Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Revolution Through Collaboration: Impressions After A LOV Meeting

The arts are in crisis. With an austerity happy government in power for the next five years, mercilessly cutting public spending and personal income still increasing slower than inflation there is just less art to go around along with less people able to factor art in to their budgets. It’s tough out there for a small arts venue, especially one in a rural county like Lincolnshire which isn’t exactly famed for its arts output. In the face of this hazardous economic outlook, ten venues in Lincolnshire decided to change the game by choosing collaboration over competition and forming the LOV Network.

Lincolnshire One Venues (LOV) was borne out of a need for change in the arts industry. Recognising that there were many small or independent arts venues across the county who were struggling to generate audiences and profit at a time where the austerity axe was hovering over the arts particularly ominously, a new idea was broached that proposed a coming together of venues across the region, a joining of forces that put the arts first and focused on the common challenges those venues faced. Ten venues across Lincolnshire make up the network, ranging from central Lincoln venues such as the LPAC and Lincoln Drill Hall to Spalding’s South Holland Centre and Stamford Arts Centre in the wider region. The venues include arts theatres and visual arts venues like The Collection & Usher Gallery and Sleaford’s NCCD. Every venue contributes to the running of the network and benefits from what it has to offer. Staff share best practices from marketing strategies to programming and advise other venues on issues they may have faced before, shuttles have been organised to take people to the more rural locations, and connections are distributed among the teams. Being part of the LOV network also gives venues the chance to collaborate on projects and shows and provides audiences with an up to date guide of what’s going on in the arts in Lincolnshire.

This approach is more radical than it seems. Under austerity businesses usually conform to a Darwin-esque survival of the fittest type model, where they compete to undercut each other’s prices or to gain more of the market share. Just look at what’s happening with the supermarkets right now where there are outright attack ads airing from all sides all claiming someone else is more expensive or worse quality. When there’s less money to go around businesses tend to go into fight mode, to essentially make sure they survive instead of their competitors under the presumption that the town is no longer big enough for the both of them. The ideas and values behind the formation of the LOV network challenge this idea and ask whether this reaction is the only way to deal with economic adversity. Instead of fighting it out to the last venue standing, they joined together to work as one; promoting each other and lifting each other up to ultimately raise the profile of the arts as a whole in Lincolnshire. Business is famously cutthroat and secretive; corporate espionage is a criminal offence and company tactics are closely guarded. The network’s approach rejects this clandestine and overprotective attitude and instead fosters a culture of co-operation and information sharing. At meetings venue staff share methods and tactics that they’re implementing and whether they’ve been successful or not. They tell each other how shows did, whether audiences were receptive to a certain kind of programming and how they boosted their social media presence. Sharing what works and what doesn’t helps the people in charge avoid pitfalls and push through new and innovative ways of running their venues, whether that be through marketing, programming or finance. Choosing collaboration over competition and working with your peers towards a common goal flies in the face of capitalism and recognises that the survival of the arts as culture and as an industry should be the aim of all cultural venues. It says that individual success can only happen if art as a whole is successful, that we are stronger together than apart and that, in a county like Lincolnshire, pooling resources and supporting each other might be the only way we can keep art available and accessible to everyone.

