Saturday, August 17, 2019

Summer Update One

The last couple of months have been relentless and having building work done on the house has delayed my blog posts.  So I’m playing catch-up on what has been going on recently.

on 19th June at Ashton Court Mansion. So massive thanks to Tribe of Doris / Diverse Artists Network for providing a platform for myself and everyone else to air topics that are so important for the arts and society.  I was invited to give a talk followed up by hosting a discussion table on Ageism, Diversity and the Arts. 

I  focussed on recent evidence, emergent over 2018-2019, that we had reached a “Time’s Up” moment, given the extent of ageism in U.K. society.  This also justifies  why we need to think of “hyper diversity” in later life, reflecting the complex make-up of  Bristol’s multi-cultural communities. Finally I  made clear that arts organisations in Bristol need to be inclusive of older men and women in terms of the artistic mainstream rather than using community outreach/ health and well-being initiatives as the automatic default position.

I was so pleased that a range of interesting and talented people got involved in discussion afterwards.  So, in no particular order of importance I highlight the following.

Firstly, Hari Ramakrishnan  of Creative England drew our attention to a great annual event: Women over 50 in Film Festival.  A glance at their website indicates real possibilities for a Bristol contribution.  Rachel Clarke from Knowle West Media Centre had joined us at that point stressing how open her organisation was to engagement with artists and the community.  A really good potential collaboration here, particularly for those of us, like myself, whose experience has been limited to the theatre. 

Lucia Thomson, a dancer/ choreographer introduced the powerful work on our experiences of grief that she had been creating with her ensemble. I alerted her to a study of conversations around death just beginning at Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol.  Also  to similar  work  by Peta Murray who will be visiting Bristol in late July.  She is a performance artist and research associate at MRIT University Melbourne.  I am hosting Peta one weekend and  I hope to introduce her to some local artists / theatre makers.

We were joined at that point by a young social work researcher involved with the Manor Community (my apologies for not noting her name).  She was so pleased that I had a mentioned Sir Martin Green’s strident calling-out of ageism as she was an admirer of his work like myself.

It was great to have two amazing artists with me on the table throughout:  Hilary Finch and Delia Whitbread.  Delia  called  out some bad experiences / situations where she had been treated in an abusive, ageist way, for example rudeness from a young cyclist. She stressed the importance of resilience and visibility in later life to counter ageism. 

Hilary drew attention to the real constraints to securing occasional, freelance work for anyone reliant on universal credits.   Such income freezes the credits, creating  uncertainty and insecurity because the system is bureaucratic and inflexible.  This suggests the stifling of the ongoing potential of artists, across all media, to generate the work they’d like, particularly in later life.

Deborah Oliver, an author currently studying on a creative writing course, talked about the situation whereby older students are unable to seek funding for post-graduate courses after the age of 60.  Rightly she wanted this put under scrutiny and a campaign organized.  I pointed out that current trends in population ageing indicate that this policy is outdated.  Take for example,  the evidence that  many men and women are embarking on later life careers, or the evidence that women are now having babies much later – even in their early fifties.  Also as  the media clearly demonstrates, older men and women are just as likely to be  well and truly grounded in the cultural and economic mainstream of society. Our conversations indicted that attitudes towards ageing really need to shift in a big way this including the acknowledgement that older men and women in Bristol are a truly hyper diverse demographic, in tune with the cultural landscape rather than outside it. The arts have a crucial role to play in effecting change.

My only regret was that because I was hosting a table I did not get a chance to circulate around other groups.  I’d particularly wanted to speak to Bashart Malik / Lawrence Hoo / Zaheer Mamon the maker of “I am Judah”.  I was interested in the role that institutional ageism played in interpretations of Judah’s abuse.

All told, that day at Ashton Court was brilliant.  Some amazing dancing and singing, great conversations and all told a sense of  belonging felt by myself and, I’m sure everyone else there.
Ongoing and so very valuable, I have benefitted from two workshops this year.  Firstly, those run every month by South West Players Company for Equity members.  Very open-ended with the trialling of scripts and ideas.  Organized with such kindness by the amazing Kim Hicks.
Secondly discovering Meisner technique with Ella Cumber has been an incredible learning curve for me.  Without realising it I had stumbled on a means of not only improving my own practice, such as it is,  but also how much it reflected my interest in process drama and social action theory.  Big thanks to Ella and a link to the Bristol Meisner Facebook page here.  

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