Freedom Of Speech

Good Pitch Europe 2012 – GPEU12

This post comes to you from Cultura21

Good Pitch is an innovative model bringing together the skills of documentary filmmakers with NGOs, foundations, social entrepreneurs, brands, governments and media around leading social issues to expand the resources aimed at maximising the impact of social-issue documentary.

Good Pitch Europe will be held on 25th of June at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London, UK. Eight filmmaking teams pitch their film and its associated outreach campaign to the assembled audience with the aim of creating a unique coalition and campaign around each film in order to accelerate its impact and influence and form alliances.

The final pitch is immediately followed by a Networking drinks event where nearly 100 filmmakers and around 300 participants can exchange ideas and contacts with broad discussion encouraged around the issues and challenges involved.

The eight selected projects are the work of a raft of international filmmakers, featuring stories from across the globe. These documentaries explore the European financial crisis, the plight of freedom of speech in the face of resistance from multinational companies, state-building and the emerging democracy of South Sudan, the fight for LGBT rights in Uganda, nonviolent protest and community activism in East Jerusalem, civil war crimes in Sri Lanka, surviving a devastating stroke, and the 21st century revolution in Egypt.

To know more about the event and the selected projects, visit

Cultura21 is a transversal, translocal network, constituted of an international level grounded in several Cultura21 organizations around the world.

Cultura21′s international network, launched in April 2007, offers the online and offline platform for exchanges and mutual learning among its members.

The activities of Cultura21 at the international level are coordinated by a team representing the different Cultura21 organizations worldwide, and currently constituted of:

– Sacha Kagan (based in Lüneburg, Germany) and Rana Öztürk (based in Berlin, Germany)
– Oleg Koefoed and Kajsa Paludan (both based in Copenhagen, Denmark)
– Hans Dieleman (based in Mexico-City, Mexico)
– Francesca Cozzolino and David Knaute (both based in Paris, France)

Cultura21 is not only an informal network. Its strength and vitality relies upon the activities of several organizations around the world which are sharing the vision and mission of Cultura21

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Trafigura, reputation management and the arts

Last week the much-tweeted Trafigura affair collided with the world of art -  with ungainly results. It’s not just Trafigura and Carter Ruck’s reputation that have taken a pasting over the last few days on Twitter.

On Friday, Twitterers claimed victory in a freedom of speech issue surrounding the oil trading company Trafigura. At the heart was a report, commissioned by Trafigura themselves into thedumping of slops in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, which Trafigura did not want the public to see. The toxic chemicals are alleged to have caused the deah of up to 18 people and injury to at least 30,0oo more.

When the existence of the report was raised under the privilege of a parliamentary question, the solicitors Carter-Ruck effectively imposed an injunction on The Guardian reporting what was now parliamentary business. At which point the Twitterverse scented a rat and began publicising not only the injunction and its history, but disclosing the full contents of the damning report. Bingo.  The company’s efforts to keep the report quiet resulted in it being transmitted around the world to millions of internet users. The result was that a whole swathe of those who had been perhaps a little sceptical about the use of Twitter became converts.

While old media were impotent in the face of the injunction, new media simply swept all this  aside. Hurrah for new media.

Well, not quite. It was a little more complicated than that. The Guardian had very cleverly dropped a hint of the injunction on its front page knowing that the unfettered world of new media was likely to pick up and run with it. For all its self-congratulation, it’s not likely that the Twitterverse would have picked up the story on their own. What it should be seen as is an exemplary act of collaboration between old and new.

Anyway, to THE ART BIT.

During Tuesday’s Twitterstorm, an artist called Ivan Pope was amongst those who, googling for stick-like facts to beat Trafigura with, noticed that the company were sponsoring The Trafigura Art art prize as part of the Young Masters exhibition.

As an artist he was quite reasonably shocked to see an arts event associated with a company who were the subject of a damning UN report into the dumping incident. As Pope and others spread news of the prize, the Cynthia Corbett Gallery and exhibition curator Constance Slaughter became the target of the widespread rage against Trafigura. Pope blogged:

OK, so bringing Trafigura and artists together seemed like a good idea.
Except that it is damaging to the artists, the judges, the gallery and the art world generally.
But it is great news for Trafigura, who paid £4,000 for the privilege.
Yes, that’s right. It cost them £4,000 to attach their name to an art world prize.
The prize is run by suckers who think Trafigura are really ‘the good guys’, and that it’s all media lies.
Yes, the organisers of the prize are giving out great PR for Trafigura. If you know how much Pottinger-Bell type PR costs, you’ll see the value in this prize to them.

On Friday, after  four days flak, the Cynthia Corbett Gallery finally announced that they were withdrawing the Trafigura Prize.

