Returning to Britain yesterday after two weeks in a distant country, I felt grateful to be home, and to feel at home. That's not always been the case recently, as fissures have opened in British society, not least the bitter polarisations of Brexit. While I was away, news from here seemed angry, self-righteous and intimidating. … Continue reading Home

Georgina Barney – An Artist on Farming

Georgina Barney is captivated by farming, in theory, art and practice. Today she publishes GB Farming: An Island Journey, a book that records her time on 14 farms and her subsequent artistic investigations of the culture of farming in Britain. This text is my introduction to her work. To download extracts from the book or to find … Continue reading Georgina Barney – An Artist on Farming

Álvaro Restrepo: ‘Education is useless’

'If education does not strengthen us, if it does not reveal us our vocation, our inner voice, and if it does not help us to get rid of frustration and the fear of failure, then what is the bloody purpose of education?' Álvaro Restrepo is a Colombian artist, choreographer and educator who has run an … Continue reading Álvaro Restrepo: ‘Education is useless’

In defence of universalism

A text written for a workshop under the title  'Beyond Us versus Them: The Role of Culture in a Divided Europe' held at the Representation of the State of Baden-Württemberg to the European Union, Brussels on 2 May 2017. All the images in this post are by Bill Ming and taken from 'Bread and Salt: Stories … Continue reading In defence of universalism

The lawyer, the war criminal and the limits of empathy

Courtroom 600 of the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg was the venue for the post-war trials of Nazi leaders, so it is strange to learn that it is still used for the administration of justice. Strange but completely appropriate. Those trials established new principles of international law and the competing concepts of genocide and crimes … Continue reading The lawyer, the war criminal and the limits of empathy

Cultural Collaboration and Civil Society

Last year I spent some time looking at the work of Tandem, a partnership between the European Cultural Foundation and MitOst that connects cultural actors within and close to the European space. Tandem marked its fifth anniversary last autumn, and they asked me to reflect on what they'd done and what might change. The essay below … Continue reading Cultural Collaboration and Civil Society

Some thoughts on monitoring, evaluating and researching culture

Introduction Last week, I participated in a round table discussion organised by the Cultural Value Scoping Project at Tate Modern. The initiative is a collaboration between the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation,  Arts Council England and King’s College London and King's College London. It aims to explore how research, evaluation, evidence-building and analysis into cultural … Continue reading Some thoughts on monitoring, evaluating and researching culture

Happy New Year – from Angela Merkel

Thanks to Judith Knott for translating Angela Merkel’s New Year Message for 2017: a much-needed lesson in human values and democratic leadership.


A number of today’s papers have carried parts of, or references to, Angela Merkel’s new year message. Given the vacuum in political leadership in the UK, I decided it was worth translating in full.

For any cynics who may read this: I’m not blind to Germany’s faults. Indeed, I’ve got a blog in the pipeline about a German tax issue that shows some of those faults only too clearly. But at least they have a leader who is worthy of the name.

“Dear fellow citizens,

2016 was a year of difficult challenges. I want to talk to you this evening about that – but also about why, despite everything, I am confident for Germany, and why I am so convinced of the strengths of our country and her people.

The most difficult challenge is without doubt Islamic terrorism, which has had us Germans in its sights, too, for many years…

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Please don’t close the shutters

The view from 2003 Recent developments in my country, before and since the Referendum on 23 June 2016, have been very disturbing. Post-war gains that I believed were permanent, such as respect for international conventions of human rights, are now in question. In this context, I remembered a public lecture I gave at the National Museum of Scotland … Continue reading Please don’t close the shutters

Making nothing happen: art and civil society in troubled times

This is the text of a talk given on 3 September 2016 in Berlin at an event to mark the fifth anniversary of the Tandem Exchange programme.  • On the morning after Britain voted to leave the EU, the novelist Philip Pullman tweeted: ‘We had a headache, so we shot our foot off. Now we can't walk, … Continue reading Making nothing happen: art and civil society in troubled times