the end is nigh

THE NEW RISE OF SOCIALISM AND THE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE ARTS TO HEAL OUR POST BREXIT DIVIDED SOCIETY

The result of the EU referendum to Brexit, the subsequent splintering of our two main political parties and a resurgent support for the socialist politics of Jeremy Corbyn present us, the proletariat, with an unprecedented opportunity.  Before I continue, I must nail my colours to the mast.  I am an unashamed European and I believe our nation’s decision to leave the EU is flawed.  However, rather than looking back and joining the blame game, I choose to look forward and concern myself, not with the ramifications of extricating ourselves from the EU (which I’d rather we didn’t have to do) but with suggestions as to how we fix the divides in British society which the polarising  EU referendum laid bare. The referendum spotlighted rifts between the generations as well as between the urban cognoscenti and those that live on the “edgelands” of our major urban centres.

The leave campaign’s slogan was to take our country back and I agree it is time to do so.  However, I have no desire to take our country back from the Europe that helps us economically, socially and environmentally but from the Neo-Liberals who continue to bleed us dry.

To quote Noam Chomsky, we continue to live in a neo-liberal “shrivelled conception of democracy” where rulers are drawn from a self-professed “elite guardian class” with the sole aim of “protecting the minority of the opulent from the majority”. (Chomsky, N Truthout (book excerpt), February 11, 2016, https://chomsky.info).  This was the lion’s roar of defiance that brought about Brexit.  Fuelled by years of unprecedented attacks on the working classes through austerity and an appalling campaign of fear from both sides that failed to address the proletariat’s huge concerns about inequality, a post-referendum Britain finds some, feeling most oppressed and isolated, resorting to hate crime to make themselves heard.

So what does all this politicking have to do with me, a 50 year old entrepreneurial community artist, street performer and single mother, living in my owner-occupied council house in Wakefield, West Yorkshire?  What does it have to do with the arts?

Firstly, I have been brought to tears reading report after report about the rise of xenophobic and racist incidents and, secondly, I believe in the ultimate power of the arts to heal.

On the weekend of Brexit, I found myself at Somerset House in London.  Appalled by the plight of so many refugees drowning in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas over the last three years, I finally had an opportunity to launch a new community engaged outdoor arts show called Driftwood there. Driftwood explores with host communities how we prepare ourselves to welcome newcomers into our midst.  The irony of performing a new show for the first time about welcome, when we had voted to close the borders of our nation did not escape us. The performance was profound, with our audience visibly moved.  Driftwood is intrinsically a “role play”. The performance seeks the audience’s help to provide sanctuary for a boat full of newcomers who have had the most horrendous of journeys.  In doing so, the performance creates a temporary community and re-ignites that temporary community’s concerns for humankind.

And here is the key to opportunity : art explores what it is to be human and community-engaged art brings people together in a shared community experience. If socialism is the political and economic theory that advocates for the means of production, distribution and exchange to be socially organised, then community engaged art is a both a humanitarian and socialist construct.  King Leopold II, wrote to Queen Victoria that “dealings with artists … require great prudence; [as] they are acquainted with all classes of society, and for that very reason dangerous”.  I do not believe that artists are dangerous, but the fact that they are “acquainted with all classes” makes us very useful as we begin to reshape our post Brexit society.

Driftwood by Faceless Arts with TLANG photo by Tony Glossop Smaller Silk Painting at Falcons Drive, Castleford

There is documentary evidence to prove the healing power of the arts. Community engaged artists are at the forefront of helping older people and their families live with dementia.  The NHS is increasingly seeing non-pharmacological interventions through the arts as cost effective solutions to helping people with both long term mental and physical illnesses.  Such creative interventions concentrate on the whole person in their environment rather than the symptoms, enabling the patient to find coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with their long term ailments, drawing on creativity and community support to alleviate symptoms and mitigate the need for medication.