As a network that spreads across the whole county of Lincolnshire, LOV is also in a unique position to use its connections to help bring more people into the arts industry. For now its focus is on young people with its LOV Young People’s Programme- how to get youth more engaged in the arts, and how to create more space for young people entering the workforce to start their career in the industry. The programme came out of a shared interest across all ten of LOV’s venues in focusing on youth audiences and engagement. This work is even more essential now, as yet again austerity is eating away at the arts from all directions. With university fees tripling and the new proposals to turn maintenance grants into loans as well, young students are more likely to eschew an arts degree in favour of something with a more guaranteed lucrative outcome. Artistic subjects ranging from fine art, illustration and sculpture to theatre, dance and performance have always had a bit of a stigma attached to them as they don’t necessarily push graduates into premade careers. That stigma is now even more pervasive as the financial risk associated with going to university seems to be growing exponentially. It’s vital to the continued existence of the arts as an industry for us to encourage more young people with drive, passion and talent to pursue a career in the arts, or at the very least to provide a counter-argument to all the negativity that might deter our talented youth.  LOV’s various youth programmes encourage engagement at all levels, from performance with a group like Fretless to production and programming with their young directors schemes. This kind of engagement not only adds to the audience of a venue and of the arts in general but also provides much needed experience for the youth involved. When money is tight, job opportunities dramatically reduce and those positions that are available require someone who already has the necessary experience to perform the role with minimal training. For young people looking at starting their career in the arts this can me more than a little intimidating and can often feel like an impossible task. By actively providing the young people enrolled in their programmes with valuable experience, LOV is giving them an idea of what working in the arts is like, and also making them vastly more attractive to the organisations they might be applying to. On top of this, LOV are sending a select group of their young volunteers on a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe this year to scout out new shows that could be brought to Lincolnshire to appeal to young arts fans, providing them with a rare opportunity that youth from a small rural county may not have otherwise had.

LOV’s approach is a small revolution, changing the way ten venues work with each other in an oft ignored county, but if the idea – the concept of changing the way we react in adversity, bringing a community together through common goals and rejecting the competitiveness of traditional business practices – if that spreads, then so does the change that a new attitude brings about. Perhaps the arts is a specialised case, perhaps this collaborative approach wouldn’t work in the financial trade or in retail, but surely the message behind it can only be a good thing. We work together to improve things for everyone, rather than as individuals fighting to win. We join forces and share ideas and make our common goals easier to achieve. We reach out when the circumstances steer us into shutting down. We become a we, not an I, and we stand better together. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Thoughts On Outdoor Art On A Hot Day At Lincoln Drill Hall

It’s hot. Summer has arrived. Every possible window and door is open here at Lincoln Drill Hall and it is still sweltering. Everyone across the UK is feeling the heatwave today and I imagine everyone at work or school right now is wishing they could be sat outside under a parasol eating an ice cream – I know I am, especially when a lot of the work I’ve been doing this week has been on the series of outdoor theatre events happening at Lincoln Castle this summer. Illyria are an award winning theatre company that specialise in outdoor shows and we’re lucky enough to have them visiting Lincoln with three of their productions over July and August.

The idea of staging theatre outside is definitely not a new one, in fact it’s indoor theatres that are more of a new thing. From its roots in Greece and Rome, to Shakespearean theatre in the 17th century theatre was traditionally performed outdoors or in open air auditoriums and amphitheatres. It is only relatively recently that theatre moved inside, the first wave of indoor theatres emerging in the renaissance period in Italy which – according to some – served to make theatre more exclusive as now only the people allowed inside could experience the shows. As often happens in culture and art, trends circle, resurge and reappear and now, a few hundred years after theatres grew roofs and closed their doors, people are bringing art outside again and taking it back to the masses.

There is something inherently democratic about an outdoor performance. You may have to pay a small fortune to get into a festival like Glastonbury or Latitude but their atmospheres remain steadily independent. Yes, a weekend at a music festival may end up costing you more than your monthly wages when you factor in your travel, food costs and the price of getting in (let alone the money you spent on that last minute tent), but once you’re there you can see whatever you’d like with no extra costs involved. You could plan out your weekend to the minute, or just wander around and let chance take over. You can spend your time running between stages to see every band you love, or you could sit in the poetry tent for an afternoon and see something you never thought you’d enjoy. Festivals provide you with the choice and freedom to experience art the way you want to, and a large part of that freedom comes from their outdoor setting. Of course there are some indoor festivals too – Dot to Dot Festival which happens nearby in Nottingham features bands playing in various central city venues with one wristband allowing you access to whichever sets you want to see, a similar set-up to Austin Texas’ SXSW (South By Southwest) which brings music and film to Austin’s many indie venues for a week long celebration. However indoor festivals all have a common problem with queues and overcrowding – there are countless survival guides to SXSW online warning attendees to ensure they have water at all times and prepare to spend most of your day queuing if they want to see any of the big name acts. This isn’t a problem when your festival is in a massive field like Glastonbury or a desert like Burning Man, even if you’re the very last person in the crowd and Kanye West looks three inches tall, you can still hear the music and you’re still part of the audience.

