It appears that live performance as we know it is, at the very best on hold right now.
Empty velvet seats all snapped up in rows, costumes hanging on rails, lights gathering dust, freezers full of overpriced ice-cream and expensive glossy programmes ready to go into the recycling.
I have mixed feelings to be honest. I have felt for years that often the best work that takes place in the arts is not on the stage. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching performance. I love watching a small, one person show in a tiny studio theatre with a story and performance that moves me to tears, sitting alongside 50 other people, small and intimate and funded by the Arts Council. I love going to see a massive show, rammed in a West End theatre with over 1000 people all watching the same thing. Glitzy costumes, an orchestra, a box of Maltesers and everyone having spent a crazy amount of money on a ticket to see unbelievably accomplished performances.
But I don’t think these are necessarily our crown jewels.
Could our crown jewels be where artists and communities are transforming community spaces?
Where arts projects literally change and often save lives. Where theatre is for everyone and investment changes places, makes people happier, improves self-esteem, establishes confidence, gives people self worth and brings people together.
Imagine what might happen if we invested, say a million pounds across 10 communities nationally where artists were paid to work alongside communities to co-create events/festivals/projects that improved peoples life chances and outcomes. Where people felt comfortable to come together, to share an experience, felt connected with each other and enjoyed culture in a way that represented them and didn’t make them feel uncomfortable in a building with overpriced brownies and craft beer.
Contrary to popular rhetoric the arts in many places is alive and well. There is amazing work that has been going on all the way through COVID, where artists and communities have continued to work together, to co-create “stuff” that empowers people, makes them feel connected, enables them to be creative and heard and for many has been a true lifeline.
In this time where we are emerging from the wreck of COVID and working out how on earth we still connect and re-build our industry can we consider how we support this stuff and in the wake of a culture re-set and shuffle that we shout loud and proud for this work?
By that I mean the artists and communities across the UK who make amazing work, who hold lifelines for communities, who support radical and kind social change and foster creativity for all, not just for those who can traditionally afford it.
Over the next 11 weeks the Co-Creating Change Network will be highlighting brilliant projects and ideas that showcase these national gems. Artists and communities working together to do great things, exciting things. Things where young people feel valued and part of society, where marginalised voices are listened to, where isolated people are reached out to and where people are been supported through this time and beyond.
The Happiness Project, where asylum seekers in Newcastle have been putting on events to make people happier.
Black Community members in Gloucester have been working to put on events in community spaces where everyone feels welcome and there’s food and great performance.
Please share these articles and make sure that we lobby for these hidden gems in our crown jewels.
Sarah Blowers, Co-Creating Change Director
Photo credit: Chris Bishop