Notes from Banksy panel: Does Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art?

On Saturday 14th May 2016, to launch the 4th edition of the book Home Sweet Home by Tangent books we decided to host a panel “Does Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art.?” At M Shed in collaboration with the Festival of ideas.

It was a glorious sunny day and about 100 people came to hear Will Simpson, Marc Leverton and Katy Bauer, all authors of Banksy books. Richard Jones was referee.

The third edition was one of our best selling products last year so this event seemed a great way to fly the flag whilst quenching the thirst of the Banksy loving public. We can’t go a day at the museum without people coming specifically to see our Banksy statue on their trail across the city.

We sold £100 worth of books and people seemed to really enjoy it. I know one person came all the way up from Cornwall.

It was only my second attempt at book signing and I have learned a few things to make it better. Also I’m convinced that it needs to either be an event or pure book signing. Either you want a signed boom or you come for the chat/debate. Cool.

Anyway below are the notes I scribbled down. They aren’t exhaustive and I may have misunderstood of misattributed points so please forgive any errors I may have made.

My panel notes

The majority of the audience answered “No” to the question “Should Banksy have a social responsibility to do more to support the causes he highlights in his art.
Will: explained that he was part of a group who went to Mexico with Banksy to paint and highlight the Zapatista movement. The plan was that Banksy was going to spend a few days painting and in-between they played some football. Whenever they were short of players, Banksy would be in goal. Will is recalling this trip from around 15 years ago and hasn’t seen Banksy in over a decade but remembers he was very smart and had a dry sense of humour. As Banksy was there to paint, Will remembers that Banksy had done lots of research and spoke to locals to see what they wanted. Will then backtracked to the Autumn of 2000 when Banksy was starting to get popular. To fundraise, he had an idea to use a painting, which was pink with a footballer doing an overhead kick and let people guess where the ball landed. The winner of the raffle would keep the painting. The painting was on display at Eat the Beat in St Nics for 1-2 months. Will and a few others thought of trying to rig the raffle but the person they sent pulled out at the last minute as they didn’t feel it was the right thing to do. The painting raised about £200 and eventually went on to be sold for £20,000 years later (Jo).

Katy: Described her encounter with Banksy’s people during the time of the Bristol tension with a new proposed Tesco in Stokes Croft. Chris Chalkley from People’s Republic of Stokes Croft funded a Banksy print to help fundraise. A Banksy contact approached Chris about the collaboration. It was very particular. All the proceeds must go to PRSC, it can only be £5 and they could only print the agreed 2000 [note – i have a signed copy of this as a wedding present…].
The prints were sold at the Anarchist book fair. Katy had asked if it could be sold for £10 as it was clearly going to be a sell out and the money would benefit but was told no. Katy says the experience was clearly very much that Banksy is in control and it must go the way he wants. Katy shared a story about a piece she wrote that never saw the light of day as Banksy censored it, Katy was appalled. The piece was intended for Paul Gough’s book on Banksy and was written as an honest piece that wasn’t meant to offend about Banksy maybe [recanted]. The incident left Katy a little disappointed that Banksy would do this.

Richard: The level of control and attention to detail is astonishing.

Marc: says that Banksy doesn’t have to be socially responsible but his size means that he almost has to. He thinks Banksy is very aware of his early start as a vandal and is now ironically part of the art world.

Richard: questions how much control Banksy really his over his own image and ability to affect anything.

Will: agrees broadly with Marc and that Banksy’s unique selling point is his leftie/punk

Marc: Says to answer the question you need to understand Banksy and he thinks punk was a big influence. For example Banksy and his contacts would have known the queue to buy the Tesco posters would have been chaotic and they probably like that. Hence why they didn’t stop people buying more than one.

Richard: If Banksy cares then why wouldn’t he allow a second print run, knowing it would have greatly helped?