Outdoor art pairs particularly well with summer. Given a choice between a crowded sweat filled auditorium and a picnic blanket with the chance of a cool breeze a 30 degree day, there’s not much competition. Of course, this being Britain, we don’t get much of a chance to move into the open air outside of a few weeks in summer if we want to avoid the rain, but there’s still a feeling that comes with summer – whether it’s actually sunny or not – that inspires us to go alfresco. There’s something that feels very English about sitting outside with a ’99 or eating sandwiches from a Tupperware under a shady tree. We as a nation have a resilient tendency to do summery things once the clocks go forward regardless of whether the weather shares our sentiments. Of course outdoor art works best when it’s sunny and dry, but as many years of Glastonbury will attest, we’re perfectly happy to pull out some wellies and an umbrella if things get rainy. If we’re lucky, the sunny weather may last the season this year (but hopefully cool down a tad so we don’t all melt) allowing us all to drag ourselves away from our screens and sofas and into the light before storms and high winds force us back inside come autumn. And whilst we’re relishing what summer we do get, there’s plenty to keep us entertained whilst we’re out and about. Outdoor theatre and music festivals besides, there’s street art in almost every city and it’s usually completely free. Lincoln’s Magna Carta Weekend gave the city a great few days of free art, music and culture and the Baron’s Trail will continue to delight right up to September.

The three outdoor Illyria shows that Lincoln Drill Hall is helping bring to the castle are a great example of how breaking down the theatre walls and using outside spaces as venues can put a new spin on an old classic and get people out and about and involved with the arts. There’s a great mix of genres – a Shakespeare performance in The Taming Of The Shrew, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera Iolanthe and a fun and family friendly performance of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice drawn from the original poem, Paul Dukas’ symphonic poem and the Disney adaptation from Fantasia. The use of Lincoln Castle’s grounds as a venue is not only a great way of drawing more people into one of our cities most famous landmarks in its renovation year, but also provides an interesting and unique space in which to demonstrate how versatile art can be. Where you watch a piece of theatre can have a bigger impact on your experience of it than you might think, and there is an interesting trend in finding more and more original and surprising places to perform. There’s the “floating book” stage on Lake Constance in Austria whose various set ups are well worth a quick google, there’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s Udderbelly – the comedy venue shaped like a giant purple cow – and Cornwall’s Minack theatre which stages shows in it’s open air cliffside venue. And that’s just the theatres; there’s also a whole host of outdoor cinema screens who’ll be enjoying the hot weather this summer too. 

It seems we’re no longer content with being contained. There’s a definite urge for freedom and space that’s manifesting in the popularity of these alternate venues. We’re demanding more than just a room with some chairs in it, and more choice than the usual purpose built theatres with their gilt arches and red velvet curtains. We don’t just want to experience art, we want that experience to be somewhere that tells a story itself. Whether that be in the hull of the Cutty Sark, an old water mill, on the surface of a lake, or even perhaps in an old drill hall…

Monday, 15 June 2015


One of the great things about art, and one of the many reasons why we love it so much, is its ability to make us think. Our lives are so hectically busy and our time seems so commodified that it’s difficult to find a moment to really think about anything, so often we just barrel on ahead and leave the contemplation for another day when we have less to do. Good art cuts through that and makes us stop and think for a second. Great art stays with us and makes us think for the rest of the day/week/month, and may even change the way we think altogether.

