The 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.
All 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…