Sunday, 13 September 2020

Lord Howarth, Creative Health and the...

...World Healthcare Congress
It seems a lifetime ago since day-to-day normality involved hugging and laughter and skittish interactions with friends and complete strangers - that wonderful noisy, brash existence - although, yes, I have enjoyed privileged moments that solitude has offered me these last months too, walking out into nearby countryside. But what I'd do to have a coffee in a cafe without fearing I'd keel over - admittedly my own vulnerabilities have added complexity to this time. Worryingly I find myself craving the fumes of petrol and bitumen - of the oozing black tar from telegraph poles on hot summer days.

Recently I caught myself feeling a nostalgia for aviation (!) - the long-haul, the possibility of extra leg room and the awful transit-cattle-market of the whole experience - yet somehow.... Pulling myself up short - I realise that those days are temporarily over for everyone and that perhaps there should be less opportunity for mass aviation, given what we know and see. I still crave difference and unknown landscapes - but at what cost? As my work shrivels up and morphs into very sensible online video conversations and conferences - I recently stepped up to an invisible lectern to speak at a conference in Singapore with equally invisible hoards of online delegates - a working life similar to that I had prior to the pandemic/diagnosis, seems lightyears away, and in terms of the planet - for the better.

To those of you visiting this blog in a time of Covid, the World Healthcare Congress, Europe - which was co-curated by Esme Ward and myself back in March 2019 - 
may seem vintage, in its lack of foresight of the pandemic. It was filmed by Dave Bewick and his team at Shortform Media with funding from the British Council and much of what is discussed and shown may be even more relevant today as culture and the arts take on a different significance. This short film which has not been seen before, gives some flavour of the congress where arts and health was one of the three conference strands. In it you'll hear from Lord Howarth of Newport, Gerri Moriarty, CEO of Arts Council England, Darren Henley and many, many more. The film is below and runs to around fifteen minutes. For those of you interested in more of a raucous, quick-fire Manchester slant, there is a four minute stand-alone film with amongst others, film director Danny Boyle; yes, that Danny Boyle - HERE. 

14-18 September
Saxophonist and activist Soweto Kinch is curating a collection of performances and discussions which will not only feature a strong line-up of musicians and speakers – original music from Kinch, Jay Phelps and Xhosa Cole, and choreography by Jade Hackett – but has some historical heft too. These events will be available via our computer screens, tablets and phones each evening from Monday 14 to Friday 18 September.

“Throughout this summer, British bridges, streets and squares that were the scene of violent race riots in 1919, will be transformed into dynamic stages, galleries and plinths to creatively explore this past. It’s easy to get the erroneous idea that mobs of ‘woke’ millennials are suddenly forcing Britons to confront ‘diversity’ for the first time – however, from Glasgow to Barry, and indeed Chicago and New York the entire western world was engulfed in racial conflict over 101 years ago.

With a mixture of improvised responses, existing material and new commissioned work we intend to shed new light on Britain’s fractious relationship with race and class. What is distinct about a ‘British working class’?  Why is the pre-Windrush Black British presence so often overlooked? If there were the scenes of violent racial animus over a century ago, what is to prevent it from recurring? especially amidst a post Covid-19 deep recession.

The backdrop of today’s civil unrest, statues being torn down and serious soul searching across Britain, mean that there has rarely been a more opportune moment to explore ignored British history – radically challenging the way ‘British’, ‘White’ and ‘Working-Class’ identities have been constructed. As Soweto Kinch describes, ‘1919 established and entrenched hierarchies of racism that have yet to be undone’."

Join Soweto Kinch and his superb line-up from London, Hull, Salford, Liverpool, Cardiff and Newport for this exclusive curated series of online performances, bringing the past to life and making sense of the present! Full details HERE.

Artangel presents 24 leading thinkers converge in a non-stop 12-hour conversation relay, live-streamed online! Embracing the essence of Longplayer as a contemplation of the future, the Assembly brings together 24 participants from around the world, whose individual specialism embodies long term thought.