If the arts can help to heal an individual, then the arts can, and does, heal communities too.  In my own work with Faceless Arts, I see on a daily basis, the power of Outdoor Arts, events and festivals to bring communities of all ages, faiths and cultures together in public spaces, redefining these spaces for future community use. I see the ability of the arts to reach out to communities less well served, (those most abused by neo-liberal ideology) using the arts to celebrate their unique heritage and roots thus re-affirming a sense of identity and belonging.

Now, more than ever, “classless” artists need to grasp the opportunity to re-engage our disenfranchised citizens by delivering projects that bring people together creatively and socially.  We need projects that bridge age, faith, culture and language barriers.  We need to use the arts to be with people and provide the space for people to be with others.  We need the arts to listen to people, support them, help them to express themselves, help them to help themselves and each other and we, as artists, need to find any and all creative means to reflect these views and experiences of our communities in the “edgelands” back to our new government.

In doing this, we use the arts to begin to re-build our society – a society where people rather than profit is the priority.

In order to do this important work, artists need financial and infrastructural support.  I feel confident that, as with many creative community interventions, the long term benefits will far outweigh the costs.

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A Brief Study of Utopia and the European project, written last week, in Brussels 03/06/16

I am sitting in a café just outside the European Parliament in Brussels. A circular walkway connects the various buildings of the parliament.  Its exterior presents a series of images of people from many countries working together and co-operating.  It is this spirit of co-operation (and in respect of our Welcome in Utopia research project – co-production) that sparks a number of thoughts for me around Utopia, Europe and our project about welcoming refugees.

Firstly, a little background…

Faceless Arts and TLANG is using creativity to research ‘What is the role of ‘welcome’ in contemporary utopia?’ with specific reference to the current refugee crisis. Taking the starting point of ‘utopia’ as deriving from the Greek ‘ou topos’, meaning ‘no place’ or ‘no where’, this interdisciplinary, collaborative project combines language research methodologies with visual arts and performance. Visual arts, oral history and song sharing workshops have been conducted with refugee and asylum seeker communities at local third sector organisations and we are now producing an outdoor production called Driftwood, which will be performed at the Utopia Fair at Somerset House on 25th and 26th June.

Now back to Brussels …

There are two major topics of conversation here in Brussels– The imminent British referendum of whether the UK wants to be “In or Out of the EU” in three weeks’ time and the refugee crisis.

Having just visited the Parlamentarium which is an interactive museum documenting the formation of the EU, what struck me was the Utopian vision of the EU founders, their desire to collaborate and co-operate by firstly co-owning  and co-managing commodities such as iron and coal in order that, post World War 2, we would cease fighting each other.

500 years ago Thomas More wrote Utopia, short book about a Utopian system of democracy, which is the starting point of our project and we are celebrating it through our Arts and Humanities Research Council funded work.  Thomas More observes that those in power are “more interested in (a) the science of war; (b) to acquire new kingdoms than to govern them properly (c) and too wise and conceited to take advice from anyone else” p8.  This is the counter-essence of the co-operative working principals of European Union, which closely fits More’s imaginary democracy of Utopia. However critical we are of the EU’s bureaucracy, its democratic (or non-democratic as critics would say) structures, or its perceived legislative power over nation states, its intention is that 28 countries at various stages of development, speaking 24 different languages, sit in cross-national groups to peacefully debate, learn, collaborate and share power to co-organise a united Europe that fairly represents national interests whilst building stronger economies, communities and a cleaner environment for all its EU citizens.

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My tour of the Parlamentarium concluded with a stunning photographic exhibition called “Displaced” about the plight of female refugees.  This is inspiring and emotive imagery for our Driftwood performance.  Thomas More observed 500 years ago that “There is never any shortage of horrible creatures who prey on human beings, snatch away their food or devour whole populations: but examples of wise social planning are not so easy to find” p6.  The EU is working together with its member states to provide necessary resources to alleviate the pressures of so many new arrivals on countries of Greece, Turkey and the Baltics.  Whilst many criticise the Shengen agreement as adding to the problem, it is the existence of Shengen which allows Europe to offer safe passage to many fleeing persecution.  The EU is coordinating a response, trying to “wisely plan” a social and economic solution to one of the major human catastrophes of our century and the need is great with the arrival of one million refugees and migrants last year – requiring basic provisions, health care, accommodation and education.  A fragmented Europe of independent nation states, each fighting to maintain their own sovereignty (and possibly fighting each other in the process),  would not be able to co-ordinate as an effective response.

