A recent talk on why we set up Confluence Collective in the very divided city of Oxford

The ministry of circumlocution is still with us and thriving in the open prison for the academically insane – or why we set up Confluence

Despite or perhaps because of its status as a brand name in the culture industry Oxford is almost a byword for cultural division. A liberal leaning middle class has signally failed to be inclusive of other cultural groups in the city although this is often on the basis of the traditional English class system and self-serving myopia as much as overt prejudice.

Added to that the toxic combination of neoliberalism and consumerism has undermined much that postcolonial and even postmodernist study uncovered from the 1960s onwards. When other cultures become part of a consumable feast for our over consuming culture their artistic value is shop windowed into a series of delights for a pampered elite.

In Oxford so much culture is consumed and analysed but real engagement with communities that live and produce that culture is marginalised. Music and dance organisations and venues systematically fail to engage communities who often organise their own events outside any main stream acknowledgement. This is part of a great British tradition that saw West Gallery music propagated by working people (shoe maker composers and the like) effectively removed by an Anglican hierarchy in the 19th century who redesigned the West Galleries to control the congregation with turgid and insipid organ led hymn singing. Where else but in England could a hierarchy even impose their own style of speech as the norm for communication ? Where else but in Oxford could a philosophical school create their own ideas and then propagate them as the philosophical benchmark for all logical study ?

Confluence was formed because no arts organisation was willing to engage with all communities in Oxford with equal respect for their traditions of performance and expression and treat everyone as equal. We seek to give a voice to all through a conviction that the expression of all cultural groups is of equal worth and not part of a hierarchy of genres. This does not mean that anything goes – in fact the opposite. If we seek to understand the expression of a culture its real meaning and value, then we can be moved more effectively by aesthetic and spiritual quality. We try and study and transcribe music to share, relying on the commitment of all to mutually raise standards – rather than a paid hierarchy to impose them. In this we are influenced by the African American traditions of collective music making that revolutionised music making in Chicago and also influenced the creation of the Oxford Improvisers.

We set the group up voluntarily from a justified cynicism that in the post Thatcherite privatisation of compassion and corporatisation of care and aesthetics we would be constrained in what we could achieve if funded by a statutory agency. This has proven a sensible course although as a result of having no main corporate sponsor (and I include the local authority and charities in this) we have a real struggle to be publicised. If anything a democratic and open model of participation is alien to the culture of Oxford where the model for decision making is the elite college committee deciding behind closed doors. For four years now we have been putting on regular events that are open to all. We try and reach all communities and encourage all to be part of the collective on an equal basis.

Examples of our work are online including film of our successful events – such as the event on Tuesday attended by well over 150 people – many of them asylum seekers. There are a few leaflets around and these have some details and contacts. Sylvia can also pass on my email and some contacts that way as she is part of our core group.

We are seeking support for what we do but more than anything that is to help publicise. Many well-funded organisations who have no local commitment will flood Oxford with the despoliation of our depleting rain-forests – with the full connivance of the Arts Council. We offer that you be part of what we do by sharing your culture – your poetry, music, dance and food – and learning from others and we ask that you tell people – especially anyone you meet from any background – that they can be part of a cultural forum. Not elite but equal.

Our next event is Homeless Voices and that will be on the 16th December at St Lukes Church from 2-5 pm. We aim to bring homeless people and those that work with them together. Please come.

(this talk was given at a book launch for Standing Voices – the opinions are mine and not those of the Confluence Collective).