Each speaker will converse in turn, passing the virtual baton every 30 minutes in a non-stop 12-hour live relay. We have just released the schedule of timings and pairings so you can read about each participant on our website to get a glimpse into the themes and differing viewpoints they will be bringing to the Assembly. From epidemiologist Precious Lunga to astrophysicist Janna Levin by way of Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno. Saturday 26 September, 10:00 – 22:00 BST. Full details HERE.

'The filmwork of Alan Lomax is a resource for students, researchers, filmmakers, and fans of America's traditional music and folkways. Shot throughout the American South and Southwest over the course of seven years (1978--1985) in preparation for the series, "American Patchwork," which aired in 1991, these videos consist of performances, interviews, and folkloric scenes culled from 400 hours of raw footage, many of which have never been seen publicly.

The project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. 
This short film is from the section 1982-1983: Central & Southern Appalachia (1982-1983). Amongst other things, this section includes: Cloggers and buck dancers; bluegrass and string bands; white gospel groups; stories, folktales, and ballads from coal miners, tobacco farmers, and former bootleggers. It's an extraordinary archive. What struck me about this little 'white gospel' film (and I'm not a religious person) is the sense of community and communal euphoria. Quite a thing. You can see the whole archive HERE.

Thanks to NS for giving me faith in humanity...

Saturday, 22 August 2020

How to breed anarchy

What on earth is happening? - These last months have seen understandings of our place in the world, tilt and shift. The old normality has run adrift as we attempt to make sense of what came before and what might be. 

Old morality too, has been seen for what it is - for a moment in time, the still-evolving virus, gives us clarity to see unpalatable truths - that some refuse to accept. 

But I have an extended moment of lucidity, quite unlike anything I’d previously thought possible - the things we all know, somehow amplified. Preposterous faux leadership - held up against those who personify considered collective decisions - fills my heart with a near-violent rage; what was dormant splutters with acrid sparks of sulphur. 

Stuttering bravado hiding behind algorithms - post-code discrimination and disparity of voice, but y
our protective mask will foil their facial recognition software.
Five hundred and thirty two billion tons of melting ice course through my veins while cops choke the life out of a human - because they can. Then in my little world, we count out the ways in which the arts might staunch the chaos. I cringe a little. That same small world has been shoved off kilter, where bone and blood themselves calve away, like balmy winter cliffs. A grinding reality.

Inequalities are falling off the radar, while childlike politicians prepare for a vote-winning technological war on a common enemy, not seeing that the enemy itself attacks those who are most unequal.

Am I angry - am I going to do something with my smouldering rage through these fading hours? - fuck, yeah.

It Ain't Half Racist, Mum (1979)
Stuart Hall & Maggie Steed
(...of course, the following film will offend as it deals head on with the racism many of us were unintentionally complicit with on television in our younger years)

The following text contextualises the above film and was written by Ashley Clark, in Sight & Sound.

In March 1979, weeks before the election of Margaret Thatcher, Stuart Hall starred in his own protest film of sorts, a surgical critique of racism entitled It Ain’t Half Racist, Mum. Written and presented by Hall alongside actor and activist Maggie Steed, It Ain’t Half Racist, Mum screened on BBC2 as part of Open Door (1973-83), a series which gave airtime to outsiders to use under their own editorial control.

The show is frank from the start, as Steed delivers a message to camera: “When the BBC says that a programme like this is ‘outside their control’, what they’re telling you is that they don’t think it’s balanced, neutral, or fair. We hope to show that many of the programmes which are under the editorial control of the BBC and ITV are themselves biased and unbalanced, especially in the coverage they give to Britain’s Black community.”

