With all the talk about the irrelevance of printed publications that arose recently in the wake of NME’s demise, it was very satisfying to pick up my copy of the new-look Loud And Quiet magazine when it landed with a substantial thwack on the doormat. The publication celebrated its 123rd issue by overhauling its format with a stylish revamp – fronted by cover artist David Byrne – that now runs across 20 more pages and three different paper stocks (print nerds, you’re in for a treat). But its most triumphant success is that it is actually here, still going strong, proving that there is still a place for critical and enjoyable music journalism in 2018. And offering proof that being a freesheet doesn’t mean you need to dumb down. Publishers at Time Inc., take note.
There’s a neat symmetry in David Byrne gracing the front cover of Loud And Quiet as it embarks on this new era, as his outlook mirrors the publication’s desire to be mischievously forward-thinking while remaining respectful, rather than wedded to, the past. In between recording his new album, American Utopia, running a record label, dodging rumours that he is William Onyeabor and being a general artistic polymath, Byrne also recently found the time to host a lecture tour under the playful title Reasons To Be Cheerful. Intended as a hopeful look at various progressive initiatives from across the world, Reasons To Be Cheerful highlights humanity’s proclivity to do good even in the most challenging of circumstances. If Byrne originally saw the project as a symbol of hope amid the increasing bleakness, he’d be pleasantly surprised to find that the examples he has selected (amassed at reasonstobecheerful.world) have come to be seen as a kind of online observatory of world improvement.
Citing groundbreaking programmes tackling prison reform (Norway) and chronic drug addiction (Portugal), Byrne points to a number of pragmatic examples that have brought about real change across the globe over the past decade. One report from the many fascinating references found in the section titled Cultural Institutions – Knock-On Effects really jumped out at me, a report that proved how arts and humanities can have a beneficial impact on society. A three-year study by the Social Impact Of The Arts Project at the University Of Pennsylvania demonstrated that the presence of libraries and other cultural institutions in boroughs across New York not only improved health levels and children’s academic achievement, but it also reduced crime rates. This is backed up by anecdotal evidence from cultural hubs built in barrio neighbourhoods in Bogota and the AfroReggae initiative in a favela in northern Rio de Janeiro. As Byrne himself summarises, “To lower crime, we don’t need more prisons or stiffer sentencing. Part of the solution might be to build a library or a performance space.”
This conclusion – that if you’re connected with the society in which you live, through art or broader cultural community activities, you’re more likely to care about it and do something to protect it – intuitively makes sense and is now backed up by data. A 2013 study by the University Of Birmingham into the factors that predicted rates of volunteering by UK youths (aged 10-15) added further weight to this body of research. It found that young people with high levels of “cultural capital” – or artistic engagement – are more likely to volunteer. “Going to the theatre, concerts, sports events, museums or art galleries had the greatest influence on youth volunteering and civic engagement.”
And there’s more: a 2012 Cambridge study in the journal Psychology Of Music showed that a group of children who participated in musical activities were more attuned to their peers’ emotional needs than those who had taken part in general communal activities; and researchers from the University At Buffalo were able to prove that students who had read various passages from Harry Potter and Twilight novels quickly began to self-identify with the characters they were reading about, pointing to reading as fulfilling a fundamental need – the need for social connection. “Books provide the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from becoming a part of something larger than oneself for a precious, fleeting moment,” wrote the report’s authors Dr Shira Gabriel and Ariana Young.
Art, and its attendant culture, is a vitally constructive aspect in the development of humanity, and we can now prove that a lack of access to arts is damaging to society. This may be a conclusion that seems instinctual to us who work in the arts and humanities, but without demonstrable proof it’s a mere theory. Bolstered by this knowledge, we can now approach the conversations around developing a new framework for our city region’s cultural strategy with greater conviction.
The power of great art is that it has the capacity to make us connect deeply with the emotions of others, and improves our ability to see things from another person’s perspective. In an article written for the Guardian in January 2017, the then outgoing Chairman of Arts Council England, Peter Bazalgette, referenced many ways in which art and culture have demonstrably benefited our ability to empathise and thus become more ‘humane’. “Arts and popular culture, with their stories about the human condition are, if you like, the empathy gymnasium,” he writes, expanding on one of the many compelling arguments he used to lobby the government to increase their investment in arts during his tenure. “And why does it matter? Because empathy is a glue that enables families, communities and countries to function in a civil and civilised manner. If you can see things from someone else’s point of view, then you can go on to act compassionately towards them.”
It’s a theory Bazalgette develops thoroughly in his book The Empathy Instinct: How To Create A More Civil Society, hailing the development of MRI technology in allowing scientists and psychologists to pinpoint areas of the brain activated by artistic stimuli.
Closing the book’s chapter on The Art Of Empathy, Bazalgette emphasises: “It’s clear that if we assure each generation immerses itself in arts and culture, in all its many manifestations, we’ll build better citizens who understand each other’s feelings and needs. That is what it is to be human.”
So, you see, we need music, and art, and the ability to create – as much as we need the venues and institutions to showcase and consume these creations. Art is not an indulgence, it’s part of our make up – as a form of expression and as a way for us to understand the deepest motivations and feelings of others. And you don’t need to have David Byrne’s polymathic abilities to see that; you just need the ability to feel.
It is with great sadness that we heard about the passing of musician Jonny Walker just as we were going to press. Jonny was a great advocate for the rights of buskers and street performers across the North West, and promoted the idea that public spaces should be places where artistic expression should be encouraged. All of us at Bido Lito! would like to pass on our sincerest condolences to his family at this time.