Sunday, 3 December 2017

Speaking Truth to Power...

For those of you eager beavers out there keen to book a place on the next large-scale free North West Arts & Health Network event, it will be the a follow-up to the Creative Health report launch held in the summer at the Manchester School of Art. HOLD THE DATE >>>>TUESDAY 6th FEBRUARY<<<< and details with how to contribute and attend will be here very shortly.

The Centenary for Women’s Suffrage is 2018
The centenary of property-owning women, over 30 years of age and all men receiving the vote will be celebrated in 2018. Shouldn't we now be acknowledging those pioneers, ordinary people who did extraordinary things, to further the struggle to gain the vote? It was these people who helped highlight the opportunity for ALL women to participate in democracy by uncovering the achievements of those who both fought for the Representation of the People Act 1918 and then went on to participate in the opportunities it created. The aim of the this project is to identify and celebrate the lives of 100 women and men who were active in the campaign for extending the vote to all women and who went on to use their extended rights of citizenship in a positive way in their local areas. This could be your grandmother, aunt, or other family member. If so let us have some information about them and perhaps they will become one of those 100 pioneers we wish to recognise.

So - are you aware of women from the North West who deserve to be recognised? If so, you have until the end of December to nominate them. Click HERE to nominate.

Question: How much is a post doc arts and health researcher worth? 

Answer: With a starting price, it seems - £17,326!

(Now what is the average student debt I wonder…?)

Want to know more? 
Want to go for the job? Click HERE.

Orwellian nightmare or fairer system for all? What Quality Metrics will mean for arts funding.
“Can you measure the quality of art? Well, no. You can’t take out a ruler and discover how good a play is, though you can measure things that hover around it, such as how many people came to see it and how much it cost. Instead, deciding what is good is a human and subjective thing – and who gets to decide is a tender and touchy subject. When, recently, it became clear that Arts Council England was intending to make data collection on the quality of a work compulsory for the largest organisations it funds – rolling out a “Quality Metrics” programme – there was an outcry. “Horseshit,” tweeted artist Tim Etchells. Composer Thomas Adès wrote: “Tell me this is a hoax. What happened to human opinions, judgment, discernment? Knowledge, taste? Not enough likes?” There were fears that the arts council was about to visit on England an Orwellian scenario in which funding decisions would be based on algorithms and boxes ticked.” This is an extract from Charlotte Higgins’ full article which you can read HERE.

Reflections on a dance
On Saturday I had the pleasure of seeing the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre perform. In truth I’d gone along to this performance under a little duress, having overindulged on Thomas Adès's - The Exterminating Angel - an opera based on the wonderful Luis Buñuel film of the same name, but an opera which left me cold. There’s something longer to write about opera, life experience and a certain white inward looking smugness, but I’ll leave that one for another day. 

But being an aficionado of Strictly Come Dancing - I thought I’d give the Alvin Ailey a go, and to be honest, it’s been one of the more profound and moving things I’ve experienced in my time in the US, and for reasons which have completely surprised me. My background is staunchly white working class, and dance and opera were never on the radar - never - (and after all the hype around the Adès, opera still inhabits a space which has the power to repel). In fact in the late 70’s when punk was evolving into some kind of new wave, I remember I bought a copy of Peter and the Wolf purely because Bowie was doing the narration on it. Walking home, I bumped into my dad and he asked me what I’d bought. I showed him the album, and he looked a little worried, his furrowed brow a little deeper than usual. Later that same day, he asked to have a quiet word with me. He’d been talking with my mum, and advised me that I was getting into some serious stuff listening to classical music, and I should be careful.

So sitting in the god’s at the dance performance, I was surprised to find myself thinking of my parents again, and my dad’s words of caution. There were two moments which struck me. A performance called After The Rain Pas De Deux - which used one of those ‘classical’ pieces of music that have so corrupted me over these year; Spiegel Im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt. Two dancers - Jacqueline Green and Yannick Lebrun - transfixed me. I’d listened to this work a thousand times, but never seen the work made real - physical. All I could do, was think of my mum. Think how she too loved Strictly, and how as a young woman she loved to dance in Morecambe’s ballrooms of the 30’s and 40’s. To my knowledge, she never went to see dance performed - yet I know - she too would have been moved so deeply by this.

Then a second moment, and another body of short pieces performed by the company, under the title of Revelations with choreography by Alvin Ailey in 1960. These were what I can only describe as shorter dance sequences set to African-American spiritual songs with titles like I Been ‘Buked and Didn’t My Lord Deliver Me Daniel, written by Hall Johnson.

With my atheistic and working class labour roots, this work had an even more complicated affect on my bio-chemical and neurological pathways! What was happening? For a good half hour of poignant fables and impossibly beautiful movement - I was bleary eyed - transfixed and completely cocooned from the white-trash president who was in town for the day. But the biggest surprise for me, was that I was cocooned with my dad, who in my mind would have been so deeply moved by the whole experience. It was listening to this spiritual music and seeing all that human potential (and being aware of the darker depths of the work) that I remembered the music of my childhood that he and my mum loved and which I only ever really considered after he died, and which I chose for his funeral - largely that of Paul Robeson. Deep, resonating and very black.

I didn’t grow up in a metropolis - so the diversity of London, Paris or New York was irrelevant to me, my diversity quota being served up by the TV courtesy of Love They Neighbour, Rising Damp and the Wheel Tappers and Shunters Social Club. Don’t ask! 

So there I was - watching, hearing, feeling something resonating through my body which took me back home to the music of my childhood and to a conversation that I'd had with my dad in his later years - about Paul Robeson. What was it about him that had appealed so much to this hardworking Morecambe man? It’s only then that he told me about Robeson’s time in front of the The House Un-American Activities Committee and his work supporting Welsh coal miners; an unfolding story of injustices and something heroic beyond the individual and towards wider social good. You can read a far more eloquent account of his life HERE. You can also get a flavour of Roberson’s eloquence in this short and powerful film below. Talk about speaking truth to power.

In that theatrical space - I felt some kind of deep connection with my parents - a real post-mortem treat. Some might impose wider supernatural influences on these kinds of moments, but I don’t. It was exhilaration at the beauty of human athleticism, of being in one of those spaces (like a church - but stripped of all its superstition) and immersed only in the thing. Nothing else existed, but this wonderful familial connection rooted in the moment, in the aesthetic and in a shared poetry, yet born of poverty and systemic inequalities.  


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