Katy: Says it is sad that more people in the audience don’t think Banksy has a responsibilty as she thinks not only does Banksy but all of us should be helping each other and the planet. Banksy is the left-ing voice the media can’t resist. Katy def thinks Banksy would be left-wing and is very Bristol i.e. d.i.y with Marc saying Banksy is capitist. Katy doesn’t see addressing social issues and making a living as being exclusive.

Will: If Banksy making the news helps highlight a cause that is enough and is helping.

Audience now join in.

Audience: thinks his work is giving back to the community and showing we can take it further.

Richard: If he was Batman he’d have a charitable Wayne foundation surely?

Marc: Part outlaw, part capitalist

Richard: During the mobile lovers episode he thinks it was clear that Banksy only got involved as he was forced into it and that the piece wasn’t meant to be removed or sold.

Marc: Dismaland has lots of local people involved which shows social responsibility.

Richard: During the Banksy vs Museum exhibition Oxfam and the city benefited. Also the sale of advertisement opening tools for ads hells shows his view on advertising and his radical/left stance. However at the end of the show, all the works were sold.

Katy: Perhaps Banksy could be more helpful.

Audience: everyone has responsibility, especially with some power, influence and money. Being negative towards Banksy is a defence mechanism [claps from audience].

Audience: missing the point. Feels that Banksy is about making you think for yourself.

Audience: His work raises awareness when it disturbs us and his work is disturbing.

Audience (Chris Chalkley): we all need to be thinking of the arts as a movement to help. The techniques Banksy uses re purposefully the same as corporations. We should all be thinking about how to tackle keeping ownership of the visual spaces in the city. So much is now being hidden behind advertisement hoardings e.g. Bear at the end of the M32. We should heed the message from the Banksy piece laugh now but one day we’ll be in charge.

Audience: Banksy really appeals to everybody. The converted in the room but also the new people to his work.

Richard: The positioning of pieces at Bus height shows he is thinking of the average person not just car drivers. The Mild mild West piece in Stokes Croft was in response to the police breaking up a party.
Marc: Saw Dismaland as a return to form with the messaging, appeal and humour, even though the media missed the point. He thinks the GCHQ piece would really have annoyed him as it caused a headache for the family living in the house and this wouldn’t be be what he wanted.

Richard: the press didn’t like the dismal dismaland people

Will: His presence is important to the city.

Audience: He is a national treasure.

Audience: There is a battle for public spaces.

Chris: We should be fighting this attack on the visual public spaces – he turned down a lot of money when advertisers wanted to place ads around the bear pit in Bristol. Big corps should kindly go away

Katy: Sees Banksy as one of us.

Thank you New Zealand, thank you #NDFNZ

My 22 day trip here in New Zealand is nearly at an end – boo hiss.

During this time I’ve visited a LOT of gardens, museums, art galleries and cultural spots. Oh and small businesses.

I’ve had the pleasure to meet volunteers through to directors and CEOs. Every conversation was valuable and I’ve met some great folks who I hope take me up o my offer to meet in Bristol some day.

So thank you New Zealand for letting me behind the curtain and coping with my 1000mph Bristolian accent.

I’ve listened a bunch and learned tons.

A special shout to Matt Oliver for arranging me safe passage with the Wellington gang 😉


Hello New Zealand, Hello #NDFNZ

When I travel I like to try and visit as many interesting places as possible that  touch on my work interests of digital, connections, retail, cafes, commercial hire, user research, fundraising and more!

Thanks to the wonders of Twitter I have been able to arrange an introduction with some kind folks who hang out on the #ndfnz hashtag. I’d like to thank each and every one of you who reached out and/or suggested people and places I should check out.

Trust me I’m not a traveling salesman ha. I’m just keen to say hello to as many like-minded folks as possible and swap stories about where I/you are at and if I can be of any help from my neck of the woods in Bristol, England.

The main reason I’m back in New Zealand is for a wedding this weekend with family and I’m around until the 9th May.

