months in our little disused shopfront, showing exciting work from artists involved in Positiveworld Studios. There are others happening throughout central Cambridge. I love being able to give people the chance to show their work - and that's partly why I founded the studios. The artworld doesn't have to be exclusive, and inclusivity doesn't have to mean low-quality work -it just means more people are able to pursue their passions, and the world is a more creative place.

Interestingly, in the last week here in Cambridge, a group of community-minded people have occupied an abandoned old bingo hall, formerly a cinema - squatted it - for the community. Inspired by the success of the Mill Rd Social Centre that occupied a Tesco site in Cambridge last year, and provided a much-needed space for people to come together and listen to music, poetry, see art exhibitions, and have talks, workshops, classes - all for free, the new centre is also a brilliant idea. Long may it prosper. As shops close down, and more and more community resources are limited, this kind of project ignites new life into dead space - and really energizes community spirit.

These are two very different approaches to the same problem - and I feel really honoured to be able to support both. However, being both a social anarchist (it's in my blood) and a social entrepreneur, I strongly feel that capitalism doesn't all have to be evil and that anarchism is not the destructive stereotype the media would often have us believe it is.

Capitalism has a very dirty name, in some quarters. Yet even the Beatles made money -and were arguably social entrepreneurs. Money does not always have to be bad. Sorry! The truth is that even reggae artists and promoters that handle cash, carehomes for the elderly that handle a turnover, festival organisers, poetry publishers, theatres, schools, and independent shops selling gorgeous, organic food - are all part of the capitalist system accused of abandoning communities. Capitalism alone hasn't abandoned communities: it's exploitation, beaurocracy, and unchecked greed, touted and justified in the name of economic fact that has sent economies spiralling into the chaos we face today. Yet we all know that good old JM Keynes would have a different view on the matter. Though disturbingly, his leftfield strata of ecomomics is being stamped out of business and economics curriculi all over the world (not without a fight) - presenting us with one, very right-wing free market model as the only side of the coin. And breeds a narrowly educated type of business model barely criticised within academia which surely cannot be healthy.

Mutual suspicion breeds antagonism. Just like modern day, terribly hardworking and terribly decent, right-wing capitalists regard socialism as a form of neo-fascism, trying to cream off their hard-earned cash for the state, social anarchists regard capitalists as unchecked monsters wreaking havock on the community - closing community centres in the name of profit. There is truth in both perceptions, but neither are the whole story. God only knows what socialists and anarchists think of each other these days. If in Cambridge yesterday, you could have visited the Social Centre and found out. There was a talk on exactly that subject, and are many more fascinating talks to come. Check

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