Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Engaging in Cultural Activities

The summer round of Festivals in Croydon has started: Purley’s  on Monday night, Crystal Palace and South Norwood Arts on Thursday with the later running through to 14 July, and the annual Folk and Blues Festival on Saturday 13 July at Ruskin House.
Croydon’s community activists are showing that positive cultural activity can be organised regardless of what the ruling Tory Group decides on the future of Fairfield Halls,  the sale of Riesco collection items, the closure of the David Lean Cinema and the shafting of the Warehouse Theatre.

Monterey Pop Film Show

On Monday night I was in the 100+ audience for the film Monterey Pop (1968) of the festival held in 1967, shown by the Save the David Lean Cinema Campaign as the evening launch event  of the Purley Festival.

It certainly brought back memories. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix still have the same effect as they did when I first heard them  in the 60s; Simon & Garfunkel – what can one say?; Otis Reading - what a performer; Ravi Shankar – brilliant. The Animals, whose version of The House of the Rising Sun remains for me one of the best songs from 1964-5, sang the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black.  

Organising a film show requires a lot of time and effort. So imagine how much has to go into the organisation of Festivals. The costs, the health and safety and licensing requirements are a nightmare by themselves. But have a look at the programme for the Purley music events on Saturday 29 and Sunday 30, ensuring there is a packed line-up of acts, the staging, sound systems, the food, the organisations stalls, and the children’s activities.

Lambeth Riverside Festivals 2005 & 2006

The budgets required are large. I know from experience. In 2003 the Vauxhall Festival had money thrown at it, and an ambitious programme was mounted. In 2004 – no money,  so Lady Margaret Hall Settlement put on a scratch programme just to keep the Festival alive. Then in 2005 and 2006 as worker for Riverside Community Development Trust it was my job to co-ordinate the Festival re-named ‘Lambeth Riverside’. The programme was constructed largely the efforts of  local residents and organisations putting together a varied programme across two weeks and three weekends. I also arranged the publicity. This was all done on a small central budget or paid for out of their own funds. There was no money for an open-air weekend music event.

Attendances in 2005 were marred by the bombings of 7 July,  the day before the opening event, as people felt it was safest to stay indoors. I launched my first History & Social Action Publications title, the story Mother Seacole by Jason Young,  during the Festival. The budget for 2006 was even smaller. With the help of students on placement I was able to produce a display on aspects of the musical life of Lambeth since the 17thC.

For both years I organised talks by Professor Penny Corfield on Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. These were turned into Vauxhall. The Invention of the Urban Pleasure Gardens, published specially for the international Conference on the Gardens held at Tate Britain in 2008.  A second revised edition was published last year Vauxhall. Sex and Entertianment.

Wandsworth Heritage Festival

As a member of the Heritage Wandsworth Partnership I know how much effort has gone into the planning of the annual Heritage Festival since 2009, although this year I did not organise any talks or walks.  I opened the 2009 Festival with a talk on Edwardian rolling skating,  in which musical accompaniment played an important role. Leisure and sporting activities are of course part of cultural life. 

I also published another History & Social Action Publication Battersea’s Global Reach. The story of Price’s Candles by Jon Newman (Lambeth Archives). One of the talks I gave in the 2010 Festival was on aspects of the history of musical life in Wandsworth.

Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival

Last year saw the Croydon Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Festival master-minded by Jonathan Butcher, as Artistic Director, with the support of the members of Surrey Opera. A year long Festival with a tiny budget. My role was simply to keep up a stream of publicity going out through the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network which I co-ordinate. I set the Network up with Jeff Green, the composer’s biographer and Fred Scott, a Croydon piano teacher and director of the Soundpractice agency.  Acting on my suggestions Fred encouraged two teenage girls pianists to compose and perform a duet based on a theme by the composer, while a male teenager to improvise another in jazz style. I also published Jeff Green’s Coleridge-Taylor. A Centenary Celebration. I administer a small fund for my mother, a former piano teacher, which helps pay the costs of young pianists in Croydon from low income families to take part of the annual Soundpractice summer school.

Other Cultural Activity

My other forays into cultural activity have included being historical adviser to a Durham County youth theatre group for a play they wrote on slavery and abolition, and to Kennington based Alford House youth centre’s HLF project looking at the influence of black American youth culture in Britain. I have researched, spoken and published on the career of Paul Robeson in politics and culture in Britain. I have carried out research into black actors and themes in theatre for the Trading Faces project.

Black Music in Britain 1900-1920

Currently I am the historical adviser on Coleridge-Taylor in the Nubian Jak Community Trust’s London Schools Remembrance Project looking at the influence of black music in Britain between 1900 and 1920, based on Coleridge-Taylor and the Southern Syncopated Orchestra which helped to introduce jazz from the United States. This has involved me in running workshops in a primary and a secondary school. I talk about this as a panel member in the one of the panels at the 1 June launch of the British Black Music Unit at the University of Westminster, whose staff include Mykaell Riley, formerly of the reggae group Steel Pulse. I continue to promote the Network. e.g. on my history stalls at the Croydon Heritage Festival event on 8 June, at the forthcoming Wandle Park Revival Day on 6 July, and at the Folk & Blues Festival. I am also speaking about the composer in the South Norwood Arts Festival programme on 5 July.

Wide Range of Skills Needed To Organise and Promote Cultural Activities

I have no musical, literary or artistic ability. So as you can see from what I have done, you do not need to have any such ability to play a role in promoting cultural activities. Whether you see their value from a community building, development and cohesion perspective, or are just as an enthusiast, everyone can contribute to further enriching the wide range of cultural life of their local area. They can be part of  building and sharing cultural knowledge and understanding. Cultural organisations and programmes need organisers, information disseminators and generators of ideas.

Tara Green has written a piece in Croydon Citizen about the crucial role of volunteers in putting on the Purley Festival. You may have all kinds of skills that are needed by Festival and cultural event organisers. Have you considered what you can offer?

If  Festivals and cultural events are seen as building local communities, then ways need to be found to introduce people to those they do not know. Otherwise people just turn up as individuals or as a group of friends of family, and do not get the meet anyone one else in the area. How this can be done presents a real challenge. The minimum is people who meet and greet to make people feel welcome for coming.

Purley Festival. www.purleyfestival.co.uk
Crystal Palace Festival. http://crystalpalacefestival.org
Folk and Blues Festival. www.folkandblues.org
Trading Faces website. Currently off-line.
Tara Green. Kudos to the community: the Purley Festival is here! http://thecroydoncitizen.com/culture/kudos-to-the-community-the-purley-festival-is-here 

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