thinking about well-being

7 June 2020

I spent the whole day in my head says Mac Miller on ‘Good news’ (Circles, released 2020).  Since mid-March, probably many people have felt a bit like they are living in their heads. I know I have.  The casual and spontaneous interactions suddenly stopped.  Everything became strange, planned and yet unplanned. And accessed through a screen.

We don’t really know what the impact of all of this will be on people’s mental health in the long term. There was a lot of anxiety in the early days about the suddenness of the unknown and perhaps now this has shifted into a larger anxiety about the future, about the global recession that is going to hit hard.

When all of this came tumbling down in March, there was a lot of care expressed between strangers and colleagues, which was a lovely response to a dramatic and sudden change in lifestyle for us all. I’m not sure that this is going to live on, but many people have expressed a need for change. A radical and meaningful change that addresses inequality. How to effect this lasting change is not an easy proposition. 

Culture for me has a transformational character. I enjoy artwork that really gets to grips with difficult issues, that shows depth but allows space to think about and around what is  being presented. I’ve watched the Shane Meadows mini-series The Virtues three times now.  The final scenes completely transport me every time. PJ Harvey’s scoring of these scenes is masterful: ebbing, flowing and humming along like a messed up generator. 

Creative self-expression, as a creator and as a consumer, is crucial not just for mental well-being, but to enable us to imagine, create and share new ways of thinking about the world.  I’m not interested in endless re-hashings of old work: I want to see communities co-creating new work in collaboration with artists and organisations. I want to see work that explores the world through people’s lived experiences.

To do this we need youth centres, community centres and other public/community spaces for people to gather and be in. We need funding for young people to be in places where they are safe, where they can explore identities and have fun, away from families and carers. We need to offer children and young people connections with other adults and peers that are healthy and based on mutual trust and respect.  If we don’t do this we end up with unhappy and potentially dysfunctional adults.  We need the next generation to be confident adults who are able to think creatively and critically about the world.

While I was writing this, I was also watching a conversation between Faisal Abdu’Allah and Mark Sealy on youtube that talks beautifully about holding space. If you have some time to spare, go and be inspired.

This post is dedicated to Robin, 07/06/2019.

communities in crisis

1 June 2020

There is a lot of talk about community at the moment. In my proper job community is the work and I think about it a lot. The how will we be ‘after lockdown’ conversations we have had, have talked about access to culture – who is involved in the making and presenting of work; which cultural institutions will /can be saved; why do these and not those matter. Today as people are talking about #BlackLivesMatter, some cultural institutions are writing in support (rightly) of the BLM movement. Other voices are clearly questioning the equality and diversity present in said organisations: in the work they present; in the staff and artists they employ.

Right now, the anger in people – if not palpable when walking in the street here in the UK – is evident in visceral writing and images on social media and in the protests happening across the US and globally. There is almost complete condemnation of the brutality of policing, particularly against Black people, if not complete agreement about the tactics and methodologies of protest. In the UK, there is a bit of naivety from some corners about the violent nature of racism right here. And, having lived in settler states, it does feel a bit different.  But inequality is raging here also. We just saw it exposed for exactly what it is in the Cummings affair and how the government handled it. But more critically, we saw it and can see it clearly in GrenfellWindrushMark DugganStephen LawrenceThe New Cross Massacre…you get the picture.

I read recently about how British policing of Irish communities/Irish people in Britain created an Irish community: a group of people with similar heritage do not necessarily make one identifiable community (the source text, which I haven’t read, was Paddy Hillyard’s Suspect Community: people’s experience of the prevention of terrorism acts in Britain.) Race was invented in the same way: to create identifiable systemic division and inequality. None of this is new, of course.

Through heavy handed policing and discriminatory public policy that protects property and the status quo at the expense of lives, I feel like it is pretty easy and quick to create a united community. But the work to maintain that unity, the shared objective, after the tide of anger has ebbed away is a different and harder task. We need alternative systems where people in our communities can openly discuss, debate, share and decide. This is needed for cultural organisations, for political parties, for governance of public office.