So if you want to say hello or meet up for a drink in or outside of work don’t be shy just email or drop me a tweet or text  +447730574129

The short version of my job title ‘Head of Transformation’ is that I work for Bristol Culture, a local authority culture service with a remit to make a ruckus in user research, digital, earning income – retail etc, and making us digital by default.

I oversee a third of the service, we have over 1M visitors a year and 5 museums plus archive and arts team who make cool stuff happen across the city.

My background is helping people to use technology and address user needs

I hope to see as many of you as time allows.


Summary of West of England Retail Day, Bath

Yesterday I spent the day in Bath with around 35 other people to focus on retail. In the morning we were hosted at the Holborne Museum and three of delivered 20min sessions on the state of play with us. my slides as ever are freely available. I spent my time explaining how in the blazes a nerd become responsible for overseeing Bristol Culture’s retail and what it’s like to have shops spread across the service. If I had to sum it up as an elevator pitch it would be: our shops needed root and branch overhaul, I Meddle a  lot, Retail thinking are fantastic, my team are along for the ride, I hate moving stock across the city, stock from 1983 is indicative of the scale of the problem and this year we’re back to making a profit!
I really enjoyed hearing Anna Bryant and Mari-Liis, the other speakers grappling with cross Christmas collaborative promotion and measuring success.
The question and answer session had me answering questions about shopify epos and giving suggestions for teaming up to share stock and resources. Two highlights stand out, firstly one of the audience is now disappointed we have improved the shop as they have spent years coming up and photographing our shockingly bad dead stock to make them feel better about their own shop! I think I may be reselling this story for years to come. The second comment was a “challenge” that very small museums don’t have the money to even entertain the cost of shopify which although affordable, is still out of the reach of many volunteer run teams. Point taken. However I responded that perhaps several of them could club together to spread the cost (I hope the small print of the terms of use permit this for voluntary organisations?!). Furthermore Shopify can run from any iPhone/android mobile as well as an iPad and nearly everybody has access to at least one of these. If you don’t have much stock then paper and pen are just as good because ultimately epos like shopify are just a tool that work for retail at scale. If you want to better understand your sales you need to find a way. If I had no money and little time I’d personally use a google spreadsheet and paper.
The questions were a welcome reminder that despite me wishing we were further along with our retail journey,  14 months later since me grabbing the wheel, we have made a leap.
After this session we had a two hour mission to visit 5-6 nearby museums and grab lunch. I was joined by Emma who was v cool to hang out with, chop it up and share our respective experiences. Each shop was well displayed. I did my usual of asking the retail assistants if they knew their own bestsellers  but they never do – worryingly I think we’d fail too. I purchased a tea towel, mug, greetings cards and guidebook from the various shops. Until today I was perplexed at how any small shop turned a profit as the turnover is usually modest. The answer is that retail assistants are normally volunteers which was my “a-ha” moment. This is the same as a self employed person running a stall in effect who doesn’t get paid by the hour regardless of sales.
I made an offer to the room that I’m happy to extend to others:
We’ll provide a small museum or arts shop with our bespoke range on a sale or return basis as I completely understand buying power is very restricted for you. I’d also consider the rest of our range too if you were looking at trying new lines like toys/homeware etc and use our products to test the water. I think that would give you a fair shake of the dice.
We ended the day with a session at the museum of working life on using a retail consultant and sharing between groups what we discovered on our missions.
I came away from the day full of ideas and hope for 2016-17. I met some great people and look forward to visiting them soon.
Thanks for the invite :Liz.
Now where is my pricing gun… (Awkward moment when one of the group said none of the stuff she saw recently had prices on at our museum aargh ).

Reading list 2016

Below are a list of books I’ve read in 2016. For the first time ever I have a commute so it will be interesting to know if I get much more reading done as i’m mostly on a looong bus ride. You can see my 2015 Reading list or 2014 reading list2013 reading list and 2012 reading list.

