Local, Opinion/Comment

What is ‘culture’ in the context of the CCS? Part 2

Some time ago, Coffs Coast Independent News (CCIN) on Facebook shared a piece which I wrote here for CCO.

By Julian May

CCIN shared my piece on a Facebook page belonging to Coffs Coast Creative Industries, in an attempt, I believe, to encourage some helpful debate regarding the proposed construction of Denise Knight’s new council offices, with attached cultural spaces.

‘We’re really the same, me and you. Same manufacturer even.’

Below, I have copied the responses to that sharing, along with some comments of my own, since I have been unable to make comments on the Facebook page in question.

If you can’t remember my original article, or didn’t read it, you can find it here; https://coffscoastoutlook.com.au/?p=36762 .

My reasoning for Part 1

My intention in writing this piece was to suggest that Mayor Knight’s definition of “culture”, when referring to her new office space, is extremely limited.

She seems to consider that art, literature and history are the only aspects of culture which need to be considered, since, if my understanding is correct, her building is only planned to accommodate new council offices, an art gallery, a library, and a museum.

I believe that there exists an extremely narrow-minded definition of the concept of “culture”, which limits its scope solely to “an appreciation of, or involvement in, the production of works of art, including music, dance, literature, painting, sculpture, and any other expression of ideas and feelings through the use of the creative process”.

I don’t subscribe to this view, and I chose two definitions which reflect my thinking. I believe that those definitions were sufficiently broad in nature as to indicate that I take a “broader” view.

Conversations with Ma: Walking, Snobbery, and Stealing Fruit | The New  Yorker

Here are the responses, copied directly from the Coffs Coast Creative Industries Facebook page, along with my responses to the responses:

Response One:

Ash Sam: Yikes. This article is dramatically one dimensional and just so assuming in nature.

My Response:

This response is dramatically one dimensional and so assuming in nature.

Response Two:

Ashleigh Frost: Yeah a big yikes for me too ash. Especially saying ‘nothing startling to report” and “we belong to a pretty typical regional coastal community.” A shame that the complexity of our communities are dismissed and without much mention of the arts at all.

My Response:

Is there some shame in belonging to a pretty typical coastal community? Should we see ourselves as belonging to a prestigious or unique community, which sets us apart from normal coastal dwellers? Does Ms Frost, as a member of the artistic community, feel the need to separate herself from ordinary people?

“Where does “culture” fit into this? In Coffs, this concept seems to be extremely narrowly defined by some of the Denise Knight Supporters’ Society, and seems to focus almost entirely upon The Yartz, that ethereal amalgamation of music, painting, sculpture, literature, fashion, wine-tasting, haute-cuisine . . . .

It seems to be inappropriately associated with elitism within an upper crust social club, from which we ordinary people are excluded, but which we must aspire to join. This is not culture, it’s high class, but low grade, social engineering.”

A quick count rewarded me with references to at least 5 cultural groups, and a hint that there are many more. Is that sufficient complexity for Ms Frost? Perhaps she did not see my tongue-in-cheek reference to “The Yartz” (I think I stole this reference from Barry Humphries’ inimitable Sir Les Patterson) as a reference to the arts.

Response Three:

Dave at Screenwave: The article barely mentions art, and then only in an elitist context – which just doesn’t exist locally. Go to Sydney or Melbourne or London or New York – those places have clear definitions between haves and have nots. We are still building a definable Coffs Coast culture – I’d rather see us build that up than already start deconstructing it or vilifying it.

Coffs Harbour has much more of a melting pot approach wjen (sic) it comes to culture – but it can come off as elitist if people don’t meaningfully make an effort to learn the basics (eg. art vocabularly (sic), basic art theory, etc), the same way that someone might get bored watching a game of rugby without making an effort to learn the rules.

To me, this article seems to be written by someone that is still learning what culture means – so good on them for making the effort to learn, but they are probably not at a capacity of applying that understanding across the community yet.

