I got back into some kind of post-holiday swing by reading Mark Robinson's Arts Counselling blog, celebrating the Gulbenkian Foundation's republishing of their 1959 report Help For the Arts. Mark's summary and analysis cut through the differences in languages (is it time for the regions to reclaim the word 'provinces'?) to show how little has changed in the key debates around arts funding.
Later, inspired by a brief family visit to the Eiffel Tower and a quick fleecing at the gift shop, we all watched The Lavender Hill Mob, the kids still grasping their solid-metal souvenirs. Filmed in 1951, mainly in the heart of the bomb-damaged City of London, the film provided a beautiful visual accompaniment to the Gulbenkian Report.
If it's really true that, chastened by climate change and the recession, we are all cutting costs and darning socks, we may also benefit from taking the same approach to the way we make and shape policy debates. Rather than rely on fresh-faced glossy pamphlets which blithely describe the 'pace of change', maybe we'll all start looking backwards, and learning far more.
Everyone thinking about policy should try out the wonderful History and Policy website, which "works for better public policy through an understanding of history". And if someone out there wants to discover what the current Building Schools for the Future programme might learn from the last wave of school building in the 1960s, I can give you a copy of my wife's Masters dissertation.
Here is something I recycled earlier; an extract from John Berger's Ways of Seeing that has extraordinary resonance to current debates around art, technology and power relationships.
“If the new languages of images were used differently, it would through its use, confer a new kind of power. Within it we could begin to define our experiences more precisely in areas where words are inadequate ... that is to say the experience of seeking to give meaning to our lives of trying to understand the history of which we can become the active agents.
"The art of the past no longer exists as it once did. It authority is lost. In its place there is a language of images. What matters now is who uses that language for what purpose. This touches upon questions of copywright for reproduction ... As usually presented, these are narrow professional matters. One of the aims of this essay has been to show that what really is at stake is much larger. A people or a class which is cut off from its own past is far less free to choose and act as a people or class than one that has been able to situate itself in history. This is why – and it is the only reason why – the entire art of the past has now become a political issue."