The Big Debate at Emerging Futures 2018 was chaired by Manchester International Festival Artistic Director John McGrath. Speakers each arrived with their own provocations and then the debate was opened up to the audience via

Viktoria Modesta, artist and MIT Media Lab fellow – joining the debate remotely from LA, asked the room what a “post-disability” world looks like – how is society formed after we are over how fast everyone can run?

Dr Cecilia Wee, head of artist development at Artsadmin and visiting lecturer at the Royal College of Art, asked how might we dismantle the idea that innovation can only be driven by routine processes that are in turn driven by capital, and offer little space to explore and fail. Cecilia also asked if the financial crash of 2008 is a generation-defining event?   

Clare Reddington, Director of the Watershed in Bristol, stated that invention is driven by curious people open to collaborating and working with those that are not like them, by breaking individual work silos and opening up perspectives. Clare also, somewhat controversially, suggested that KPIs were too restrictive a framework for the arts.  

Finally, Javaad Alipoor called for anyone who is marginalised by society not to think of themselves as having a deficit, but to think instead about what they have that others need.

All speakers raised the need for innovation in the arts sector to progress at the same rate as other industries; for the need of increasing the rates of cultural democracy (which Viktoria Modesta points out is already occurring in the digital realm), and for established cultural organisations to stand up and support those fighting for and creating democratised spaces, experiences and opportunities. The arts industry needs to keep up or risk getting left behind.

“I really like that, actually everyone’s point at the end of the day is that, you could have different leadership styles, but ultimately it’s about leaving a trail of caring about the things you are doing and putting the human spirit into it” – Viktoria Modesta