  1. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! finished 4th Jan paperback. A very enjoyable collection of stories and worth a read.
  2. Ecommerce Bootcamp by Kurt Elster and Paul Reda finished 6th Jan ebook. A book about getting started with the Shopify retail platform. A few gems in here but not much for me.
  3. Fatale Books 1-5 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, finished 17 Jan graphic novel. A series about “Jo” who can’t help but  hypnotise men who are all after her and therein lies many deaths and heartbreak.
  4. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott finished 3 Feb paperback. A great read for non-writers/writers
  5. Poke the Box by Seth Godin finished 7 Feb hardback. This is a re-read for me. A short rant on starting and finishing.
  6. War with the Newts by Karel Čapek finished 2 Mar paperback. This book came recommended by a secondhand book seller and it was very well written. This could really happen…
  7. A Room of One’s Own by Virgina woolf finished 28 March paperback. A very different style of writing (or maybe the small typesetting made me read it differently) that kept me gripped. I will now be seeking out more of her work.
  8. When you Dead, You Dead by Guy Martin. A brief insight into the  year of Guy’s life as a truck fitter, TV presenter doing crazy challenges and a motorcycle racer.
  9. What to do when it’s your turn: and it’s always your turn by Seth Godin. Finished april 2016
  10. David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell. May 2016 hardback in New Zealand
  11. The E Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber paperback isbn 0887307280. Finished 27 May 2016. A great read about how to think of a business as a “system” using an example of a pie shop and McDonalds
  12. the dip: The extraordinary benefits of knowing when to quit (and when to stick) by Seth Godin. Paperback  ISBN 9780749928308. Finished 1 June 2016. A short book about quitting.
  13. Meatspace by Nikesh Shukla. ISBN 978-000756506-1 finished 19 June 2016. A funny story about life with the internets and family.
  14. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Finished 4th August paperback.
  15. Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want – by Nicholas Epley. Finished Oct 2016 paperback ISBN 9781846144332.
  16. The inevitable by Kevin Kelly. Hardback. ISBN 9780525428084. Finished 23rd December. Kevin looks at how technology will evolve over the next 30 years. As with all tech, nothing comes out of the blue so this is a nice introduction on the core services and tools that are quietly building now.

Get your museum digital skills started in 3 steps

As we rapidly approach 2016 i’m still amazed at how many people (organisations are people right?) say they are still yet to get started with “digital”. I’m also still reeling over a comment from a chatting with strangers at the Making Digital Work conference back in October in which I was told “it’s alright for you Zak, you are a senior manager so you can do what you like and make it happen”. That comment hurt me, not personally but my sense of championing “digital” for everybody. I wasn’t always a “boss – who lets not forget has a boss who has a boss and so on”. But I disgress. YOU, yes YOU can do digital. You simply start. You don’t need permission from anybody in your organisation. Pssst people actually like it when their colleagues get stuff done for them.

Here is how I would start to do digital today (1hr to 1 week):

Step 1:Google your organisation

Log out of your google account and search the name of your organisation. What results came back? For me it is our website, followed by a Wikipedia entry about us and then trip advisor.
Both Wikipedia and trip advisor WANT you to use them. Setup an account, review their guidelines and start to review entries. When you spot an error fix it or in the case of trip advisor write a reply to any comments that have 2 stars or less.

There is a good reason that Wikipedia and trip advisor show so highly in the Google results and that is because so many people use them. And you also using it will get your work in front of the many people looking at those websites. You’ll immediately be improving your organisations customer service by keeping an eye on these two website and the wonderful thing is you just did it without a committee. If you don’t feel empowered to even do this then I suggest you leave your employer and I’m not kidding.

Done that? You have just earned your first digital badge and it took less than one hour.