Commenting on carefully chosen clips, the pair analyse the racism and biases within sitcom stereotypes, and dissect the insidious ways that far-right nationalists, including Enoch Powell, were given freedom within the supposedly neutral space on current affairs television to articulate their hostile positions on immigration, effectively framing the national discourse. (Anyone pondering the programme’s contemporary relevance may consider the fact that far-right politician Nigel Farage – who has never successfully been elected as an MP at Westminster – has appeared 35 times on the BBC’s Question Time, and is its ninth all-time highest record appearance holder.)

Sadly, It Ain’t Half Racist, Mum did not provoke a period of self-analysis from the BBC. Instead, it struck a raw nerve: a subsequent Open Door episode began with a feebly apologetic message that entirely disavowed Hall and Steed’s critique: “The BBC wishes to dissociate itself from any such suggestions [of racial bias] which it considers to be entirely without foundation.”

Restructuring Public Health England: public health is about more than being prepared for future pandemics
As the socioeconomic causes of ill health are being ignored by the British Government, Paul C Coleman, Joht Singh Chandan and Fatai Ogunlayi consider the effect this restructure will have on the future health and wellbeing of England in the British Medical Journal. Read this timely article HERE. 

How to walk through walls: reimagining health and healthcare through the arts
On Tuesday 4 August, the CREATE Centre in New South Wales hosted the second of its online series - "How to walk through walls: reimagining health and healthcare through the arts". Vic McEwan of The Cad Factory presented a video work called "Come Face to Face with Your Face" and reflected on his practice. His presentation talks to the work he has been undertaking in the Sydney Facial Nerve Clinic as part of his practice led PhD and reflects on what it means to be an artist working with complex things such as facial nerve paralysis. Watch the full film below.

Are you an artist based in the North West of England? The Festival of Hope Sefton are looking for artists to collaborate in a series of projects to be delivered in October 2020. 
The Atkinson, in collaboration with Hope Streets, Curious Minds and Blaze, is working with a group of Young Producers to create the Festival of Hope Sefton; a pioneering festival that places young people at the heart of design, making, programming & production. Please note that there are a number of commissions, and the image below will take you to the webpage with more detail. Or click HERE.

Victoria and Albert Museum/AHRC collaborative doctoral partnership studentships
Arts and Humanities Research Council, GB
These allow the V&A and UK HEIs to collaborate on a project that is relevant to both the AHRC’s subject areas and the V&A’s collections and research priorities, and that can provide demonstrable benefits to both partners. Studentships include tuition fees and a student maintenance grant for up to four years, and additional financial support towards travel and related costs.
Full details HERE. Deadline for applications Wednesday 30 September 2020.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

1945 - 1998

On the 6th and 9th August 1945, the United States - with the consent of the United Kingdom - detonated two nuclear weapons over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing between 129,000 and 226,000 people. I have shared this piece of work by artist, Isao Hashimoto before and will again. The work, "1945-1998" is described by the artist here.

"This piece of work is a bird's eye view of the history by scaling down a month length of time into one second.  No letter is used for equal messaging to all viewers without language barrier.  The blinking light, sound and the numbers on the world map show when, where and how many experiments each country have conducted.  I created this work for the means of an interface to the people who are yet to know of the extremely grave, but present problem of the world."

"1945-1998" © 2003

This constitutes 2053 nuclear explosions conducted across our planet and does not encompass any activity after 1998 including announced nuclear tests by North Korea.

No more needed from me.

Monday, 3 August 2020

short and sweet

Composer Max Richter has been creating beautiful music over this last decade. On the blog today you'll find a work (below) which takes the UN Declaration of Human Rights as its starting point. I needn't say any more.

Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (July Bulletin)
The latest round-up of blogs, opportunities, events and much, much more is available on the CHWA website by clicking HERE. I'd particularly like to draw your attention to The House of Lords Covid-19 Committee who are asking people to share their hopes and fears about the long-term impact of the pandemic.

