The word ‘loo’ comes from medieval days, those simpler times, when people would throw their toilet waste out of the window. ‘Regardez l’eau’ (‘watch out for the water’) people would shout, as they emptied the contents of their chamber pots onto the streets below. (At least, that’s the urban myth – I suspect it wouldn’t get past the klaxons on an episode of QI).
That habit was abandoned with the invention of internal plumbing and the flushing toilet. After which point, people found ever more ingenious ways to dispose, and never speak, of the by-products of their humanity.
In September, a group of regeneration practitioners challenged that centuries-old practice. The ‘Sharing sh*t practice’ session at the Re:Fest UK Festival of Regeneration was an open invitation to discuss another taboo by-product of our humanity – our regeneration failures, mistakes and misjudgements.
Everybody makes foul-ups, but it’s apparently in nobody’s interest to admit and discuss them. No, no, no, much better to hush them up so everyone else can make the mistake too.
The aim was to create a space where practitioners, activists, planners and anyone else can admit and discuss why things went wrong, what they learned and what others can learn. The organisers, Mend, billed the session as a ‘truth and reconciliation commission for the regeneration community’.
Re:Fest as a whole was designed as a ‘fringe without the conference’: a series of events, happenings, discussions and installations around the loose theme of regeneration – past, present and future.
The event evolved right up until the opening, but the emerging program here included exhibitions, a midnight debate, and a session on ‘the economic and social impact of arts festivals – told through the medium of jazz’.
Thankfully, this comes without the standard conference fare of ‘keynote speakers’ (people telling you stuff you already know) and ‘opportunities to network’ (a big room with some warm wine and peanuts, where you might meet someone with a similar interest, but will probably have a few stilted conversations before pretending you’re responding to very urgent emails on your phone). I’m astonished that there’s still a trade in this kind of old-fashioned, non-participative, sit-passively-and-be-talked-at event. Which is partly why I’m intrigued by Re:Fest.
In New Start, and many other places, I’ve long been very critical of regeneration, or at least the models of regeneration that we had to put up with during the ‘good times’. I’ve been clear that those models are dead – and we shouldn’t mourn their passing. Re:Fest is trying to ‘regenerate the regeneration community itself’ – recognising and celebrating the good, while confessing to the failures.
For more details for the 2014 event see www.regenerationfestival.wordpress.com