From one of the Necklace of Stars poets, for Storm Christoph:
It pours and it streams
It comes down in buckets
It fills up the streams
It gurgles in gutters
It eddies and swirls
It blocks out the landscape
From clouds it unfurls
It aims icy pellets
Down on our heads
It pounds on the roofs
Of little tin sheds
It comes down too heavy
Or comes down too little
It comes down in torrents
Or dribbles like spittle
I look out the window.
It's at it again
When will it stop
This bloody wet rain?
DERBYSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL SHORTLISTED FOR HEARTS FOR THE ARTS AWARDS 2021
The shortlist has been announced for the National Campaign for the Arts’ (NCA) Hearts For The Arts Awards 2021. The awards celebrate the unsung heroes of Local Authorities who are championing the arts against all odds.
Derbyshire County Council has been nominated for Best Arts Project for Necklace of Stars – an embroidery and creative writing project set up to tackle the lack of person-to-person creative engagement opportunities for housebound individuals, with arts organisation arthur+martha.
This year’s winners will be selected from the shortlist by a judging panel of key arts industry experts and practitioners, including:
Le Gateau Chocolat, Drag artiste and cabaret performer
Paul Hartnoll, musician, composer, founder member of Orbital
Samuel West, actor, director, Chair of the National Campaign for the Arts
Despite the incredible hardships faced by Local Authorities in 2020, this year’s awards have seen the NCA receive a record-breaking number of nominations, as local communities turned to the arts for solace, strength and connectivity during the pandemic.
Nominations were received from across the UK for each of the three award categories: Best Arts Project; Best Arts Champion – Local Authority or Cultural Trust Worker; and Best Arts Champion – Councillor.
The shortlist was judged by representatives from some of this year’s partners in the awards: Culture Counts; Wales Council for Voluntary Action; Local Government Association; National Campaign for the Arts; and Voluntary Arts Wales.
Discussing Derbyshire’s nomination Hearts for the Arts Award partners said about Necklace of Stars:
“This is an inspirational project that has supported an extremely vulnerable group of individuals, made more vulnerable by COVID-19. It has clearly given participants purpose and focus, helping to reduce loneliness and mental ill health. The way the project adapted to provide one-to-one support to individuals remotely during lockdown is impressive and we were struck by the strong partnerships across a range of partners that allowed the project to expand its impact by signposting participants to other services”.
The winners of the Hearts for the Arts Awards 2021 will be announced on Valentine’s Day, 14th February.
Hearts For The Arts is a National Campaign for the Arts initiative, delivered in partnership with Culture Counts; the Local Government Association; Theatre NI, Thrive NI; We Are Voluntary Arts Wales, Wales Council for Voluntary Action.
TheNational Campaign for the Arts (NCA) is a charity and independent campaigning organisation, run by a board of volunteer trustees. They campaign for more investment in the arts, to improve the lives of everyone; and they champion those who make that happen. forthearts.org.uk
We would like to wish all and everyone we’ve met and worked with a happy winterfest and an even happier new year.
It’s been a strange and sometimes fearful year, but it’s also been full of the hope that comes with making art and writing poetry. Here are some images from our last workshop of the year, at The Booth Centre where the BOOK OF OURS illuminated manuscript is being made. These pages have been made by over 100 people with experience of homelessness.
Despite the difficult circumstances that many of the makers live in, their pages shimmer with colour and passion. The photos from the day, were taken mostly by volunteer Sue Dean. Among the original poems and songs, is a quote from a medieval nun called Hildegard, being carefully scribed by Roy one of our regular group members: “I will have a tent… decorated with the Sun and bright stars. Angelic glory will be in it… I will be a companion of the angels…” It’s a mysterious quote, but it sticks in the mind. A tent decorated with the sun. Perhaps it is about seeing the deeper value of people — whatever their place in society, or the world — and also finding the the treasure of our true selves.
Or to put it another way – wherever you are, may sunshine find you.
The BOOK OF CHANGES project is funded by the Heritage Emergency Fund, supporting homeless and vulnerable people to participate in making the arthur+martha illuminated manuscript BOOK OF OURS. This project is partnered by the Booth Centre and Back on Track.
Father Christmas sat at the table in his kitchen at his home in the North Pole. He was despondent, worrying he would not be able to make Christmas the magical event it always is.
He turned to Mother Christmas, “Everybody thinks Christmas happens by magic. No one realises the effort needed to make each one special.” He continued: “The Virus has severely reduced the production of toys , not helped by some elves having to self-isolate from their journeys. I hated furloughing the elves, you saw how depressed they became without work.”
Mother Christmas nodded: “Yes dear, furloughing the elves was the hardest decision we ever made. With Elf School forced to close and students learning virtually from home, it made this year difficult to cope with. Although the elves were still able to look after the reindeers and baking of candy canes continued without interruption.”
“Then there is Rudolph,” Father Christmas exclaimed. “His red nose helps light the way when we are travelling the world, but if he is seen by others they may think he is suffering from the virus then Rudolph and the other reindeers will be required to quarantine and the travel corridors will be closed to us. Christmas will be ruined if that happens.”
