why we need the arts (a midnight manifesto 16.7.16)
I had the absolute privilege of seeing 'Open for Everything' as part of the Lift Festival in London this evening.
The live performance piece is an energetic, heartfelt, seamless combination of theatre, dance, music and story telling.
But that is not why it stayed with me.
This project offered members of the gypsy community in Europe a professional stage space to tell their true stories, elegantly supported by 5 other artists.
The performance encompassed every facet of their community:
social problems, stigma, poverty, violence, alcohol, victimisation, pity, dying traditions, spirituality, dance, music.
For me, the most important part of the performance was that we were talking about what we avoid talking about.
We don't like to talk about cultural clashes and failed attempts at integration, because it's icky.
It's not clean cut.
But these stories were honest, non- threatening, and without an agenda.
The difficult conversations that so easily escalate into political, heated and unruly debate were harnessed in the boundaries of the stage.
It gave the voiceless a voice without judgement or pity. It placed them as equals alongside their peers, alongside those who they disagree with, challenge and clash with on a daily basis.
So why am I writing about this?
I want more theatre and performance and art to be made in this way. I want safe and supported spaces for people to tell their stories.
This is the most successful communication and understanding of complicated and tumultuous issues that I have ever witnessed.
While it doesn't provide automatic solutions, or a cure for the world's woes, it's a huge step towards mutual respect - and aren't we in desperate need of this?
I used to think it was foolish to believe that the arts could save the world, but recently I have wondered if I was wrong.
I have spent the past 3 years working in community arts, encouraging vulnerable people to communicate, connect with, and take ownership of their stories.
I have witnessed incredible transformations, discoveries and triumphs.
The arts can provide an equal and liberating platform with no agenda or judgment.
A place for anyone of any age and any background to have a voice.
As privileged human beings in this world, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure these platforms are available to those who may otherwise have trouble accessing them.
The young, the elderly, the often-forgotten middle aged. Those who speak words or languages no one understands. The vulnerable, the frightened, the crippled - physically or mentally. The lost, the overwhelmed, the poverty stricken. The ones who have never been anywhere, the ones who have been halfway round the world and back, perhaps not by choice. The angry, the frustrated, the misunderstood.
This is how we ultimately should address the problems that we face when humans clash, struggle or lose their way for whatever reason:
Give someone a stage.
Can we save the world with art? I don't know, but I think we should give it a red hot go.