The European Union does need to evolve, as all major organisations do from time to time.  It may need a root and branch review, a pruning here and there, but we must not forget what it has achieved – peace between European countries for nearly 60 years.

EFETSA REPORT image

Download: SAWA #4 to EFETSA report for Circostrada

maps, tours and empty squares presentation

Heron by Faceless Arts in Barlby North Yorkshire, Follow the Diversion (ACE Strategic Tour)

Heron by Faceless Arts in Barlby North Yorkshire, Follow the Diversion (ACE Strategic Tour)

I read with interest the Arts Professional article “Arts won’t look after itself”  Susan Jones’ comment: “policies have essentially marginalised the ‘at-large’ participatory and engagement-based practices in order to preserve diminishing funds for buildings and civic pride” resonated deeply with me.

I believe that artists working at the coal face of arts engagement are operating at a disadvantage by virtue of their work hardly ever being seen by those that preside over the funding pot, resulting in the ACE arts funding system turning into a travesty, with flawed assessment processes that smack of cronyism and favour urban centric venue based arts organisations.

I represent an organisation that has 25 years’ experience of increasing access to the arts for communities less well served.  We reached 46,000 people in 2013/14, are free at point of access, yet have sustained a business model of 42% earned income, 18% core cost funding and 40% project funding. A model for which some heavily supported (or, dare I say it, “bailed out”) venue based arts organisations would be envious.

We are grateful to be the most successful applicant to the strategic touring fund to date. This success is due to a lot of hard work, research and experience, getting out there and meeting people – using shoe leather, the whites of the eyes and a smile – with some of the most isolated and least well served communities in the UK. It also reflects just a 50% success rate.  In order to be successful 3 times, we have made 6 applications for modest amounts of money for 1 year projects.  An attempt to draw down strategic touring for a longitudinal 3 year project bridging 3 northern counties was turned down last year.

According to recent BBC report only 6.8% of this green and pleasant land is urban http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18623096, yet ACE persists with funding arts in urban centres over supporting arts in and for communities.  Still further, the Strategic Touring programme is audience development focussed, meaning that the application process for ST encourages applicants to explain how their work in and with communities drives audiences to the already funded urban centre venues.  Quality arts work with communities is in itself, quality work and should be valued for growing arts engagement from the ground up.  Such projects should be valued for setting many people off on their first creative journeys, seeding the creativity of the future, rather than for how many bums they can put on the seats of the nearest city’s theatre or how many visitors they can drive through the city’s multimillion pound art gallery.

Despite informed paper based assessments for applications to Grants for the Arts by some Relationship Managers, the funding panel appear to be venue-centric, elitist and lack understanding of socially engaged work, constituting a type of “project snobbery”.  Panel members seem rarely prepared to travel to remote communities to see relatively low profile socially engaged work.  They would rather go to a theatre with a bar or an art gallery with a café in a nice urban centre with easy transport links. Much smaller scale venue based art is art eating itself, with audiences for the main part, being engaged in the wider arts network.  The larger scale venue based work is only accessible to those with financial means and of a certain social disposition.

Frequently, eminently fundable, well-articulated projects assessed by Relationship Managers as outstanding for community engagement, good for artistic quality and meeting criteria for management and finance, are turned down at panel. How do artists succeed in getting their project, that has been assessed as suitable for funding on paper, agreed for funding at panel? What are the criteria by which the panel decide that one organistion is more worthy than the other to receive ACE funds and where is the transparency in this?  What expertise or experience of the organisation and the company’s socially engaged work do they have?  Is it simply cronysim?  If they know and like your work, you’re successful?