Growing up, people always talked down getting a BA – but it teaches you as much about critical thinking, analytical skills, problem solving as art theory. Maybe we should be offering a light version of that locally to help people in the community to understand more.

My Response:

  • My article was not about art.
  • I suggest that persons other than myself may speak about art in an elitist context. I do not.
  • There has always been a definable Coffs Coast culture, and it continues to change. Please show me how I have deconstructed or vilified it.

“Coffs Harbour has much more of a melting pot approach wjen (sic)( it comes to culture- but it can come off as elitist if people don’t meaningfully make an effort to learn the basics (eg. art vocabularly, (sic) basic art theory, etc),”

“I’ll try to identify some of the Coffs community groups, but my list should not be considered as definitive, nor recorded in any sort of priority order. Rather, I’ll just put down whatever comes to mind.”

Again, this respondent wants to take a view of the concept of culture which limits its scope to an appreciation of the arts. In my definitions of culture, I have purposely avoided doing so. Clearly, this person has viewed, but not accurately read the article.

“To me, this article seems to be written by someone that is still learning what culture means – so good on them for making the effort to learn, but they are probably not at a capacity of applying that understanding across the community yet.”

Patronising? Condescending? Evidence-based? Researched? Or just plain elitist bullshit?

Growing up, people always talked down getting a BA – but it teaches you as much about critical thinking, analytical skills, problem solving as art theory. Maybe we should be offering a light version of that locally to help people in the community to understand more.”

Like thousands upon thousands of others, my degree is not in Arts, but this does not preclude our appreciation of the many forms of art which enhance our lives.

The suggestion that “dumbing down” an Arts degree will enable people in the local community to understand more, is incredibly myopic and intensely insulting, and marks the writer as a rabid elitist in my opinion.

Response Four:

Ashleigh Frost: I agree Dave I think it’s great people are thinking about what culture means and giving it a go in the article! A bit of a shame arts is only seen through that elite view but still an important thing to consider as we grow and expand the art and culture scene here 🙂it’s also a great idea about offering some sort of light BA /cultural studies version locally too

My Response:

Does Ms Frost possess any original thoughts, or the capacity to express them in a meaningful fashion? Perhaps she simply identifies herself through sycophantic mumblings.

Response Five:

Rory Lawrence: Whoa.., this is soooooooo just what? This sounds like a first year arts student essay in a cultural unit but not actually about “culture” at all. As Dave mentioned, Coffs is still growing and defining but we have so much going on – you just have to look for it.

My Response:

Whoa.., this is sooooooooo much crap. The article is not about “culture”, Rory. It’s about Knight’s use of the concept to disguise her attempt to build a nice new office for herself, at enormous public expense. Read the article again!

Response Six:

Jo Besley: Anyone who participates in arts and cultural activities and events here in Coffs knows that it’s far from being elitist

My Response:

“Where does “culture” fit into this? In Coffs, this concept seems to be extremely narrowly defined by some of the Denise Knight Supporters’ Society, and seems to focus almost entirely upon The Yartz, that ethereal amalgamation of music, painting, sculpture, literature, fashion, wine-tasting, haute-cuisine . . . .

It seems to be inappropriately associated with elitism within an upper crust social club, from which we ordinary people are excluded, but which we must aspire to join. This is not culture, it’s high class, but low grade, social engineering.”

Jo, read some of the shit recorded in the replies above, and then tell me there’s no evidence of an elitist attitude among the commentators. Can you please show me where I said that cultural activities in Coffs are elitist?

Response Seven:

Dave : Sometimes I do like to put on a button-up shirt though

My Response:

Inverted snobbery?

Response Eight:

Rory Lawrence: Two other points –

The “subcultures” (arguable) defined in this article have received a significant amount of funding and attention over the years – we have more sporting events (including surfing etc) than you can count, we have new development of retirement/assisted living going up EVERYWHERE, there is so much amazing stuff going on with

Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan – 2 Path Strong

which is winning awards on the reg showcasing our magical Indigenous culture….