'The Committee, which was appointed in June 2020 to consider the long-term implications of the pandemic on the economic and societal wellbeing of the UK, wants to understand what individuals and organisations think that COVID-19 will mean for our daily lives, at work and at home, and for how we function as a society – what might it mean for social cohesion, for (in) equality, for our environment or for arts and culture? Asking people to look several years into the future, the Committee are keen to hear about both the challenges there are to overcome and the opportunities to do things better, especially in light of the systemic inequalities in society that the pandemic has highlighted. The Committee are welcoming both traditional written submissions and more creative contributions, and details of how people can share their views are included in the call for evidence.' DEADLINE - 31st August 2020.
For more details, click on the image by soymicroscopio below, taken from covidartmuseum.

Maggie's Leeds
What a wonderful thing it is that Maggie Keswick Jencks has given us - a legacy that embraces beauty and life with cancer. These healing environments that she and her husband envisaged following her own cancer diagnosis, have spread around the UK and internationally and are really beautiful environments that exude care in their very materials. I had a real treat of being asked to one of the centres in the grounds of Charing Cross Hospital back in 2013. The whole experience was so stimulating, that alongside the design work of Darren Browett, (which was focused on memory loss and design) I was not only propelled into writing a book chapter, but it really shifted my thinking towards living with cancer, dementia and the arts and (don't let it disturb you) mortality. I really do owe a debt of gratitude to Jencks and Browett. But this week sees much publicity about a new Maggie's Centre which has opened in Leeds and designed by the Thomas Heatherwick studio. What a beautiful thing. Seemingly improbable - but not impossible - why can't all healthcare provision take a leaf out of this book. 

Are you a passionate artist who wants to create live performance, develop an idea, find new collaborations, be seen & heard, but cannot get beyond barriers to developing or continuing your practice? BEYOND is designed to transform the careers of Deaf and disabled artists, supporting new connections to artistic development opportunities through advice, training, mentoring and creative spaces within a national network of theatres. For full details click HERE or on the image below.

. . .

Blackberries have come early,
Fingers stained and torn too soon.

Monday, 20 July 2020

The Seahorse...

How can the arts and creativity support people who are shielding and vulnerable during Covid-19?
Last Thursday I took part in an All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health & Wellbeing - well - I sat huddled amongst the other would be participant-observers, the session ran right up to the mark meaning I was less of a participant and just an observer. No time for questions or comments from those watching was possible. For those of you with an interest in all things arts/health/policy, you can watch a video of the proceedings right HERE. The webinar was titled, How can the arts and creativity support people who are shielding and vulnerable during Covid-19? Oh lord - I had so much to say too!

While Daisy Fancourt fresh back from a high level UN summit, revealed amongst other revelations, that her large-scale research had uncovered the fact that watching the news as the pandemic has unfolded, has been bad for our mental health, but hobbies had been good for us!! Baroness Lola Young made clear, the future needs a more nuanced and substantial response to and through, the arts. It's rather clear that artists of all disciplines working towards social change need serious long-term investment - not just in that great capital city, but in the towns and villages of this island. Thank you Patrick Fox (Heart  of Glass) for providing a qualitative and civic focus and to Victoria Hume for stressing the relevance of inequalities in this great ongoing arts debate. The potential of culture and the arts in all their forms, to impact of health, wellbeing and social change, has never felt so relevant.

I hope that in a distant post-covid world, the arts will have been seen to be a galvanising force for social cohesion and a making sense of the anxiety and isolation that the pandemic has created. I hope too that the arts are no longer the sole preserve of the educated elite, but a means to imposing order and disorder on the chaos of contemporary existence. The arts challenge, arouse and liberate the potential in all of us and this arts, health and social change agenda - begins in the very heart of our communities. As both an arts led researcher and one of those ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’ people, I know from research and rich personal experience that the arts are both essential and necessary - and thankfully not always palatable! Patrick Fox called for ‘leadership from the margins’ - and I for one, couldn't agree more.