Art acts as a space where we can explore the things that affect us, the things that confuse us, that we think are important, that make us feel. Art lets us express feelings we don’t understand yet, thoughts we don’t know how to put into words, and concepts that may be unacceptable in other aspects of society. There’s a reason why artists are seen as radicals, why so many are not appreciated in their time and why regressive dictatorships restrict artistic creation. Art moves us forward and allows us to grow and change. It challenges preconceived notions of what life is and how we have to live it. Art is always asking. Art never takes anything at face value. Art is revolution and riot. It burns down so we can rebuild.

The very act of creation is anti-establishment. To make something new suggests that what was already there is insufficient. Regardless of its content, art is already making a difference just by existing, by being a voice telling a story and by showing an individual’s view of the world. Art doesn’t have to be actively political to make a statement, but it’s important to celebrate and engage with the art that is.

Change is a process. Radical change doesn’t happen overnight, it evolves, and often that evolution takes time to really make itself known. It’s only then that we can look back and see what caused it, the small things, seemingly insignificant at the time, that built into a larger mind-set and ultimately tipped the scales in favour of progress. This is where we find art – political and otherwise – seeping into our lives in ways we may not even have noticed. When the US Supreme Court ruled Proposition 8 (legislature that banned same sex marriage in California) unconstitutional, and therefore opening the door to other states to achieve marriage equality, Vice President Joe Biden name-checked the long running, award winning 90s sitcom “Will and Grace” for its part in the fight for gay rights. “Will and Grace” was never an actively political show – its characters would of course make comments and jokes about the state of affairs, and occasionally episodes would focus on various injustices Will and Jack would face as gay men, but politics was never its main game. “Will and Grace” was there to make you laugh and in doing so it told a generation of people – a generation that grew up with homophobia as an unquestionable institution – that gay people weren’t evil, weren’t scary, weren’t trying to hurt anyone, that we were just trying to live our lives; our lives that looked a lot like theirs. Shows like “Will and Grace” and post Puppy Episode “Ellen” made gay people part of the furniture. It’s very difficult to hate a group of people when members of that group are on TV in your living rooms every week making you laugh. And gay rights isn’t the only revolution that was televised. Second wave feminism was helped along by shows like Murphy Brown which showed successful women in the workplace, the civil rights movement was buoyed by television about African American families like “Good Times”, and significant change is happening right now in the fight for rights and equality for transgender people, for whom the visibility in phenom shows such as Orange Is The New Black, whose trans character is played by trans actress Laverne Cox, is invaluable.

It is clear that art impacts our lives more than we may realise at the time of consumption. The phrase “art imitates life” is truer than ever what with the amount of reality television and films and plays based upon real life stories, but the reverse is also strikingly obvious. Culture is the snake eating its own tail. We create art as a response to our lives which are influenced by the art we consume, and then we create new art as a response to the art that influenced us in the first place. It is this kind of symbiosis that makes experiencing art so inspiring. The knowledge that so much of what we see as purely entertainment in fact has a larger impact than we can even see at the time, opens up more possibilities, more debate, and cements the importance of the arts in a much wider context. The idea that life and society as we know it could continue without art becomes ludicrous when we see just how much it feeds into our everyday lives, our politics and our identities. The importance of seeing life from the perspective of a person whose experience of is totally different from your own can never be overestimated. Art fosters empathy and we learn from art far more easily than we learn from text books or Wikipedia articles. When a play strikes a chord with us we are far more likely to go home and research its themes or its influences. Personally, I remember seeing a play about the Rwandan genocide in high school, its name escapes me but its subject matter will stay with me forever. Before seeing the play I had never heard of Rwanda, let alone the atrocities that happened there. I went home that afternoon and learned all I could stomach. Art allows us a space to explore and explain our own experiences for our own benefit and to spread the word to our audiences. Art gives us the freedom to discuss ideas which otherwise may be taboo or difficult to talk about in “the real world” and remains a space where those who are not always afforded a voice can speak and express themselves and be seen.