And as for high brow/low brow – I, as a tattooed, pierced, 14 year old boy looking woman have never felt more welcomed than in the “high brow” settings described. I think perhaps the writer doesn’t seek out these events which perhaps he has a point, there needs to be better advertising? However, it is not inaccessible to the “lay person”, as he insinuated,at all.

And the library… I think you’ve completely missed who the demographic is that uses the library – mainly it’s low socioeconomic folks looking for computers and a safe space to get work done, young families taking advantage of the events that are on and a lot of disability services use the library to engage clients. It’s certainly not a high brow, elitist event, at least in the context of this article.

I’m actually personally offended by this article as a creative working in Coffs – I work in film, theatre, production, etc etc – and I’m not particularly pro the cultural centre in its current form – but this article is just so far off the mark for an argument to make.

My Response:

I may be “fick”, but WTF is this about?

I reiterate:

  • This article is not about art.
  • I suggest that persons other than myself may speak about art in an elitist context. I do not.

Please show me how I have insinuated that cultural activities are inaccessible to the “lay person” (an exclusive and demeaning term, in this context).

“It’s certainly not a high brow, elitist event, at least in the context of this article.”

No, you’re absolutely correct. The library is not an elitist event. Please show me the words I used in order to claim that it is.

“I’m actually personally offended by this article as a creative working in Coffs – I work in film, theatre, production, etc etc – and I’m not particularly pro the cultural centre in its current form – but this article is just so far off the mark for an argument to make.”

I’m actually personally offended by comments such as this, or I would be, if they were being made by people who are exercising intellectual rigour, or basic reading comprehension skills and common sense.

Cultural Snobbery Cartoons and Comics - funny pictures from CartoonStock

Response Nine:

Rob Trezise (Coffs Coast Independent News Editor): To all those writing your comments may I suggest that you write your comments on the relevant page of Coffs Coast Outlook where this Post originated, to send your message to the writer and readers of that Blog as a means of communicating and correcting any mistaken perceptions you feel the writer may be claiming as a way of bringing the two opposite sides together that hopefully will reach a better understanding. It has always been my belief that there is too much of an Us & Them mentality in some areas of the Coffs Coast Community. We usually have projected and promoted our region as a harmonious place where all are welcome. Let’s make it so.

My Response:

Thanks, Rob. You not only read the article, but you understood what it said.

In my piece I said:

“ . . . . the arguments for and against Denise Knight’s “cultural centre” project, seems to revolve around a particular, and very specific subculture – not “Coffs Harbour culture”, but “real culture”.

It seemed, at least in the early days of the battle to defeat Knight’s plan, that supporters of the plan were keen to elevate Coffs culture to a higher plane, by providing more and better venues in which philistines could enhance their appreciation of, and immersion in, “real culture”.

Critics of the plan, who for the most part expressed no concern about creating a new art gallery, library and museum, and in fact supported the move, were painted as knuckle-dragging morons from Boganville, who had no appreciation of the finer things in life, like art, literature and music. This tendency towards stereo-typing our opponents is a favourite, and illegitimate, political ploy. I try, and usually fail, to avoid using it.”

Knight and her lobby have effectively hijacked the concept of “culture” and are using it to excuse their intensely selfish behaviour. They label opponents of the new office block, with attached cultural spaces, as opponents of culture.

The respondents to my piece, which Rob shared with Coffs Coast Creative Industries, have tried to suggest that I, and, by extension, all opponents of Knight’s Palace, lack an understanding of, and appreciation for, culture. This is simply biased and unmitigated bullshit.