Mother Christmas quietly said: “The whole world has been suffering. There may not be as many toys but the little ones will know the struggle everyone has gone through. They will appreciate their presents even more and know the true value of Christmas. I am sure you will be allowed to travel across the sky. And no leader would want to cancel Christmas…”
A midnight walk in Blueberry Wood, when I perchance did hear
The sound of playful laughter, a ringing in my ear.
While glow worms twinkled in the trees, and spiders webs were spun
I held my breath and hid myself, to watch the evenings fun.
The fire burned so brightly in a perfect fairy ring
Whilst sitting on a fallen log three tiny mice did sing.
Moths and bats and fireflies joined forces in the air
Whilst far below a feast, fit for a King was being prepared.
Wild flowers scattered on the ground, true love this night was surely found
A marriage witnessed silently, from where I hid behind my tree.
This wondrous sight should not be seen.. The marriage of a Fairy Queen.
All the woodland creatures came out to join the fun.
Ants and woodlice scurried about, no tiny soul had been left out.
Foxes, Badgers, Hedgehogs, in their time to hunt, not play
joined in the celebration, before the moonlight stole away.
Mystical worlds we only dream of, but this secret I shall save
and with me when my life is done, shall be taken to my grave.
The star exploded in a distant galaxy
Expanding in a sphere of radiant power,
Propelling waves of light through space and time
And turning their momentum into song.
They saw the evolution of our Earth,
And cast their light on our dark history;
They led a strange procession into Bethlehem
And soothed a saviour child to smiling slumber.
And still their star-song shields our sleeping children
From our history, which enslaves us from our birth.
It leads us through the myriad stars of heaven
To the birth pangs of the light that brought us life;
Leading all things to their beginning,
Transforming nightmares into future dreams.
The starting point for this sonnet is the science linking time and distance. The stars are so distant that we see them not as they are now but as they were when their light first began to travel to us billions of years ago. The song of the travelling light is their radio waves, the reference to Bethlehem imagines the star’s light arriving at the time of the Nativity. As a Church of England Reader, I had the privilege of preaching at the Midnight Mass one Christmas Eve. John’s Gospel tells us that when we see the infant Jesus, we are looking at the Word of God at beginning of Creation. In the second part of the poem we return to the beginning by looking back into the night sky.
As a teacher of Music and English I have been strongly influenced by rhythm and sound. Theology and Philosophy are key influences. Poetry is important to me. My own poetry follows free forms, or uses the Sonnet, which forces me to be concise. Being a shielded lockdown person has given me time to explore my interests. When I retired from teaching – because of Parkinson’s disease – I joined a creative writing course in North East Derbyshire adult education service. I am grateful for the opportunity the Necklace of Stars project offers to explore my work more deeply.
Some dreams stay forever; this one keeps hunting me. Tonight it has returned once more.
Cobbled streets, dimly lit by gaslight, empty of people save for me and the Pride. Magnificent animals, but terrifying. Houses with doors locked against me. Alleyways twisting, turning, each one leads me to a dead end. The Pride closing in, softly padding toward me. I scream nothing but silence. Then with no warning I’m lifted by unseen hands, that lift me gently skyward.
Below me the Pride are roaring, angry. Tonight they will have to go hungry. Laughing at their dismay I fly high over the rooftops to the sky above where there is light, beautiful starlight. I fly without a care, for no one can hurt me here.
Faceless shadows appear around me, delicate, weblike, and take my hands. Ethereal ladders appear for me to climb, and as my feet take their first steps upon them, I follow where shadows take me.
Excitement builds, then great sadness bringing tears on and on I go, ladder to ladder, each one revealing a familiar face long passed from my world, and greatly missed. When will this end?
Now stars are becoming brighter, shadows are breaking away. “ Wait don’t leave me.” The sound of laughter lingers, as each one darts away, and I’m left alone. It’s too much! Take me back. But then in the distance I see her, her arms outstretched as she draws nearer, then she’s in my arms and the moment we have waited for is finally here. “Mama?”
We cling together. Cheated of the life we should have shared together. Finally I see her face! Reaching out to touch her cheek. I cherish the feel of her skin: warm, young, and beautiful. She is my Sara, I pray we will be able to speak, there is so much I need to know.
Far below, the Pride are stalking me again.
Further added thoughts on self doubts
“I have always been scared of doing things wrong. (Good old school.) So to be part of the Necklace of Stars, is wonderful but at the same time terrifying. Someone once said (in fun) — “You are small and insignificant.” I laughed it off at the time, but it’s not how it really felt when you have anxiety, depression etc. I started to write down how that had made me feel – and opened a floodgate of thoughts and words, I found a different part of me, one I didn’t know was there at all. Now after many years of self doubt, I actually like the person I have become. I still make mistakes and dwell too much on the past, but my writing helps. I really hope you give it a try, there’s nothing to be scared of. You may surprise yourself, just like I did…”
The image used is an artwork from our Here Comes the Sun quilt, the “daytime sister” quilt to A Necklace of Stars, which has been created by Lois with a widely-diverse group of makers, including homeless and vulnerable people and international contributors.
