[Riflessioni] Bringing the Arts and Sport closer together
The best chance of achieving greater integration lies somewhere beyond the rigidities of established arts and sports policy communities: in health, youth work, community development or other social policy arenas
Policy makers in many countries across the globe seem to be reassured by assigning the arts and sport to different boxes, with very little communication between them. This often appears to be the case even when responsibilities for the arts and sport are situated within the same Government ministry or local authority department.
Sport is commonly perceived as focusing on competition and physical skills, while the arts are seen as fundamentally about representations of the world and telling stories. There are deep-rooted cultural attitudes that polarize differences between the two realms. Arguably, the division between sport and the arts is as deep as that between the sciences and the humanities discussed in 1959 by CP Snow in his polemic, The Two Cultures. However, we prefer to take our lead from writers like Trinidadian historian and journalist CLR James (2005; originally 1963) who challenges the dismissive scorn cultural elites often direct at sport, arguing that sport feeds “the need to satisfy the visual artistic sense” (pp. 276-77). He mounts an eloquent case for the art of cricket in particular.
Through the commercial paradigms applied to both sport and the arts in the context of cuts in public expenditure, the two spheres of activity are increasingly in competition for people’s leisure time and spending, as well as for private sector sponsorship and advertising revenue. In some cases, the two policy areas also compete for public funding (see, for example, the pressures on the arts sector created by the need to fund the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games). Yet at the same time, the 2008-2012 Cultural Olympiad gave fresh impetus to the arts/sport intersection through hybrid projects like imove in the Yorkshire and the Humber region of Northern England (https://www.imovearts.co.uk/legacy/).
THE ARTS-SPORT NEXUS: POTENTIAL CONTRIBUTIONS
What would be the potential benefits of a more integrated arts-sport strategy? Crucially, sport and the arts both have magical powers to create a space of relatedness, mystery and marvel.
Artists bring something different to sport (see, for example, works like Tennnis, by Anna Scalfi Eghenter) and sport can present artists with inspirational ideas of physicality and movement. Members of the Fields of Vision network identified new arts–sport hybrids that are interactive and transformative. They can inspire through cultural experimentation and innovation, appealing to new audiences in the process.
Such new images, experiences and artefacts can disrupt stereotypes of what constitutes the arts and sport. These stereotypes see (some) sports as being the preserve of working class men and (some) arts as appealing mainly to middle class women.
Play is central to the origins and essence of both the arts and sports; it is a concept shared by theatre and cricket, music and rugby. Play is linked with risk, adventure, imagination and dreams. The arts are rediscovering their ludic origins, as shown by the popularity of ‘immersive theatre’, practised for example in the UK by companies including Punchdrunk and dreamthinkspeak. Despite the theoretical recognition of the importance of learning through play, the underinvestment in this field is reflected in cuts in funding for playgrounds and the downgrading of playworkers’ jobs. However, a ludic approach still offers chances for both the arts and sport to attract new participants or audiences. The associated potential to attract new sponsors is very appealing, as are the possibilities for efficiency gains, like sharing facilities and marketing, especially at a time when cuts in public spending reduce established income streams.
Although evolving, class remains an important factor influencing patterns of cultural consumption and participation (for example, for the UK case see Savage 2015). One of the key advantages of mixed arts–sport programming could be the broadening and mixing of audiences from a social class point of view, by introducing unfamiliar art forms to a sport audience and vice versa.
At local level, there are many examples of arts organizations demonstrating their readiness to work across the arts-sport divide, including Lille-based cultural association L’Entorse, which operated until 2017 and organised innovative arts and sport festivals.
From the world of sport comparable initiatives may sometimes take the form of ‘extreme’ or ‘lifestyle’ sports. Hitherto lifestyle sports have been little valued by policy makers, but they are slowly winning acceptance, as demonstrated by the official recognition of parkour (also called free running or art du deplacement) by all five UK sports councils and by CONI in Italy in 2017. Dance, gymnastics and sports like parkour and urban exploration blur the boundaries between sport and the arts. For urban explorers, for instance, documenting the explorations through cutting edge videos and photography is as important as overcoming the physical challenges, and Gilchrist and Wheaton (2011, 117) identify projects in Brighton and Croydon, in Southern England, where parkour has received arts funding as a form of physical theatre.
It is possible that trends like the increasing importance of women in sport (as both participants and audiences) will make the task of arts–sports collaboration easier. There is also potential in the use of ‘movement’ and ‘the moving body’ as integrating ideas. These concepts (successfully adopted by arts–sports collaboration projects like the Cultural Olympiad’s imove) link sport and the arts with the increasingly important strategic objective of promoting physical and mental health and wellbeing by combating sedentary lifestyles at all ages and encouraging active ageing, to help counteract dementia and other conditions.