Last week Lincoln Drill Hall played host to Tom Dale Company’s rave reviewed show “Refugees of the Septic Heart”. A contemporary dance piece, mixed with spoken word, dubstep and digital art; the show explored themes of evolution, societal change and revolution. As a relative dance newbie, I found these themes a little difficult to pinpoint in the movement I was seeing onstage. It was only afterwards when I read more about what had inspired the piece that I was able to connect what was meant with what I saw; which was essentially, a journey through the creation, change and ultimate freedom from society. Seeing these kinds of political themes expressed wordlessly through dance was a new experience for me, and just went to show that there is always something new to see and feel in the arts. Art can make you think even when its ideas are shown through movement alone, even you don’t quite get it straight away. In fact, it’s the art that takes a little time to settle in your brain that often has the most impact. The theme of revolution in “Refugees” felt to me especially relevant. There is a growing feeling that we are a world on the brink of change, that social unrest and political polarisation will at some point soon give way to real progress and an overhaul of the system that is so clearly not working. To see that feeling on stage, expressed in energetic movement set to a pulsing soundtrack, made me a little more hopeful that I will see that change.

And there’s the thing, art can give us hope that our futures will be better, that our world will be more equal and that everyone’s voices will be heard. Art isn’t just the inspiration for change, it is the tool we use to bring change about. The revolution won’t come from guns, or money, or violence, it will come from theatres, from musicians, from books and poetry. It will come from our televisions and our cinema screens, from the galleries and the streets. It will come from a place of creation, not destruction and it will open up the world to anyone who wants to make a difference in it. 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

All Arts Are Equal, So Why Are Some More Equal Than Others?

We live in a time saturated with culture and this abundance of content is bound to spark debate. There has been a divide between high and low brow culture since before anyone can remember. People have always tried to seem more intelligent or more refined than their peers and one of the ways the elite tried to elevate themselves from the masses was through culture. The rich dismissed art that the poor enjoyed as being vulgar or unsophisticated and barricaded off the culture they approved of as being for educated (read wealthy) people only. This sentiment was sadly also echoed by many artists – Byron for example was highly elitist and believed that his poetry should only be read by the kind of people he felt would fully appreciate it, which didn’t include the poor and unwashed. It is this kind of cultural elitism that creates the legacy of canon that we see today.

This is most obviously seen in literature – there are certain books you expect to be taught in schools and at university, books that have gravitas, whose names spark recognition, books that make a loud thud whenever you put them down: real books. These books make up the kind of reading lists that haven’t changed much in the past half century. They include books whose status is seen as absolute; books like Tom Jones, Jude the Obscure and anything and everything by Jane Austen. These books are seen as worthy because they always have been. Someone said they were definitively “good” books and so they are taught as such to generations after generations of students who go on to believe not only that there is such a thing as a universally “good” book, but also that the examples of such presented to them are, regardless of whether they were enjoyable, part of that upper crust of literature. This approach to culture is stifling. It means that any new works will always be trying to emulate the old ones in order to be considered canon worthy and it also means that kids have been learning the same old books for centuries. Of course nowadays there is more diversity in the curriculum and most universities have more contemporary texts along with rediscovered books previously considered unworthy of attention alongside the classics on their syllabuses, but the reverence for the canon texts still prevails. It’s why we have the term “modern classic”, because even if a new book meets the quality standards of whoever is deciding this sort of thing, it still won’t be allowed the same status as the just plain “classics” – again regardless of whether or not it’s more fun to read.

The same kind of bizarre elitism exists throughout all forms of media and art. Even the people who love contemporary literature and sing the praises of the celebrity autobiography will still often turn their noses up at comics and graphic novels. Those in the art world may wax lyrical about established artists from Michelangelo to Tracey Emin, but still dismiss art at local craft fairs for not being up to their standards. Television is also a serial offender. HBO is the for the educated elite and reality TV is populist nonsense and if you prefer RuPaul’s Drag Race over Breaking Bad you’re not allowed in the clubhouse. The thing is no one really seems to know who it is that decides what’s good and what’s bad, what’s entertaining and culturally relevant and what’s merely entertaining. Of course there will always be art that is more challenging or intelligent than others and criticism is invaluable when it comes to engaging with and questioning our culture. But the problem comes when instead of just saying what we like and what we don’t, what we think is good and what we think has problems, we judge other people for enjoying something we don’t, and we claim that something isn’t worthy of anyone’s attention if it doesn’t meet our own personal set of standards.