Unable to add my voice to that specific discussion, I was able to have an altogether different conversation last week as part of the SICK! festival digital offer. As a guest of Lucy Burke and Smug Roberts who head up the 4OFUS podcast interviews, I was able to share something of my experience of living with myeloma during lockdown alongside Katie Awdas and her life with endometriosis. I cringe at everything my great gurning head says, and I seem to keep clear of staking any claims on culture and the arts, but boy-oh-boy, my derri√®re makes a none too subtle appearance once more!

A short film by Jonathan Glazer and inspired by a powerful involuntary mania that took hold of citizens in the city of Strasbourg just over 500 years ago, STRASBOURG 1518 is a collaboration in isolation with some of the greatest dancers working today, performing to a composition written by the superb Mica Levi.The film will premiere to UK viewers on BBC Two at 10:00 BST, Monday 20 July 2020. Watch it live, or catch it on BBC iPlayer, available from 21 July. For more details on the Artangel commissioned work, click on the image below.

Poorhouse to Powerhouse...
Meanwhile, over in North Wales Frances Williams charts the narrative surrounding the statue of HM Stanley erected in Denbigh in 2011 in light of the global eruption of Black Lives Matter protests and public tearing down of statues, and explores what the ‘saving’ of the statue in 2020 reveals about more recent political histories. Sensitive readers must be warned that this work contains a giant rubber sheath! Now you're interested! Click HERE to read this excellent article in full.
Jean Painlevé The Seahorse 1934

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Never Waste a Good Crisis

“The NHS is an incredible feat of the imagination – complete strangers care for you and this means that it is social medicine and social health at its best.”

What a wonderful quote from poet Michael Rosen, who after his recovery from Covid19 and almost seven weeks in intensive care, has given a wonderful little interview in the Observer. Read it HERE. Even though our evolving NHS is being incrementally privatised, how different it feels to the American model typified here by this recoding of former cowboy president, Ronald Reagan. Click on the album below to hear a snippet of his verbiage.

On "not wanting Boris Johnson to die"
Over the years I’ve been aware of her, Miriam Margolyes has been rolled out on to numerous chat shows, frequently playing the part that keeps the money coming in; that of the eccentric provocateur - and once you’ve seen the routine - it can get a bit laboured. But her recent clearing by Ofcom for comments she made on TV in May this year, I’d say, warrant amplifying as loudly as possible. Discussing the governments miss-management of the pandemic and in particular, Johnson’s part in it - while he was ill of the virus - in a serious and a completely honest tone,  she commented,

“I had difficulty not wanting Boris Johnson to die, I wanted him to die, and then I thought that reflects badly on me and I don’t want to be the sort of person who wants people to die. So, then I wanted him to get better, which he did do, he did get better, but he didn’t get better as a human being.” 


These are interesting times and while countries report staggering low death counts like Hong Kong 7, Rwanda 2, Taiwan 7, Iceland 10 - we then come return to the UK, as of Sun 26th June we sit just under the behemoth of the USA 126,780 - at 43,230. A brutal and accurate attack on the failings of Bolsonaris Johnson’s handling of covid has been made by Kenneth Surin HERE. All those epidemiologists can easily tell us that statistically, considering the size of our population in comparison to the US, this has to be chaotic leadership on a colossal scale. Forty-three thousand two hundred and thirty people - individuals - precious lives - every single one of them. 

On the 5th May a member of my family unnecessarily died of Covid-19 as we could only watch and chat through his appalling last days via FaceTime and WhatsApp, unable to visit the covid ward while I am being shielded and shielding. It’s taken me a long time to muster up the strength of will to even mention this here. Why? The emotion was crippling - the anger, like nothing else - it’s fucking seismic. This vital life whose warmth I feel now, whose voice is clarion clear in my mind - and who was a rich, complete person central to the life of my family - unnecessarily dead. Of course, this virus is completely new and some would say, previously unimaginable - only outbreaks of corona viruses and other novel viruses have been predicted and planned for - apparently - for years.