The National Portfolio is equally inequitable. The revised National Portfolio for the North provided an increase of £1.5million to three organisations covering Opera, Ballet and Classical Music, whilst 29 smaller organisations, mostly artist led, socially engaged, financially efficient touring organisations with an average support of £91K pa, were axed.  Figures collated by Chris Squire, Impossible Theatre, see attached infographic.

ACE Creative People and Places programme is also flawed. What ACE offers to consortia through Creative People & Places is laudable on paper, but (in some cases not all) much of this cash (millions) is gobbled up by management and marketing strategists, leaving the artists to scrabble for the crumbs of insignificant commissions for poorly conceived projects by inexperienced salaried producers.  Many consortia fail to understand the value of having the artist – the deliverer of the art – on the ground at the outset.   The artists’ ability to soak up inspiration and reflect the community’s needs from that very important first meeting with a community participant and the artist’s skill in transforming this inspiring information into meaningful projects for and about the community is lost in a mire of pre-production bureaucracy. Why are artists seen as high risk and lacking in expertise for receipt of large funding sums via CP &P, whilst local authority and quango consortia with limited creative expertise are deemed worthy?

Our recent lack of success with both Grants for the Arts and National Portolio means that our work remains marginlised.  As artists we are hobbled and unable to take the next step in our development in delivering projects to areas where we know arts and community engagement is low.  Because our work is free at the point of delivery, with no tickets, venue, café or bar, our opportunities for earned income are limited, yet we still bring in 42% of our total earnings by selling our projects to commisioners in both the private and statutory sector.  We are well experienced in working on a project by project basis and are happy to deliver our work in this way without core funding.  I advocate for an arts ecology that survives without government subsidy, if artists were paid for the time it takes to create their work at a rate commensurate with any other profession.  A junior lawyer costs £100/hr, the starting salary of recent graduate as an investment banker is £42Kpa.  I and my colleagues, like most artists do not seek a mega salary, but I do expect to be paid for my work, commensurate with my expertise and experience.

Arts Council England’s 10 year strategy of Great Art for everyone has been degraded and no longer applies when funding is allocated – eg Arts Council is now funding consortia research projects to create a greater evidence base of the impact of the arts. As a small arts organisation delivering this work and seeing real impacts, it is impossible for us to report on our engagement successess to ACE.  The Arts Council’s annual review system asks for us to record figures against a core programme and separate figures against an education programme.  Our education programme is our core programme.  Still further it asks for more detailed statistics against work delivered in formal education settings than it does for work in informal, community settings. A complete overhaul of the reporting structure to capture the wealth of arts activity delivered by artists would provide all the evidence they need. The Arts Council should simply fund the Artists to make Art and do its job of making the case for funding. Instead it launches a £250 million reseach programme over three years to fund 7 consortia projects/per year linked to universities.  Universities charge each student £9K/pa, what makes them eligible for dwindling Arts Council funds?

In the UK and in Europe, whether in business or through Arts funding, artists always seem to end up at the bottom of the food chain with consortia and governmental organisations snaffling up the cash, leaving artists to scrabble over poorly conceived and poorly paid commissions.  Julie Ward MEP, recently echoed this statement in a recent address to the EU: http://on.fb.me/1DmRXzr.  Julie calls for further investment in informal education which contributes to the growth of the whole person, creates confident well-rounded citizens and for the Creative Europe Programme to support “smaller organisations (non-governmental players) upon whom our cultural sector is founded”

I therefore propose a radical suggestion for realignment of arts funding.

The arts and artists need money not buildings to flourish.  This is clealy visible from the excellent work of the “venue-less” National Theatres of Scotland and Wales; excellent outdoor arts work in rural landscapes and derelict urban wastelands and the poignant personal journeys made by people accessing the arts in carehomes, on housing estates, in the mental health system, parks, playgrounds, village halls and community centres across the length and breadth of our country.

Because it is very difficult to survive commercially from the creation of arts, the sole purpose of the Arts Council should be to support the creation of arts by artists.  As arts venues have a far better chance of raising cash through sponsorship, ticket sales, cafes, restaurants and friend schemes, it is these organisations that should be challenged to survive without arts funding and not the artist, without whose work the venues would have no reason to exist.