Art is by its nature subjective. One person looking at a painting may see and feel something completely different to the person stood next to them and we all have our own preferences when it comes to the culture we consume. Everyone knows this yet we so often get caught in the trap of taste and of judgment. Even fans of so called lowbrow culture will fall into referring to their love of The Real Housewives as a guilty pleasure, instead of just saying they enjoy it and they don’t see why anything else matters. It’s important to have culture that is challenging, culture that pushes boundaries and asks more of its audience than just passive enjoyment, but it is also crucial that we appreciate all culture for what it is – entertainment – regardless of whether or not we think it worthy of our personal time. This in no way means we have to like everything we see. I’m a passionate believer in the importance of good, interrogative criticism which examines why we like the things we like and conversely, what bothers us so much about the things we hate. It’s vital to keep questioning things, to call something out when it’s offensive or negative and to keep on asking for better, but that doesn’t mean we can continue to dismiss art out of hand for being something we personally don’t enjoy. Value comes in all shapes and sizes and though we may roll our eyes every time a new season of X Factor starts, we have to remember the enjoyment that the millions of people out there who love it get every episode. We have to allow ourselves to just sit and enjoy something. Culture doesn’t always have to be complex and insightful to have value. You don’t have to come out of a show feeling changed and philosophical for it to have mattered, you can just have had a bloody good time.

When you look at the programme for a theatre like LDH you can see how far reaching culture can be. In the next month alone we have an Elvis impersonator, a jazz singer, a contemporary dance company, hip hop tinged performance poets and even a medium on our stage. We have shows that will appeal to a mass market of people just looking for a good night out, and niche pieces that only a select group of fans will attend. We believe that both are just as important as each other. We need to have a space where smaller less populist art can generate an audience next to sell out gigs and household names. The cultural elitists will often bemoan the lack of attention their favourites are getting, but refuse to recognise that the best way to get people interested in more diverse art is to embrace the popular and mass marketed alongside it. Exclusion never does anyone any good and it’s this kind of snobbery that often puts people off trying out something new in the fear that they won’t be accepted or they might need to know something esoteric to be allowed in. We want to be a place where everyone feels welcome and where everyone’s tastes are represented and celebrated, whether they’re seen as artsy enough or not. We want people to come and enjoy themselves seeing whatever takes their fancy and to feel able to pop in and try something new and unexpected too. We want art to be just that: Art. Plain and simple. We’re here to entertain you and if you come out smiling, we’re happy. 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

"There is only one of you": Statik and the Importance of Art for Children

Statik, the newest production by Action Transport Theatre which I saw this week at LDH, is aimed at kids but, as most good child friendly things, will be greatly enjoyed by adults too. Statik is a silent play using mime and clowning to tell the story of Mikey at his first day working at a radio factory. Mikey doesn’t really understand why his two co-workers don’t seem to want to have any fun, and he definitely doesn’t like the “No Sweets” rule. He tries in vain to fit in and follow the others’ lead, but when a child’s voice erupts from one of the radios that seems to like his way of thinking, he can’t help but play along; and bring his colleagues out of their monotony as well. Essentially it’s a story about breaking the mould and being yourself. It’s about refusing to accept the status quo, how breaking the rules can sometimes be really good fun, and, crucially how important fun is wherever you might be.