The Here Comes the Sun quilt hangs on my studio wall, it’s nearly complete, 3 hems to be stitched, a hanging system to be devised, a bit more stitching, more colour to balance the composition. It’s now time to pause, to reflect on this unique and wonderful project, to thank everyone whose joined in and to share. It takes time for me to write, for ideas to percolate. There has been much learning, some heartache and lots of joy with this project. I’m splitting my reflections into parts, so as not to overwhelm. So here I start at the beginning.
(artist Lois Blackburn)
Bringing of people together through creativity.
Phil and I working as arthur+martha have always aimed to breakdown boundaries through the arts; to bring people together, forge a greater understanding of each other, share experiences. However previous projects have been limited to one sector of society, for example: older people, people living with dementia, people with experience of homelessness, war widows, carers… This project gave us a unique opportunity to bring everyone together, without hierarchies, without labels.
How we worked
We invited people from across the globe to make embroidery and write a short piece of poetic text for a new quilt, Here Comes the Sun. It was open to everyone, wherever people lived, whether they regularly make art, or haven’t picked up needle and thread since school, everyone was welcome.
The project researched and developed new ways of working for artist Lois Blackburn during the Covid 19 pandemic. It built on the learning from recent project War Widows’ Quilt,and current project Necklace of Stars. It looks and prepares for an uncertain future.
Lois’s first goal was to engage a cross section of people in the project, from many parts of the world and many backgrounds, then from this participant group, build a team of volunteers to stitch on behalf of those who were struggling. Lois started by spreading invites to join in the project via social media and the web, and targeting groups that have previously worked with us, such as War Widows.
The interest and take up was fast and enthusiastic. Approximately half way through the project, due to time and financial restrictions, Lois stopped promoting the project to new participants, as she didn’t have the capacity for more contributions to the project.
130 embroidery squares have been created
28 embroidery squares were made by volunteers
18 new volunteers
37 drawings/paintings/designs were made by people with experience of homelessness
11 embroideries where stitched by people with experience of homelessness/or struggling with economic hardship.
Suns, are a symbol of alchemy. It represents life, influence and strength. It symbolizes energy, power, growth, health, passion and the cycle of life in many cultures and religions throughout time. In Egyptian culture, a winged sun disc symbol stood for protection. The Egyptians also worshiped the sun god Ra. In 20th century pop culture, the sun gives superhuman strength to comic book hero Superman. Such strength allows him to protect and rescue people in danger.
Particularly important during the crisis, for many of our participants and audience members, it’s a symbol of joy and hope.
“Beautiful piece of work and I love the connotations of the sun shining again.” Julie New, Personal Recovery Coach
The sun theme of the quilt and poetry is easy for everyone to understand. Yet if can be interpreted in countless different ways. Each of our 130 embroideries are unique.
We offered people the option of embroidering someone’s name on the quilt. This raises questions about remembrance, personal and national, the idea of a Covid time capsual. It also raises questions about how we give support, grief, hope.
Liam is my 15 year old son. I have suffered badly with my mental health over the years and the lockdown has made my condition worse. He is my inspiration to keep battling on everyday. He is in year 11 and is one of the children that will not take exams, I have found that his attitude to this and everything that is thrown at him is exceptional. I am so proud of him.
I haven’t embroidered a single name on it as so many people have done so much over this period. I wanted it to be inclusive of the people who have done simple gestures which have improved my days immeasurably. Such as someone smiling reassuringly from across the road, the post people still working and bringing supplies, my colleagues who have set tasks and set up groups to inspire and entertain whilst we are furloughed. The hospital staff who did my tests despite being in the height of the pandemic.
Necklace of Stars participant Gill Ormond writes (below) about the experience of making visual poems, themed on the night sky. Gill has combined her art skills with poems that are part-image. In part 1 of her blog account, last week, she described writing her own poem and translating it into images. Here, she has remade two poems by the Scottish poet/artist Ian Hamilton Finlay in her own style, using loose hand-drawn letters and celebrating the fuzzy precision of pencils. Gill has moved Finlay’s crisp, clear graphics into a mystery space of haze and cobwebby lettering…
Gill’s Project timeline
Week1 – Challenge – Go look at the stars and write, without looking at the paper, what they evoke in me. Result – panic. That week no stars showed. Think creatively. Use their non-show to get my thoughts on paper. A poem emerged! Week 2 – Challenge – Fold and cut the written words in two. Move the lines up and down and see what emerges. Result – as if by magic , a poem which distilled down with clarity to the heart of the experience. Week3 – Move away from the typed words and draw them. Result – illustrated poem with shooting stars and galaxies. With thanks to my Sister who coincidentally sent me her handmade star that I used as the basis for one of my illustrations. Week 4 – Task Part 1 “Is it possible to imply starry sky without illustrating by stars?” / Task Part 2 – “Put your own take on visual poems by Ian Hamilton Finlay.” Result – here are my offerings…