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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