NPO-north-infographic latest

This article was updated on 11 February, at the request of Arts Council England. The original article stated that ACE’s new research programme is worth £250m over three years, rather than £2.5m, will fund seven projects per year, but the number of projects is not predetermined, and incorrectly implied that research partners had to be universities.

13/11/14

Short Ships by Faceless Arts

The Farrell Review – the Role of Artists and the Arts
Brief Presentation for a Meeting of Arts and Built Environment Practitioners
Beam / The Orangery, Wakefield 13 November, 2104

Outdoor Arts & Public Realm

In thinking about today’s meeting, I thought I might share some of the thoughts I had on the Farrell Review. I have three different perspectives by which to contribute to the discussion today.

Firstly, I am an Outdoor Arts Practitioner and Educator. As founder member of Faceless Arts, the majority of my outdoor and community arts practice for the past 25 years has been about bringing art and people together in the outdoors, using visual art and performance to creatively explore senses belonging, identity and place.

Secondly, I’m board member of ISAN, the London based national development organisation for Outdoor Arts in the UK. At ISAN we regularly deal with issues of policy in the public realm in order to support the work of our members which comprise artists, programmers, producers, festivals and local authorities.

Thirdly, I have just completed a post graduate research project at Leeds University about creative outdoor arts experiences as nurture rather than instrument. During the process of practically mapping creative arts experiences, I applied a few seminal socio-philosophical theories to contemporary outdoor arts practice, such as Rancière (the Emancipated Spectator), Bourriaud (Relational Aesthetics) and LeFebvre (The Production of Space).

Public Realm is of course social space, shared space, the space of our audiences and participants. Street artists animate the public realm by what Bourriaud calls a social interstice – an interruption in the everydayness of people, inviting them to look afresh at the environment of the public realm, its inhabitants and its functions.

However, LeFebvre argues that much of our urban and suburban public realm is produced to control. It is an increasingly privatised and homogenous space bogged down in a risk averse culture of consumerist economics. This iteration of the public realm, its design for perceived needed contemporary functions bring a host of challenges for the street performer, such as:

– A drink fuelled night time economy
– Impractically designed /misconceived public spaces leaving them underused and maligned– eg soul-less, overdesigned spaces, ubiquitous central sculpture, or “plop art”, as Andrew Knght calls it http://www.rkl-consultants.org.uk/
– Public space as thoroughfare – places of transit rather than spaces to linger
– Traffic – noise, poor air, increased risk
– The desolation of the high street when the shops are closed

To subvert these difficulties, street artists are truly imaginative, they create ;
– Giant spectacle works that bring cities to a halt
– Visual non verbal poetic works that touch audiences emotionally and draw them into a narrative
– Community engaged and co-authored site specific works
– Intimate and immersive works using digital technology sound and light
– Family friendly works adding to the linger factor for people of all ages
– Naughty confrontative and subversive work, which sparks thought or simply interrupts the tedium

The report talks about place based planning and design. In my opinion, place based design to date has been the servant of destination marketing and I am not sure of its success. In a scramble to make place destinations to boost our flailing local economies through tourism, we have forgotten the people who use the space daily, the people who live in our villages towns and cities, who’s experiences in public realm are the making of place. These opportunities for co-authored shared experience are the nub of what Rancière analyses in The Emancipated Spectator as the Sensus Communis – or a sense of communal experience.

Cardiff Bay, Salford Quays and Newcastle Quayside are examples public realm design and urban regeneration that work for me both as street performer and visitor. Cardiff Bay is controversial and has its problems. See Jones the Planner. http://www.jonestheplanner.co.uk/2011/03/cardiff-bay-blues.html. The positives include:
– Intensive mixed uses and traffic free.
– Spaces flanked by theatres and concert halls, restaurants and shops, places of work, leisure and policy making – the Welsh Parliament is in Cardiff Bay.
– Accommodation for artist studios and the creative industries
– People live there.
– Functional yet exceedingly flexible to host huge outdoor arena style events or small intimate quirky animations.
– Breathing, working, living, play spaces.
– Intriguing spaces for discovery and play.
– Alive night and day and frequented by people of all ages with people of means spending their cash in bars and restaurants whilst cash strapped young people and families walk, play or picnic.

