Nick Ingram: Individuals will make Plymouth a centre of culture
IN the end it's all to do with culture, language, and meaning.
Even this piece you are reading is a reaction in language to meaning and communication in this city we live in.
From this I could argue that language belongs to us all. After all it is the one thing we all have in common.
On the other hand language can only really be articulated by the individual who uses it. Even though it may be understood by the many who, use, listen or read the message which is being communicated.
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In this sense here we have two separate groups. One is the collective, and the other is the individual.
In my own mind the individual is a far more powerful figure than the collective.
I'm stating all of this first just to make sure that my own definitions are clear before I drill further down into the more expansive argument which I want to unroll.
All of this is due to the fact that last week I was reading a website dedicated to The Plymouth Culture Board.
The Plymouth Culture Board were set up to lead and support the major cultural initiatives in Plymouth, including the bid for the UK City Of Culture 2017.
And it is from reading their homepage that I came to the conclusion that the Board want to use a wide definition of the word culture.
In this sense culture has to be for all. It has to be the total sum of human phenomena.
It is all there on the Plymouth Culture Board (plymouthculture.org) homepage, laid out in the black and white language of business speak.
'Culture – our Vital Spark' – is not exclusive, not just for the 'elite'.
It's as much as about reading a book, kicking a ball in the park, going to a gig, meeting our friends, eating and drinking, as it is about opera, ballet and Shakespeare.
It is about what we do, and how we do it, about what we think is important.
It taps into our ideas, knowledge, values, and beliefs.
It gives us roots and affirms our sense of 'identity'.
As a whole the idea is a noble one although not necessarily a new and original one.
It is one those definitions which can fit most cities, times, and place. And because of this it can certainly be used to represent Plymouth.
The whole quote points to the idea that the people of Plymouth are the culture and the culture is the people. It also shapes the idea that in Plymouth, culture is self producing. The whole is growing organically through language, art, food and drink, towards a modern identity. Whatever that modern identity is meant to entail.
On the whole, it is all of this which is the 'vital spark', that flash of inspiration which is to fuel this city's future. A future which will bring the city on to the world stage. As if the city needs to be reborn in a new image, pushed towards a future which might exist in the next decade.
Only time and hard work will tell if the city is ready to take on such an immense challenge. Deep down I hope that it will.
Yet there is in my mind a slight reservation to all of this. For this definition of culture only leads to the collective. Those who I have said before only listen. It is in the end not a definition of culture which appeals to the individual.
Do we always have to be bound by the same definition of culture?
Do we all have to sing with the same voice as we march forward in to the future?
Are we always held together by the same common orthodoxy?
Has the individual as writer, artist, film maker, publisher, no right to stake their own claim within this vision of a future Plymouth put forward by The Plymouth Culture Board?
For in the end it will be the language of this city which will be articulated by the individual, for the collective to hear.
Surely this is more the 'vital spark,' that this city needs. For if history proves me right it is normally the individual who steps outside the collective common orthodoxy which tends to spark the flame to fire.
Then it is within this flame that we would be able to see what this city can be, and what this city should be. Within a decade Plymouth should be a centre of excellence in the arts of all kinds.
Arts which would create the 'vital spark' of individuality in all of us.
A place known for existing as far from the orthodox collective as it possibly could be.