I am supposed to have claimed that aficionados of the arts are elitist. More bullshit. Had I in fact, made this claim, those accusers would have provided, through their own comments, ample evidence of elitism:

“ . . . good on them for making the effort to learn, but they are probably not at a capacity of applying that understanding across the community yet.” – meaning (if it has a meaning) that this writer deserves praise for trying to elevate his understanding to a level approaching that of we art lovers.

“ . . . we should be offering a light version of ( a Batchelor of Arts Degree) locally to help people in the community to understand more.” – meaning that people in the community are too dumb to achieve a “full strength” B.A.

“ . . . it can come off as elitist if people don’t meaningfully make an effort to learn the basics (eg. art vocabularly, basic art theory, etc) – meaning that, in order to enjoy art, we ordinary people need to learn what it actually is.

“. . . the “lay person” . . . – meaning a person lacking the specialised knowledge to understand and interpret a high order concept.

I’m actually personally offended by this article as a creative working in Coffs – I work in film, theatre, production, etc etc. . . .” – meaning that a “creative” is different from, and possibly superior to, a “non-creative”, when it comes to understanding and appreciating artistic endeavour.

I think that Rob has summed up the “situation” revealed by the Facebook comments, when he says that:

“. . . .there is too much of an Us & Them mentality in some areas of the Coffs Coast Community. . . .”

____________________

CCO Editor’s note – None of the commentators took up Rob Trezises’s suggestion of posting a comment here under the original story linked above as at the publication of this new article by Julian on 16 November 2020.

Additionally, as a now very recently retired academic, I find the idea of a “light version of a BA” to be not only patronising but it is also ultimately about offering a ‘sausage factory degree’. Which given the federal government has just increased the cost of an arts/humanities course from about $20,000 to $43,500, or more than double the cost of studying, makes no socio-economic sense whatsoever.

“Let them pay more for way less”. Great idea. Not!

Low-Frequency Words, High-Frequency Success

5 Comments

  1. Omg this should have come with a warning to not read whilst partaking in hot beverages. I laughed so hard I spilt my green tea infused with artisan honey all over my Kulture Club tshirt!
    I sure could do with some intellectually accessible BA style training though, especially if it helps me to quickly critically think myself out of elitist convo’s above my intellectual station & social standing at special occasions in the future.

    Boy that’d come in handy!

    I did read the 1st article, though and I think lots of people either haven’t or didn’t understand it….No matter, this follow-up Kulture discussion was priceless – even if the comments were taken out of being made in their natural relaxed habitat and caused some baseless litigious threats.

    I reckon you might of hit a raw nerve you recalcitrant & now retired academic you…

  2. Its been some time since I commented here but I have been following the site avidly, particularly the comments of 40cmfan, Julian and others.

    And today I found myself nodding furiously in agreement with you too Tracy.

    About a week ago I happened to look at the Coffs Creative Industries Facebook (CCI) site and saw the responses to Julian’s first article from here on CCO that had then been posted by Rob Trezise on CCI .

    Julian of course was arguing that culture is more than just a narrow focus on some forms of the arts, as the Mayor insists on doing ad infinitum.

    Do you think the commentators over on CCI got that? No. Not even remotely folk.

    His comments went over their heads and through to the boundary for four byes.

    Then they started to preach as to what culture really is to us lowly peons and then, from what I could see from Julian’s second article anyway, wouldn’t allow responses from those, such as Julian, who might have wanted a right of reply.

    Then they squealed when another method was done so as to do just that and prattled on fancifully about taking legal action because their already public comments had been made…… err…….public again!

    Talk about, arrogant, ignorant and, yes gutless too, in my opinion.

    There are some wonderful people in the arts community on the Coffs Coast. And then there are others like those pontificating on CCI recently who unfortunately well and truly ‘let the side down’.

    Just in case they missed it, which they clearly did, here are some various definitions of culture;

    ” : the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time popular culture Southern culture
    b : the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization a corporate culture focused on the bottom line
    c : the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic studying the effect of computers on print culture Changing the culture of materialism will take time …— Peggy O’Mara
    d : the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
    2a : enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training
    b : acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills a person of culture.”