They function similarly to the great civic spaces of the ancient Greeks – they’re our modern Agoras.

My final observation is about the report’s call for new levels of public engagement through “education and outreach in every village, town and city”. This is work that is close to my heart as I work in outdoor arts with communities, creating events on urban outskirts and rural borders. Faceless Arts recent use of strategic touring funds from the Arts Council has enabled us to work in with small isolated communities of West and East Yorkshire off the M62. Their public realm can be the cross roads, a park or Community Library Garden. Last year I directed The Empty Square and this year I made Follow the Diversion. Both these projects explore and celebrate stories of place as a means of encouraging communities to re-purpose their minimal public realm as spaces for community creativity and social gathering. These funds from ACE are welcomed by us as artists and by the communities with whom we work, who have limited access to high quality touring work. We also have to remember too, in this time of austerity and spending cuts, that street artists need access to funds and resources for continued innovation and that local authorities, town and parish councils need to be able to access a programming budget to continue to inspire people to use the public realm as a creative, playful social space of thus contributing their own memories of place to a democratisation of the public realm.

Bev Adams FRSA
Artistic Director Faceless Arts
Board Member ISAN (Independent Street Arts Network)

Follow the Diversion by Faceless Arts Bev photo by Amanda Crowther

I am fortunate that much of my job is about meeting and talking to people. It is about listening to people’s stories – what they enjoy doing, what they like about where they live and what they remember about the past.

In my day to day work, these conversations happen with people of all ages, all over Yorkshire. You see, it is my job to take these stories and work with communities to interpret them into community performances. I am a community drama practitioner and I work alongside fellow artists who are visual arts or music practitioners for an arts charity called Faceless Arts. The communities we work with form an important part of our team too. We believe everyone has the ability to be creative, that creativity can happen everywhere and that art helps you to feel better.

This summer I am working on a project called Follow the Diversion with four communities in the East Riding. We will work with each community for 5 days and on day 6 will present a new community play based on their stories and memories.

Follow the Diversion is about the sometimes bypassed, communities along the M62, nestled under flyovers and bridges and clustered in the shadows of power stations. Using the metaphor of children’s play, and oversized building blocks as our set and props, Follow the Diversion explores poignant memories, community identity and the importance of taking the time to stop and see what may be around you. Each Follow the Diversion performance starts with a commuter being diverted from the M62 who, after complaining that “there is nothing here”, is drawn by the participating community cast into a retelling of their collected stories and shared reminiscences of older people. As the commuter forgets their commute, we too, as audience, are taken on a colourful diversion of discovery into childhood games, rural pass-times, industrial heritage, war time reminiscences and modern day celebrations.

Follow the Diversion aims to highlight the participating communities on our own reimagined map whilst redefining outdoor public spaces for social and cultural gathering and complementing, or creating new, local events. Parks, town centres, galas and social club grounds are our venues and local people aged 8+ are our storytellers, performers, participants and audiences. In each community, we create a mini outdoor event with family arts workshops in SPACE TO CREATE – our pop up creative activity dome, professional performances of our gentle giant HERON and a community performance of FOLLOW THE DIVERSION.

Making use of a strategic touring grant from Arts Council England, Faceless Arts’ are happily diverted from the M62, taking the time to stop and listen, create and celebrate the beauty and history of four sometimes isolated, often overlooked villages and towns. The project begins in Brough on 4th August, travels to Old Goole, Howden and completes at Snaith and Cowick Heritage Day . There is still time to sign up and participate, so, If you are aged 8+ and fancy being diverted this summer, please contact Bev Adams or Charlie Wells at Faceless Arts on 01924 335985 email arts@facelessco.com