As right-wing thugs have attempted to distract attention from #BLM we should be alert to our government using this agenda to address racism in a tokenistic way, providing a smoke-scree to its incompetence in all things Covid. Like the apparently forgotten flagrant behaviour of Special Adviser Cummings, we mustn’t lose sight of this government mismanagement and token attention to systemic racism which demands more than smoke and mirrors. As the ‘relaxation’ of lockdown kicks in and the inevitable escalation of new cases of infection and deaths begin - just remember, blame will be apportioned to the sunbathing masses - who yes - act like dumb cattle in many ways, but who are given all the signals for their behaviour from the arrogant elite who smirk and scoff their way through the crisis and fixated on the market, committing to spend BIG to 'build UK back to health'. Think - twisted ‘austerity’ - in a new guise. Never has a real sense of rebellion felt more needed, more urgent; the unnecessarily dead would demand this.

The comments of Myriam Margolyes were spontaneous and honest, and the kind of dark thoughts a few of us have probably mulled over, as Johnson blusters his way through these bleak months - and Trump arrogantly tweets his way through multiple deaths. For my part, while I see that litigation is being mounted against the government and its unlawful policies, I only hope that something akin to a war crimes tribunal will emerge, holding inept ‘leaders’ and their stooges to account for their systemic failings, and the appalling deaths of our fellow humans.

A Distorting Mirror
Reading about the 1,300 theatres closed across the UK at the moment, the playwright Tom Stoppard makes some pithy observations about the arts in our lives: 

“The arts, whether it’s theatre or opera or circus or pantomime, are not an add-on, like restaurants: people are joined together by what Shakespeare called a mirror held up to nature. It’s a distorting mirror, which may be convex or concave or as flat as when you’re being measured for a suit, but when they’re in danger – as they are now – one begins to feel forlorn about picking up life where one left off, if we somehow fail to reassemble this essential part of a fulfilled life.”

Reasons to Be Cheerful
Graeae is a force for change in world-class theatre, boldly placing D/deaf and disabled actors centre stage and challenging preconceptions. There's still time to catch the joyful and raucous hit musical celebrating the infectious songs of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, in Jenny Sealey's 2017 production with book by Paul Sirett. Featuring stone-cold classics including Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick; Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll; Spasticus Autisticus; Reasons to be Cheerful (part 3) and the rousing new protest song If It Can't Be Right Then It Must Be Wrong written by John Kelly and The Blockheads especially for this production. Click HERE to watch this free performance until 3 August 2020. 


As PRIDE month 2020 comes to a close today, a lovely story from the Andalusian village of Villanueva de Algaidas in Spain caught my eye. Following the complaints of three residents, local police ordered the mayor of the village to take down a rainbow flag which he’d put up to celebrate gay pride - because it was illegal! However, ‘more than 300 households in the village rallied to the cause and flew their own flags. By the time gay pride celebrations took place in Spain on Sunday, [the village near Malaga] was awash with flags hanging from balconies, windows and even a bar in solidarity.’ Read the full account of SOLIDARITY by clicking on the image below, or HERE.

Never waste a good crisis
This competition, run by UCL openDemocracy is open to school and university students (aged 14 and up) to share their vision of the future, with prizes of £200, £100 or £50 in book tokens plus the chance for personal mentoring from the panel of some of the world's foremost thinkers and some fantastic work experience with either UCL or openDemocracy. Entrants can submit either a written article, short video or image that describes their vision for the world after the coronavirus crisis has passed. The competition opens on 15 June 2020. The competition and public vote will close at 23:59 UTC on 10 July 2020, so make sure to share your entry and get your friends and family voting! Any entries after this date will not be accepted. The winners will be announced on 2 August 2020. Winners will be notified by email. full details are HERE.