Step two: Simple – copy what others are doing

Organisations like mine recruit people with lots of experience and/or potential. As at this stage I assume the digital team is YOU you probably don’t have others to bounce ideas off. I look at it as an opportunity as there is nobody to tell you no. Instead of giving up, copy what others are doing, that’s how I started. Watch and copy how they respond to tweets, negative comments on Facebook or trip advisor etc. This approach lets you piggyback off much more experienced people and only costs you a bit of time. If you can I also suggest you attend as many of the free evening meet ups that nerds like me speak at throughout the country. You rock up to a pub, buy a drink and listen to a variety of people who love digital so much they want to spread the word or share a problem. I know rocking up to an event on your own is difficult but that tingle of fear is only in your head. You don’t even have to talk to anybody if you don’t want to, just smile and politely clap after the talk.

Step three: Read the GDS service manual

The Government Service Design Manual is the blueprint about how to start and scale a digital service. The brightest minds in the land of digital have produced this resource for YOU to learn on the shoulders of giants.

How Can I Help?

In my old role as Head of Digital, when I was asked what I did it was easy “I help people to use technology”. My latest role is a mixed bag of things and I’ve spent the first *gulp* 11 months stumbling around with awkward answers to concisely say what I do. My new remit is far reaching and covers nearly all of the service even if I don’t directly hold responsibility. It is much more than being the money guy who prefers to DO rather than talk about strategy. However as the months have flown by I’ve started to feel that ” How can I help?” is a pretty accurate and easy to say sentence.

so if you want Bristol museums, arts and events, film office and more to help you – don’t be a stranger … how can I help?

Wrestling with retail

One of the biggest opportunities for us to earn income and support the service is through retail.

We have two shops that in effect are starting from scratch.

Add a higher than ever achieved income target.

Install an affordable EPOS till system – which i’m told won’t work and i’ll fall on my face.

Watch people shop. Watch them some more.

Talk about retail to anybody who will listen.

Help turn the shops around.

DO the work.



Accepting mistakes

During a recent interview I asked the hopeful job seekers across the table from me “Can you tell me about a time you’ve failed?”

The reason that I asked wasn’t to make them squirm, although they did, but to better understand how the individual views making mistakes along the road to success. 37signals say that failure is overrated and I’m inclined to agree in principle. All the cool kids say “fail fast” which is fine when nowt is at risk. I don’t want to fail giving our visitor a highly satisfying visit. I don’t want to fail to meet my income target (Over £1M) and lose staff as a result. BUT me and the rest of the team WILL make a ton of small mistakes. Making mistakes is not the same as failing. We need to have a goal in sight and get there, but I’m sure that by accepting and adapting after a mistake WILL make getting to our goals a reality. Fear of making a mistake will lead to failure.

A few recent mistakes I’ve made:

  • Ordered 200 bespoke mugs too quickly and now I have 162 still unsold
    Assumed Shopify saying it works offline without testing in detail which means the till drawer won’t open if we lose connection…
  • I didn’t include staffing recharges in my monthly budget forecast

How would you have answered?

Think of an interview as a boxing match

Over the past 2 years I’ve done a fair share of interviewing which has taught me a few things. When I get asked how best to approach an interview I always say “An interview is like a boxing match”.

In a typical hire/recruitment we have the application process (round 1), a task or presentation (round 2) and finally a series of questions (rounds 3-12). All scored by 2-3 people on a panel. A boxer typically wins by scoring more than their opponent rather than knockout. Yet in many of the interviews i’ve worked on, the interviewee throws caution to the wind and goes searching for the knockout by offering a single answer. I’m telling you for free that you’ll almost always be swinging a miss.

Which leads me nicely on to “You score points for landing” as boxers don’t get points for throwing punches. They score for landing blows both small and big. An interview question will likely require multiple responses, each of which helps you climb higher on the score sheet PER question. If you don’t think you’ve worked hard enough with your answer? you probably haven’t.

Like a boxing match you should be thinking of the goal and work steadily until the bell chimes.

Professional boxing scoring according to wikipedia