A pause on the landing

Steps 2The Regular Marvels idea started in 2011, with the project about West Bromwich Operatic Society that became Where We Dream. Actually, that’s not strictly accurate: I had the title before I met the brilliant people at WBOS. I wanted to do something about the undervalued parts of our cultural life and the amateur world was an obvious place to start. Arts Council England’s data on places where there was ‘low engagement’ in the arts was another: Sandwell, which includes West Bromwich, is third from bottom on that list. It was just chance that the Operatic Society, founded in 1937, had been in business longer than the Arts Council that could not see it, but art is nothing if not symbolic.

That book came out of a search for other ways of understanding and writing about people’s experience of art that I’d been undertaking for several years already. I believe that art is necessary to human beings because – among other things – it allows them to know and express things they cannot otherwise know and express. If that’s true, then it seemed paradoxical, perverse even, that all the work that had been done since the mid 1990s, by me and by others, to understand the social value of participation in the arts used other methods. It seemed that social science, evaluation and management practice, critical theory even, were all thought more suitable ways of understanding art than art itself.

So regular marvels set out to explore what could be done by using the discipline, methods, concepts and language of art as a way to understand and talk about people’s experience of art. There was no bigger plan than that, no commission, no funding, no approval. Help came, often from people I’d worked with before, or people who got the idea. One regular marvel hasn’t got off the ground, perhaps because it’s too complicated: it’s a pity, because I think the idea is good, but I’ve shelved it for the time being.

Steps 3All the others have been completed, though, and I’m rather astonished about it now. Since 2012, I’ve published four short books, normally working with other artists, and they’re all available in PDF format from this site. (If you want a printed copy, let me know through the contact page and I’ll see what I can do.) A fifth book – A Wider Horizon – will be published in July by Creative Arts East. And then?

It feels like the right time to take a break from the regular marvels. There are no others on the workbench now and I need to think about what they are and what they might be in future. How far have they really achieved what I hoped? I don’t know: I need some distance. I also need to think about some different things and work in a different way for a while. So, after July, when A Wider Horizon is done, there’ll be a period of hibernation here. In the meantime, if you have been, thank you for reading…


Chalkie’s Demon Diary

Tory Island I have written about Mike White before. He belongs to the quiet army of artists and creative people who’ve nurtured socially engaged arts practice at the heart of community life today. A hugely valuable career at Womad, Welfare State International, Gateshead Council and Durham University came to early retirement last autumn as he continues treatment for cancer. Mike is also an old friend with whom I have had many stimulating conversations about art and people, health, well-being and community. Creative people use their gifts to make sense of their experience: it’s the human in us. A couple of weeks ago, Mike started a blog, Chalkie’s Demon Diary, about illness, life and lanterns. So much stuff doesn’t matter: this does. Please read it.

Update, 5 June 2015

Mike died today. I’ve written briefly about him here – Mike White – but there’s no more to say now.

Singing in the ambulance

Everything is Connected

At the end of his hour long set in the Federation Hall last night, the singer introduced the musicians who’d accompanied him, before booming out: ‘I’m Fred Brookes and I’ve just had the most wonderful time of my life!’. That’s something to say at your 72nd birthday party, when you’ve just sung about your heart attack and the ambulance that took you to hospital.

Fred Brookes is known as an expert in the creative industries though he’s played many roles, professional and personal, in his life. To those, he’s now added that of recording artist: his first album, Everything is Connected, came out last year. No wonder he’s having the time of his life.

If they think we’ve had enough of beer and drugs and sex

Better think again, and just watch out what’s coming next

They ain’t seen nothing yet

On the record is Golden Generation, Fred’s celebration of life as a baby boomer and his music enacts every bit of optimism they ever had. It’s living proof that peace, education and health care lay the foundations of long and fruitful lives. The post-war generation not only benefited from those public goods, they used them to redefine how to live. Now they are redefining old age as they explore it.

The previous generation had raged against the dying of the light: this one sings about it. I tip my hat to the man who sings ‘If you want to get ahead, get a hat’.

You can hear Fred’s music on SoundCloud, Spotify, Emusic and iTunes.

What else would you expect from a baby boomer and a specialist in the creative industries?

Fred Brookes live 1