A Collective Approach to Arts, Health & Social Change culture, heritage and the arts have come into their own over these past few months, it's never felt so pressing to reimagine this arts and health agenda so that we're fit for purpose in this ever changing, diverse world. Try and put the perverse image of Johnson doing press-ups out of your mind for a moment. For those of you who regularly stop by this blog, you'll know the masters course that HF and I had designed around Arts, Health & Social Change is in abeyance until 2021 - but rest assured your erstwhile blogger is on with it. We are committed to addressing systemic inequalities and injustices through research, experimentation and practice - and this too, infects thinking around the North West Arts & Health Network and how it evolves with the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance (who have some brilliant new features HERE), and how we work collectively across the region. It's been so long since we worked together - indeed those big events like Chaos & Comfort and all the Manifesto sessions seem light-years ago. So perhaps now's the time to be reimagining this too. So let's explore these things together and capitalise on our collective thinking and action. More of this on the next blog posting - and solidarity to kindred spirits. 

Instead of a music interlude, here's the actor Gene Wilder and some of his wonderful comic pauses.

The official United Nations COVID-19 Response Creative Content Hub
"Thousands of creators from around the world have generously submitted their work to help communicate important and unifying messages that can combat the spread of COVID-19 and unite the world during this pandemic. The creative work is free to share and available in multiple creative formats and languages." Whether they are all 'good' or not really depends on your own opinions, but there are a lot of free to download animations and films here. Well worth a look HERE.

Wednesday, 3 June 2020



USA = 108+ thousand people dead of the corona virus, 1.8+ million people infected, 36+ million people unemployed - a country arguably more unequal now than it was decades ago - the filmed killing of George Floyd an African American man, who just like Eric Garner in 2014 - stated clearly he couldn't breathe while under arrest. Racial division in the US? No - Racism. So when people bleat that all lives matter - of course they do - but not before racism is confined to history. I'm not sure if it's deep sadness I feel or total anger. Right now all our eyes should be on the electioneering oaf in the Oval Office.
Hold him to account.
Emory Douglas
Back in May 1967, The Black Panther newspaper published a set of guidelines for their movement, titled the "Ten-Point Program". Sadly, much of these much of these points are still relevant today :

1. We want freedom. We want power to determine the destiny of our Black Community.
2. We want full employment for our people.
3. We want an end to the robbery by the Capitalists of our Black Community.
4. We want decent housing, fit for shelter of human beings.
5. We want education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present day society.
6. We want all Black men to be exempt from military service.
7. We want an immediate end to POLICE BRUTALITY and MURDER of Black people.
8. We want freedom for all Black men held in federal, state, county and city prisons and jails.
9. We want all Black people when brought to trial to be tried in court by a jury of their peer group or people from their Black Communities, as defined by the Constitution of the United States.
10. We want land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice and peace.

Back in 2016 my presentation to the ARTLANDS 2016 conference in New South Wales interrogated the arts, social justice and inequalities, which through the sublime music of Louis Armstrong and others, I attempted to take those listening on a journey through a bloody civil war, in what was then, the Belgian Congo, via Central High School in Arkansas and the Little Rock Nine, all the time, exploring the relevance of the arts in an unfolding political maelstrom, suggesting that in the heart of fractured and unequal societies, artists are offered up as the answers to all life’s problems.

Through music, verbatim theatre and poetry I explored inequalities and social injustices, suggesting how the arts might offer us different kinds of evidence, and where grass roots organisations like the Black Panthers in the 1960's and  #blacklivesmatter today, perhaps represent a cohesive force for social and cultural change, across a spectrum of inequalities. 

As civil unrest inevitably erupts across America, and as the election-year-ape resorts to tear-gas and the threat of bullets, n
ow, more than ever, we need to disrupt inequalities and social injustices and perhaps, taking to the streets alongside direct, cultural activism, might enable that parity of voice. Again and again I am reminded of the prescient observations of James Baldwin in 1972:

“Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” *

This edited short film of Louis Armstrong singing C’est si Bon in 1962, was something I created to give a taster to my performance in Australia.