As an adult watching the performance, part of me sympathised with the stern and rule following boss. She was just trying to do her job after all and here’s this new guy messing everything up. Then I realised that was the retail worker in me talking and tried to look at the show like I would have done fifteen years ago, before the education system chiselled away at my rebelliousness and way, way before I ever had to manage a department in a store. I realised that adulthood had knocked the fun out of me and made me cynical. I saw how my months in a workplace not unlike Statik’s factory, had made me jaded. I’d become the kind of adult that bored me as a child. I imagine the message resonated in the same way with most of the adults in the audience. Anyone working in a job they aren’t passionate about, following arbitrary rules purely because they’re rules, will understand the feeling that you’ve let your childhood self down somehow, that 7 year old you would be somewhat annoyed that you’re not an astronaut yet, or an inventor, that you threw away all your Barbies and don’t play with Lego anymore (Disclaimer: We still, very much, play with Lego). Of course make believe and playtime don’t have that much of a place in adult life; when you’re working your hardest to pay the bills and get food on the table, you don’t have the privilege of letting your inner child run wild for a bit. But Statik’s message of fun over regiment, imagination before routine, individuality over monotony, gives kids the kind of vision of the future that they need, that we as a society need; where capitalism fails to crush your spirit and you keep on being you regardless.

The impetus for all this philosophising is the voice that emanates from the radio. Starting of as a baby’s giggle, the voice then gives the workers, and their audience, a healthy dose of childlike wisdom about being yourself, believing in things you can’t see, and not running around in circles for too long because it gets boring. Action Transport Theatre work with kids to create new productions and the soundbites in Statik are those of real children answering questions about life, the universe and everything. The point being that there’s an awful lot you can learn from a child. The repeated refrain of “there’s only one of you”, which at first sounds like a statement of loneliness and then becomes a mantra of self expression and staying true to who you are, gives Statik its main message – that being you is not only enough, it’s vital.

It’s shows like Statik that remind us why it’s so important for the arts to not only be child friendly, but child focused as well. There has been a certain pretentiousness surrounding the arts, a sense that forms like theatre are for the intelligentsia only, that only highly cultured adults will understand them to their full extent and anyone else is not welcome. This kind of attitude, though a lot rarer nowadays, still exists in some circles and it’s almost impossible to explain how important it is to challenge it. Almost. I’m going to try anyway.

Like I’ve said before, we think art is a human right and no one should be excluded from taking part in or creating it. Inclusivity promotes diversity and diversity is what makes life, and art, interesting. Including children in art is essential to its existence. If your child loves art at seven they’ll still love it when they’re thirty. You capture the imagination of a child and you keep their attention as an adult. Art for kids doesn’t just ensure an audience in the next generation and a new wave of artists to fuel creation, it also shapes education and can have a major influence on how children see the world and themselves as a part of it. We can all remember the films we saw as a kid, the books we loved, the music we danced to and the TV we watched when we came home from school. We learn from art, we see ourselves in it and we see the world outside of our experience. Art requires empathy; you put yourself in someone else’s shoes whenever you pick up a book or watch a play. Art inspires you and makes you think, it shows you what other people see when they look at life and invites you to see that too for a while. It’s massively important that children get to be a part of that too, that they can learn whilst being entertained and see things in art that they would never experience elsewhere.

There’s also a huge amount of value in seeing something that you know was created just for you. To have something speak to you in a voice that’s talking to you specifically, in a way you understand is a clear and simple message that you matter, that what you think matters and that you have a voice that people are listening to. For children, who are so often overlooked and ignored, this experience is invaluable. Shows like Statik with their message of self expression and their inclusion of children in their creative process not only speaks to children in the audience on a level they will understand, but also tells them that art can both be for and by them. It says that they can make art too, just by being themselves.

Art made specifically for children can inspire in countless ways. A piece of theatre like Statik might reassure a child who feels out of place that her originality is important and she should keep being her even when people are trying to make her change. An installation like Yayoi Kusama’s The Obliteration Room where attendees and their children are encouraged to stick dots all over the pristine white room and its furniture might let a child know that they can be an artist too. Even kids music from the likes of The Wiggles – though perhaps incredibly annoying to parents – might introduce a child to the guitar or inspire them to sing.

