Hereford Courtyard's Making of Me project is unique in that it has a rolling team of dancers, actors and poets going into care homes for a period of ten weeks each. Each home will have had all three arts disciplines over the course of a year. Whilst many schools are under pressure to focus more on Ebaac subjects, it is becoming widely recognised that the arts have an intrinsic value in older people's lives. I dread to think what effect academisation will have on the arts within our education system. I can only think that they will become increasingly marginalised.
Anyone who has read this blog or who knows me will know I have been banging on about this for ages, but the arts genuinely enhance people's well-being. The storytelling workshops I do for Newbury Corn Exchange's brilliant Memory Café are energising and fun. They also get people talking. Dementia is a serious issue. Our memories and our ability to share those memories are part of who we are. Our pasts shape our identities. The way we see the world shapes our identities. This is why so many care homes are now employing activity co-ordinators. Years ago, there was no such provision. It is entirely normal to want to share human experience with each other.
Why children should be different I have no idea. Their need is no less. I spent years working with young people at risk on a multi-arts project in Oxfordshire and I witnessed the blossoming of many an individual who left to go on to college or work. Years ago, when there was actually a youth service, I worked with young people on an extended performance poetry project. They have grown into fine adults who are giving an enormous amount to their communities. Never, ever underestimate the power of a damned good poem to change someone's life!
OK, that's a bit of a claim, but when I was working at HMP Long Lartin there was a prisoner whose life was changed by reading William Blake's 'Auguries of Innocence'. Something happened to him the day he came rushing into the writing workshop with the book in his hand. He began writing and thinking on a deeper level. He began seeing things more clearly and - this is crucial - he began to understand himself. He has since turned his life completely around.
Arts workers are generally paid a pittance. I regularly work a seven day week and quite often into the night. It's not unusual to be asked to work for free as well, as if our expertise counts for nothing. We do it, too. Such is our passion. But it isn't right and it isn't fair. Also, it says a lot about how many people view the arts. They are an add-on or they're a luxury. A plumber or a builder would never be asked to do something for free.
It's why I enjoy collaborative work so much. The intergenerational project with Oxford Concert Party in partnership with the Ashmolean Museum is starting the same week as the national touring begins. I love working with older and younger people and I greatly value working with musicians. Arne Richards and Isabel Knowland play a wonderful range of music - everything from Baroque sonatas and fugues to tangos and folk from Ireland and Eastern Europe. Put poetry and storytelling into the mix and being able to handle objects from Oxford's foremost museum and you have what is likely to be an extraordinary fusion of ideas and imagination.
There is great generosity amongst artists. It's only in the competitive world of buying and selling that back-biting starts, and even then, not everyone does it. Why squabble when the odds are stacked so heavily against you, when funding is being squeezed and cut right, left and centre? Perhaps it's understandable - like everyone fighting for the same crust of bread. But really, we should all be demanding bread for everybody - and not just artists.