A Masters in Arts, Health & Social Change  
I have to admit (1) to being frustrated and just a little angry that my university have decided to postpone the launch of this new masters that Helen Felcey and I have worked so hard to get started this autumn. As well as disappointing all those people who have applied or expressed interest in enrolling, now has never been a more relevant time to embark on this socially engaged approach to the arts and health agenda. Social inequalities are rife; culture and the arts have never been so relevant to society and we are navigating new terrain in this risk averse society. This course would have been at a critical edge of thinking, research and action. The postponement is inevitably wrapped up in the university resisting taking a punt on something novel in a time of uncertainty - not least the uncertainty surrounding covid19. My own ill-health has certainly played a part in them playing things safe too - that said - I aim to be back in force shortly and tackling full on, wishy-washy middle of the road arts & health gibberish. Those of you who have been in touch will all get a personal email from Helen and I over the next week.

I have to admit too, (2) to being overwhelmed by my inbox. I've usually been quick off the mark with responses, but lately I feel the weight of the mail through the very keys themselves. Then there are the million or more well intentioned creative responses to the virus that encourage singing, poetry, painting and more - it seems the whole world has woken up to human creativity, all optimistic and evangelical. And funding (or so it's said) is pouring into digital platforms and artists responding to Covid19 and like the rolling news, it seems everything is viral-flavoured. I only hope that this unfolding realisation that the arts are like a medicine for the soul has currency once the wretched crisis is over - and it's not just the individual mean-making that continues, but deeper realisation of the place of culture in our collective identity.

Talking with a friend through wires and satellites last week, it was heartening to hear another isolated human saying how they just wanted to make work that was nothing to do with all this pandemic - yes, created in a time of crisis - but not explicit in its 'being a response' to it. In fact, we both crave something of the beautiful - to make it - to feel it - with all our senses.

I have to admit also, (3) to being more than pissed off with our leaders responses to the pandemic. Their failings have been listed and commented on by many authoritative commentators and I have little to add, but the whole thing drags me down. Then there are the bloody soundbites for the masses, which just like Get Brexit Done, sees Save our NHS peddled by a party that is committed to privatising it by stealth. Beyond this wretched virus, let's not let politicians use a pandemic as a smoke screen for their misdemeanours. If Cummings sees fit to ignore the rules, he should be out. I am ashamed of our country's government and its chaotic, scatter-gun approach to this public health issue - a catastrophe born of its own mismanagement. They are accountable.

(footnote #10) Side-swiped by a mid-winter diagnosis of cancer and the prospect of aggressive treatment, I found myself doing all I could to compliment chemotherapy with things from the world outside my suddenly uncertain body.

On the edge-lands of Lancaster where the M6 divides the city from the Forest of Bowland, single track lanes and pathways bisect a quiet hilly spot around Clougha Pike with its panoramic views of the Lakeland Hills. Transformed from a runner to a walker and unaware of the stealthy pandemic that was making its way into all our lives, my slowed-down reality saw me absorbing the seemingly familiar with a new kind of lucidity. 

Burbling electrical calls of lapwings and the gamekeeper’s gibbet of silky moles threaded on barbed wire amongst unfurling fronds of bracken and cow parsley - and crossing all these narrow lanes - an abundance of tough, wind-swept oaks. In the thick of all these trees stands a pollarded oak; hacked at, perhaps part way through being chopped down. Three imperfect limbs reach twenty feet into the sky, grasping for daytimes invisible stars.

Embracing its trunk, I look up through ivy covered bark to the fast moving clouds, feeling earthed. Standing there, this seemingly permanent thing feels solid and connected, grounding me to time and place, offering remission from wider uncertainties - and in its denuded form - a deeper kind of beauty.

* Some of this text has previously appeared on this blog on 28th May 2017. My paper, Weapons of Mass Happiness (2018) was written up as a book chapter HERE.