OK. Kudos should be given to anyone seeking sponsorship for artists. But.

Sponsorship, as Pope points out, is an exchange. It’s bizarre that no one from the gallery,  nor any the judges who had agreed to take part in the prize, nor or any of the artists in the Young Masters exhibition, had bothered to consider whether it was a Good Idea to be involved with Trafigura until Tuesday’s Twitterstorm.

Though some, like the artist Tom Hunter who was one of the prize’s intended judges, publicly disassociated themselves from the prize following the ruckus, it took until Friday for the gallery itself to pull out. That leaves the impression that they only did so when the PR negatives of the association outweighed the positives, not because of any concern with the wider issues.

As public funding decreases in coming years, sponsorship is going to become increasingly central to the long-term health of the arts. But any sponsorship is an act of partnership – a joining of reputations.

There’s no excuse for not knowing about the controversy surrounding Trafigura. Despite the injunctions, the allegations have been in the public domain since 2006. The Ivory Coast dumping was the subject of a major Newsnight investigation in May this year.

Talk about reputation management. This sort of thing leaves the arts looking unengaged, aloof and frankly a bit dim.

Photo of flash mob protest outside the Carter Ruck offices by lewishamdreamer.

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Taking Liberties: Exhibiting rights and flights

NASA first stereoscopic 3D images of the Sun The British Library often makes good exhibitions and the current show Taking Liberties is excellent – if you have any interest in life, other humans or have any curiosity about anything then you owe it to yourself to go (if you can’t make it to London, check it out online). It closes this Sunday (March 1 2009). At a time when there is so much talk about the hopes and fears for our future socially, economically and environmentally – the material presented in Taking Liberties maps out how ethical ideas, such as freedom of speech, equal votes and human rights, are continually fought for and the exhibition produces a thrilling sense of the vitality and courage of human agency through the ages.

The accompanying events series has included a discussion asking “Can we tackle climate change without dictatorship?”, which is available online. (It is illustrated by Nasa’s image of the earth that Stewart Brand petitioned for public access to back in 1966). But some things can’t be experienced online. Between the BL displays, which include items from Magna Carta to Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man to works of Mary Wollstonecraft and The Good Friday Agreement, are oversized interactive posts that bleep too loudly for no apparent reason, but are fun nonetheless. Laws of Forests, 1225 (Copyright © The British Library Board)
I can’t remember the “citizen number” on my wrist-band but at the end of my visit my opinions were plotted against other visitors and I was firmly one of the crowd (I was quietly disappointed). Well versed in the problems of survey bias, I concluded that this implied that my political understanding sits within a fairly narrow demographic of visitors to BL, who do not find multiple choice quizzes demeaning, who like interactive displays and are not self-conscious about being noisy in exhibition spaces (aka bleeping students).

But people do miss out when they don’t go in for such gizmos. Exhibitions are sites for self-education, so good interactive displays are fun because they draw you into playing with ideas and thinking critically in a relaxed way. That’s my idea of fun. And I am not alone. My recent visit to Washington DC’s National Air and Space Museum was certainly enhanced by watching the new 3-D film (specs included) of the sun’s magnetic actives. As the Heliophysicists narrating the film explained, understanding the ‘weather’ behaviour of the sun is of new importance to the human race as we increasingly rely on satellite technology in our everyday lives – it was fascinating.

Of course, museums are far from neutral in the knowledge they present and exhibitions in every field (whether art, science or history) are created as a way of making convincing arguments through objects in public space, much as a books do through text.

The Air and Space Museum featured in the film War and Peace / Jang Aur Aman (Anand Patwardhan, 2002, 130 mins) screened recently at Tate Britain (13 February). Patwardhan’s documentation of nuclear war threats in South Asia included an interview with the curators of the D.C. museum explaining that their planned display of Enola Gay (the first US plane to drop atomic bombs on Japan) was ‘reduced’ due to political pressure not to reflect unfavourably on military technologies and the extreme civilian deaths they caused. Such decisions patronise the viewing public as well as compromise the intellectual rigour of the institution. Having one’s imagination ignited by the space missions in a museum is not adversely affected by acknowledging the horrors of war – the human mind is built for complexity. The dominant tendency to mistake the need for coherence for a oversimplification of ideas, values and actions fundamentally undermines people’s wonderful capacity for understanding complex ideas on lots of different levels.

Back within the bio-sphere, it’s worth remembering how truly significant our values and actions are. As Taking Liberties makes clear, our rights and freedoms are made up of small steps for man, and huge leaps for mankind.

British Library 'Taking Liberties' exhibition banner

Centre image: Laws of Forests, 1225 Copyright © The British Library Board

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