ARTS: BETWEEN COMMUNITY & DIVISION
The story turned about to be about a travelling production of a play called Trojan Horse that was playing at the time at Oldham Coliseum Theatre as part of a national tour. Two years ago the play had won the Amnesty International Freedom Of Expression award for its story of a country torn apart by racial division, ´British values´ and a culture of ´Prevent.´
A government enquiry in 2014 had examined the notion, made corporeal in the national press about so called ´hard-line´ Muslim school-governors and teachers plotting extremism in Birmingham. The play was written after listening to over 200 hours of statements made to the enquiry by teachers, students, parents and governors.
So, this was a play, I decided, that had far more wide reaching implications than my now suddenly insignificant concerns about how we, whether resident or visitors in a place, engage with that areas arts and culture. Nevertheless that whole idea of ´Community And Division´ was being explored through performance and dramatic art.
https://www.artiststrong.com/why-do-the-arts-matter-art-creates-community/ has this Artists Strong blog site headlining a post by writer Carrie Brummer, under another intriguing headline of Arts Create Community that is the first in a series of six articles asking the question why do the arts matter?
Carrie sites Detroit as an example of place spoken of as ´a deserted mess.´ She tells us, though, us of the other side of that story, speaking of artists ´moving into the city by leaps and bounds´ and suggesting that, as a result, ´parts of the city are beginning to thrive again.´ She speaks of economic impact and the rise of culture in the city. There is a magazine, she says, called Art Detroit Now which highlights current arts and events but Carrie also remembers a project that started in the nineteen eighties in Detroit in an attempt to revive neighbourhoods that even then, were beginning to fall apart. She tells us of an artist called Tyree Guyton who used found objects to rebuild his own neighbourhood, which now has its own community and art support.
However, in what, without some empirical evidence, seems a non sequiter she suggests that ´when crime encroaches on neighbourhoods, we can run away, or we can take ownership and do something about it. I think the ´we she is referring to us ´the artistic community´ and she is right that such a community could help. Art, however does not survive in isolation and nor can the arts, even as a collective, stave of all the ills of society or the failings of governments.
She points out the work, though, of Candy Chang who, after hurricane Katrina helped to transform torn down homes into places of social engagement. In doing so Chang created places where, together, people could re-build their hopes and aspirations with her Before I Die artist´s toolkit.
There is another artist, JR, who Carrie claims has generated dialogue all over the world to engage society with the disenfranchised and to bring together feuding factions. The artist brought together communities from the wrong and the right side of the tracks, firstly in his home country of France and then in other countries too. And even between the divergent attitudes of Israel and Palestine.
Carrie´s editorial on the blog page I saw spoke plainly of her belief in the benefits that can be brought about by arts interventions such as those above.
´There is so much talk right now in the Education world about the importance of the arts. But where is the practice? We can talk all we want, but if we don’t put money where our mouths are, we are still saying the arts are unimportant. This series of articles, called Why Do the Arts Matter? are meant to be a tool you can share with others to promote and argue why it is so important to support and celebrate our arts programs and our artists.´
Her words in many ways echo the sentiments of UK organists such as Artists In Schools or Pennine Ink or community theatre groups like M6 or Skylight Circus Arts, and certainly I would have penned similar paragraphs in my marketing of my own community arts group Just Poets during the nineties and noughties and as I know Steve still does in directing operations in our UK branch.
However, as I´m sure Carrie is aware, sentiments alone are not enough. To attract support in the form of personnel and funding we must provide some hard evidence of what has previously, and can in future be achieved. I know how hard and diligently those companies mentioned in the paragraph work to keep records of their numbers of engagements and head count at each one, as well as tracing outcomes.
There are, of course, many on-line writings on this topic but if you have any strong arguments on why the arts should, or even should, not be better funded please drop a line to our info@ facility or e mail me directly to firstname.lastname@example.org
We will, of course attribute and accredit but cannot pay, because we´re not funded and all this on Lanzarote is done as a labour of love. Where that might lead the argument, though, I am not sure.
Another factor of evidenced that art starts in a place seeking to heal division in community, though, could be found in another of Steve´s articles on the same page of The Rochdale Observer. His lead feature was headlined ´Oppression And Oralism´ and was about a performance called Extraordinary Wall Of Silence currently touring in a production by Ad Infinitum.
The play is a collection drawn from real life testimonies collected through forty hours of interview with deaf people and then collated into three coming-of-age stories. These stories converge on a pivotal point reflecting the oppression and ignorance faced by the deaf community. The performance, given by three deaf actors and one hearing actor, was devised by the company and directed by George Mann to illuminate a relatively undocumented area of oppression experienced by deaf people.
The narrative tells of three characters, Helen, Alan and Graham who are told they are impaired and need fixing´ as they experience not only ignorance and oppression but also have violence show towards them. The tale sees them to a pivotal point in 1880 that would, for over a century, have a detrimental effect on the way the world viewed deaf people. This was when The Milan Conference passed eight resolutions on the delivery of education to the deaf that effectively banned the use of sign language all over the world.
Declaring that an oral education, ´oralism´ was better than a manual (signed) education, The Milan Conference brought about a strict regime of deaf children being delivered a form of speech therapy that would make them speak, ´hear´ and lip-read. These far reaching decisions, that prevailed form more than a century led to decades of poor results, shown in statistical evidence that should so much earlier have been seen as evidence that teaching methodology didn´t work. Over a lengthy period, generations of deaf children in the UK, left school with a reading age of only eight.
The history of these generations has been left, until recently, largely undocumented as no evidence existed in written form and access to video for so much of that era was not available.
Extraordinary Wall of Silence now shares these stories in bi-lingual performances of British Sign Language and English to generate a discussion about ´a culture under threat from fear, prejudice and ignorance.´
Deaf actor, Matthew Gurney of Ad Infinitum says ´that conference had a huge impact on deaf people´s lives and communities. Deaf people leaving school were denied power or authority with too little ability to communicate in either English or sign language. Since The Milan Conference a slow but steady rebellion has been rising, which has gone unnoticed in worldwide and national media. We want to battle the silent voices who continue to push for the óralist´ method and refuse to listen to us. We want to fight for our D/deaf human rights in all areas of life.´
The Milan Conference, surely unwittingly, out of its own ignorance and lack of awareness, caused untold misery to so many deaf people for so many years, but gradually the silence is being filled by the likes of Ad Finitum and Jade Kilduff, noted previously here on Sidetracks and Detours who certainly has shone a national spotlight with her complementary work with Sign Along With Us, inspired by her younger brother.
So the work continues and for details of performances in your area, such as those in Manchester from February 12th until February 22nd you can visit https://homemcr.org/production/extraordinary-wall-of-silence/
for general information about the work of Ad Infinitum check https://ad-infinitum.org/
search also for the facebbok page of sign along with us