    See; https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture

  3. 40cmPedestalFan

    Next up, Julian, a definition of “art”. That should be fun for you!

    Great to see you’re getting support for your two articles. I had two points I wanted to add, but was interested in seeing how your work ran before jumping all over it yet again. Some excellent thoughts being added, I see, which enriches the CCO experience. Fabuloso.

    My two considerations regarding ‘What is culture’ is that (while I’ve already said culture is what you make of it, which is therefore a malleable or if you like creative proposition) culture should I feel include some definitive elements. These are: culture should uplift, and should include ‘place’.

    To take the last first, without a sense of place, in the least, a culture is merely an imposition. I don’t mean that negatively. But without ‘place’ culture is ungrounded, weak and susceptible. A fashion or fad can alter it, which doesn’t to me embody the true values of culture.

    Uplift can refer to mind, body, spirit, emotion. This is where it gets a bit hairy. We could argue that a run on a highway is uplfiting because it gives the body a healthy workout and clears the mind, but that to me isn’t enough to award highway running as a cultural experience. Whereas surfing in many locations around the world does: it is clearly a cultural experience. Without a lengthy discourse any further, I hope this uplift element is considered in your presentations, whereupon the type and extent of uplift factors in.

    I have stayed away from Denise Knight’s exhortations on culture for reasons I’m sure you understand. Needless to say what you’ve outlayed is beyond her. What I would add, though, is the sadness attached to that, because there is a time to stop and listen. If and when the CCS dishonesty is stopped, maybe she’ll have occasion then to personally benefit from true and better questions of ‘What is Culture’. It’s not rocket science, but our country is very new to appreciations of culture (in our history, as mentioned elsewhere at CCO, we are up to the Culture Wars stage), and our population therefore is a long way behind the eight ball.

    Given the element of ‘place’ that I personally would require for a definition of culture, Australia would have to embrace Aboriginality more completely – and that is something that is inexpressibly inspiring. I’m glad we’ve begun that process, for a long while it looked impossible.

  4. Prairie Rose, I am pleased that you were able to read the Post I made to the Coffs Coast Creative Industries, sharing it from CCO, before it was swiftly removed, denying others an opportunity think about what they would write when asked the question as posed.
    Creative Industries is a Facebook page administered by Dave from Screen Wave International Film Festival.(SWIFF).
    There are a number of Council Arts& Gallery Council Staff, (one of whom you refer to as objecting to us making public, their public comments !) who are members of the Page, using it as a point of contact for the Gallery.
    There are other members of this page along with artists of all media (many of whom may or may not be supporters of the Council’s C&C Space) are in there to interact.
    But while I think that it may only be a small minority of these members who are active, they are the loudest voices in the Council’s “Cheer Squad”.
    The article as it appeared in CCO was posted to the Creative Industries Page in a bid to engage with these people, not to give insult or offend.
    Some of them I know well, although we do have separate views to some degree on the C&C Space, we respect each other’s position.
    As you read, the comments from people who didn’t grasp the premise of the story were hostile to myself, but gave no response to the context of the CCO question as posed by Julian in his article.
    So much so, the Page’s Administrator took the story down and removed my further access to the Page.
    It says a lot about the respondents with the constant efforts of them to justify what the Council has promised for the Gordon Street project.
    One only needs to attend a Gallery opening night to see some of these people at play.
    While I hold no bitterness about my removal from the Creative Industries Page, adopting the line used by Groucho Marx; “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member”.
    Unfortunately Part 2, of the story won’t reach the Creative Industries Page, but as Editor of Coffs Coast Independent News Facebook, we will be happy to run it for our close to 4,000 readers.
    Declaration: I remain a paid up member of the Friends of the Gallery.
    Like myself, not all members are supporters of the C&C Space but maintain our membership in order to have a “seat in the tent”.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*