The master plan...
Jim Shorthose left school at 16, in 1975, with 2 O Levels. The world of employment offered him a variety of mundane factory jobs and a spell down the pit before redundancy, courtesy of a certain Iron Lady, enticed him back into F.E –and, he confesses, ‘the fact that you could still get dole if you studied for less than sixteen hours a week’. University was the next obvious step, where he graduated with a First in Social Sciences at NTU, back when it was a Polytechnic, before going on to complete a PhD at Warwick University.
Jim has now taught at various Universities and written the obligatory chapters and articles for various academic journals but always felt that the world of academia was a little closed. His basic problem with academic culture was the convoluted means of expression which seemed to alienate rather than encourage debate. Given that the average academic article is read by one and a half people, he clearly has a point about pedagogy.
Things changed for Jim in 2000 when he started working with Colin Mercer, John Fryer and Joanne Naylor at the Cultural Policy and Planning Research Unit, still part of NTU but based at Broadway. He had always had a relationship with the creative network that occupied Broadway, but now the Broadway cafe bar became his ‘kind-of office’, offering a more informal and relaxed environment to pursue his interests that was naturally more creative. ‘My research and writing started to focus upon understanding and explaining the informal, convivial economy that operated in Broadway as people freely exchanged knowledge, skills, time and equipment to help get each other’s projects off the ground. At last I’d found my natural habitat.’
Believing passionately in this new environment he decided to put his money where his mouth was in 2003 when he co-established Creative Collaboration (CC) with Frank Abbott. ‘The idea of this project was to bring the social, economic, philosophical and alt-business ideas I’d been developing into a space that could practically help the creative business networks that I’d seen forming in places such as Broadway.’ In addition to networking, Creative Collaborations ran short courses and conferences with the aim of linking people from different creative disciplines and basically making people aware of who was doing what, how and where.
The strength of this project is that Jim has seen education from numerous perspectives – from the drop-out student to the established academic, from the frustration of articulating ideas through convoluted language to the more pragmatic need to meet similar-minded and motivated people. ‘Graduate students from NTU kept asking me, 'now what do I do?' Creative Collaborations aimed to give them something to connect to as they worked out their next move.’ His ethos is perhaps best summarised by the explanation he gave to his mother when she asked him what he did for a living: ‘I run a dating agency for artists.'
In 2007, Creative Collaborations got reincarnated as Nottingham Creative Network. The only major difference being now they have added books to their portfolio, which, unlike academic texts, simplify complex ideas into accessible language and take an Orwellian view to communication; ‘One can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one's own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane.’ Shorthose, it would appear, has found a way to get rid of the mucky smears. By creating an environment conducive to his personality and ethics he has been able to produce something immediately ‘visible’ to the reader. This is helped by the variety offered through his work which contains think pieces, games and case-studies to help reinforce points and to allow people, to continue the Orwell metaphor, to see from whichever vantage point they find themselves at.
‘The first book in the series is called Fish, Horses and Other Animals: Professional and Business Development for the Creative Ecology, and deals with getting your head around what creative networks actually 'are', how they tend to work, and why they are probably important. The second book in the series is called Soul Food, and Music: Research and Development for Creative Business. This one deals with ideas about how to do proper research for creative projects or businesses, and how this research might get taken forward into real creative innovation.’
The third book in the series, New Spectacles for Juliette: Values and Ethics for Creative Business, deals with ethical philosophy made relevant for creative practice and business. This, out of all of the books, is the one that seems most pertinent as if there is one thing that capitalism needs at the moment, it is an ethical makeover. ‘Being ethical and creative are often two sides of the same coin; we all might be able to 'take ethics with us' into our everyday (creative) lives by remembering stuff like grace, dignity, empathy, recognition and simplicity; ethical creative industries, animated as they often are by informal, convivial and loving economic relationships might be part of the antidote to the 'big system' that is so dramatically letting us down.’
These are big words and big ambitions. If you’d like to see if he’s as good as his word or whether this is all doublespeak, get down to the book launch on Tuesday 15 November, 6.00pm to 8.00pm at Antenna, on Beck St. Nottingham. Or contact him directly through his website.