It’s clear that making art accessible to children is both vitally important and, thankfully, a growing trend. The Drill Hall is just one of many arts theatres making a concentrated effort to include children in its programming, with shows aimed specifically at a younger age group and workshops to get kids having fun with art. In our current climate, where arts funding is scarce, libraries are being shut down and all too often art is seen as a disposable luxury, it’s all the more essential that we keep making our efforts to make art inclusive and to try and ensure that every child has access to it in some form. The benefits of kid focused art to children are immeasurable, and as I saw in Statik, adults have an awful lot to learn from it too.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

A Beginning

Hi. Welcome. How are you?

This is a bit awkward isn’t it? Introductions etc. always are. It’s the first post on a new blog and I have to explain who I am, what I’m writing about and why you should spend some your valuable internet time here. It all feels very forced, a bit salesperson-y really. I basically have a few paragraphs to get you to like me, or maybe it’s just a few sentences? Maybe I’ve already lost you and I’m actually just talking to myself and looking a bit deranged. Hopefully not though. Hopefully you’re suitably intrigued and just dying to know what I’m going to say next. So here we go:

I’m about a month into a very exciting internship at a great small venue call the Drill Hall in my home city of Lincoln. The Drill Hall is an arts theatre which aims to bring diverse and interesting entertainment to a city which is all too often ignored culturally. We have independent theatre, comedy, dance and music for all ages and all interests. I’m a marketing intern, can you tell? I’m basically here to tell you all how great The Drill Hall is and how you should all buy tickets for everything. But to be honest, if you’re here, you probably already know how great LDH is. You probably already follow us on Facebook or Twitter and you’ve probably visited us a few times, seen some shows and been thoroughly entertained. I don’t really need to convince you. I’m preaching to the choir.

So instead, what this blog is really for is letting you all know what it’s like back here – behind the curtain if you will (be warned, I’m planning on using theatre puns wherever possible). I want to tell you about the inner workings of the place, from the point of view of a relative outsider who’s just learning the ropes. I also want to talk about the arts in general, the kind of issues that affect us and the stuff we’re passionate about. I want to talk to you – our distinguished audience – about what connects us as people who work in the arts, and you as consumers of that art: the pure love of it.

We are all absolutely potty about art. It’s OK, you’re among friends, you can admit it. We all love something that falls under that brilliant umbrella term, that’s why you’re here after all. You might not realise that the thing you’re a bit obsessed with falls into the “art” category, but if you’ve seen it at The Drill Hall it probably does. Stand-up comedy is art, the puppet show you brought your kids to is definitely art, if you’ve ever been to one of your disco nights you’ve made your own little piece of art right there – congratulations on becoming an artist! Your electric slide was stellar! Art = emotion + creation. At LDH we want to invite you to be witness to that creation and to get stuck in and be a part of making art yourself.

You see we think art is a human right. Everyone should have access to culture that inspires them and no one should be shut out of experiencing great art because of money or where they live. That’s why we think that places like LDH are so important. I can’t be the only one who finds herself continually frustrated that all the creativity and invention I see going on in London rarely makes its way north. There are countless events I’ve missed out on because a hotel stay in our capital just isn’t affordable, not to mention the cost of the train journey and the day off work I’d need to take to make it there on time. Of course, bigger cities will have more going on and often somewhere like Lincoln just doesn’t have the numbers to compete, but I don’t see why that means we shouldn’t try.

The Drill Hall makes a point to bring something different to little old Lincoln, something challenging, something you’ve maybe never even thought about. We want you all to know that we see you – all you art fiends out there in our city. We see you getting a little bit giddy at the sight of a stage, tapping your feet to the music in your headphones at the bus stop, making your own one person disco in your car at a red light. We see you almost falling off your chair laughing at a stand up clip on Youtube. We see the tear in your eye when the orchestra hits that one crescendo. We see you catch your breath a little after the curtain goes down. We see you and we’re here for all of you, every single one.

Come and create with us. Come and art with us. You deserve it.