Proposals for co-location of services might encourage dialogue if extended to bring together sport and arts organizations in a return to the joint provision that was briefly on the agenda in the 1970s. Equally the community asset transfers being precipitated by the squeeze on local government finances may also trigger combined sport-arts initiatives, as community trusts recognize the need to broaden their newly acquired facilities’ appeal to make them financially sustainable. For example, to keep afloat, Bramley Baths, a community enterprise in Leeds, Northern England, runs aqua-ballet sessions, hosts film shows and has had a string quartet playing in the swimming pool.
Such a shift in emphasis will take time to evolve, suggesting yet again the importance of planning for the longer term, beyond short (‘demonstration’) initiatives. Experiments are all well and good, but it takes a lot to turn round oil tankers, especially if they are fully laden with the cultural baggage of established practices and professional divisions.
Integration can be evidenced not only at the level of cultural forms. For example, there may be integration of provision, as in the case of projects which do not feature only sport or only arts, but provide a combined offer in the interest of appealing to young people and securing community development. This is why policies concerned with lifestyle, youth and public health may be more accommodating to joint arts/sport initiatives than the entrenched interests of traditional arts or sport policy communities.
There is certainly potential in learning from the developing concept of culture urbaine in France. This encompasses art forms like graffiti, rap, slam poetry, hip hop, beatbox, urban dance (including breakdancing), photography and video, as well as sports represented by the Ligue Française des Sports Urbains, founded in 2009. These sports include parkour, skateboarding, BMX cycling, street basketball, street football, street golf, street surfing, urbanball, quicksoccer and street fishing. Since the late 1990s different French governments have recognized the potential of arts–sport collaboration, particularly as a response to the problem of youth unemployment and marginalization, and to the risk of radicalization of young Muslims, especially in disadvantaged urban areas. France now has an Observatoire National de Cultures Urbaines, several festivals cutting across the arts–sport divide, and institutions like Le Flow, the Centre Eurorégional des Culture Urbaines in Lille, inspired by an idea of Lille-born rapper Axiom and supported by Lille City Council.
Unfortunately, the way in which differences between ‘sport’ and ‘the arts’ are often reinforced by policies, especially at national level, does not bode well for efforts to integrate the two fields. One of the problems we have noted is the paucity of ‘intercultural mediators’ who can encourage dialogue, encounter and exchange between the two policy communities. Like other forms of intercultural exchange and crossover (for example, in music, gastronomy, fashion and design) arts–sport collaboration could encourage aesthetic, conceptual, organizational and product innovation. It could form part of a bold rethinking of cultural policy after the pandemic, comprising mixed arts–sport public spaces and institutions.
An uphill battle awaits in bridging the organizational chasm between sports and arts, yet that also offers scope for making an impact in an underdeveloped area of work. If sport and the arts are understood at policy level as alien concepts the challenge for those like us who want to bring them together is to reframe the issues involved and even to devise a new language to accommodate this thinking (Froggett (2019). This can happen through further research on the benefits of collaboration and integration and through pilot projects – e.g. twinning schemes between museums and sports clubs, or experimental sport–arts centres.
The French experience and individual local initiatives in the UK suggest that perhaps the best chance of achieving greater integration lies somewhere beyond the rigidities of established arts and sports policy communities: in health, youth work, community development or other social policy arenas.
Froggett, L. 2019. “Participant Experience in Art-Sport: Additive? Interactive? Transformative?” Sport in Society 22 (5): pp. 754-771. doi 10.1080/17430437.2018.1430480
Gilchrist, P., and B. Wheaton. 2011. “Lifestyle Sport, Public Policy and Youth Engagement: Examining the Emergence of Parkour.” International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 3 (1): 109–131. doi:10.1080/19406940.2010.547866.
James, C. L. R. 2005. Beyond a Boundary. London: Yellow Jersey Press.
Savage, M. 2015. Social Class in the 21st Century. London: Pelican.
Snow, C. P. 1959. The Two Cultures. London: Cambridge University Press.
This article is based on an extended version originally published as: Jonathan Long and Franco Bianchini (2019) ‘New directions in the arts and sport? Critiquing national strategies’, Sport in Society 23 (5) 734-753. (https://doi.org/10.1080/17430437.2018.1430484).
Franco Bianchini is Associate Director of the Centre for Cultural Value (University of Leeds, UK) and a member of the Council of Founders of the Fitzcarraldo Foundation, Turin.
Jonathan Long is Emeritus Professor in the Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure at Leeds Beckett University, Leeds, UK.
This article takes as its starting point Fields of Vision, a British research network operating in 2016-’17 with funding from the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council. The network explored the potential benefits of bringing the arts and sport closer together and produced a manifesto for arts-sport collaboration (https://artsinsport.wordpress.com/a-manifesto-for-the-arts-and-sport-together/). In our paper we briefly discuss ‘play’ and ‘movement’ as integrating concepts and we provide an initial assessment of the potential of the arts/sport nexus, in areas including aesthetic innovation, promoting health and wellbeing, and encouraging wider participation and engagement.