Leave it at the door

moving panorama

The reality of working with any group of people- particularly when you throw together a mix of people by circumstance rather than design- is you are sometimes going to hear opinions that differ from your own… occassionally these might tip over to racist, sexist or other ‘ists’, people can be quite extreme in their politics- or deeply apathetic.

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In additition each of us brings with us baggage from our lives.  Working at The Booth Centre, (a day centre for homeless people in Manchester) the baggage can be very heavy, the history each person brings with them, the struggles of daily life. The trick is to leave it at the door. It’s not always easy, particularly when we are not in the workshop session- those between times seem to be when things kick off. But in the sessions, if things are going well something magical happens, we all are caught in the moment, the outside world seems to disappear, any problems, stresses are reduced. It’s medicine with no warning labels, no bad side affects. Now-a-days it might be called mindfulness, but anyone who has really enjoyed and been absorbed in art making will know, its a beautful side affect of creative activity. And it’s not just the art (and for Moving Panorama, beautiful songs and performance) that works for us, it’s the group dynamic to. I’ve talked about it this on these blogs before, but I am repeatedly delighted by how supportive our groups at The Booth are- more than in any venue I have ever worked at before. Our group nurtures, encourages and as people’s confidence grows, people gently challenge.

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So I know what ever baggage I have brought of my own to the session, I will come away feeling lighter, a weight lifted, my eyes clearer. We witness this happening to our group, we are told this in the feedback. This is arts and health in action- Ian one of the group has asked me about my job a few times, he often remarks how happy I seem, how much I seem to enjoy my job- It’s simple for me- why would I want to do anything else in life?

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Artist Lois Blackburn/arthur+martha, writing about the project ‘Moving Panorama’, with singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, and groups from The Booth Centre. A free public performance of Moving Panorama will be at The People’s History Museum, on the 11th June between 12.00 and 1.00.

Supported by Arts Council England.

Press Release

moving panorama

Live performance in museum will see voices from the streets take inspiration from the past.

“You see the trouble but you don’t understand my struggle.”

A new collaboration between people who have experienced homelessness and local artists will be shown at the People’s History Museum on Monday 11 June 2018 as part of Manchester Histories Festival.

‘Moving Panoramas’ will combine visual arts with original songwriting to create a performance piece centred around scrolling artworks that reflect on our past but also give voice to experiences in the present.

Arts organisation arthur+martha’s lead artist Lois Blackburn and singer songwriter Matt Hill (Quiet Loner) have worked with people from the Booth Centre, a day centre in Manchester for those who have experienced homelessness. Taking inspiration from the People’s History Museum they have created songs and artworks that explore the rich history of Manchester’s streets as well as their own personal histories and stories.

always forward- moving panorama

As the project began it became clear that museums are places some homeless people like to go to. One of the project participants said “I’ve visited more museums since I’ve been homeless than I ever did before”. The People’s History Museum with its story of the struggles of ordinary working people provided lots of ideas that have been expanded and explored to create the new work.

The songs and artworks created speak of 21st century issues such as debt, living in poverty and lack of representation. They also draw parallels with similar struggles from the 19th and 20th centuries.  The idea of struggle was one of the main themes to emerge. Gary from Salford who was recently homeless said of the Booth Centre “Everyone who comes here finds something a struggle, from the past, present or the future.” Gary later reflected on that in lyrics for a song he wrote called ‘I’ve seen you there’ – “I’ve seen you there but you have no time to spare. You see the trouble but you don’t understand my struggle.”

The performance, taking place from 12.00pm to 1.00pm on Monday 11 June 2018, will be filmed and will feature some of the project participants from the Booth Centre performing alongside the scrolling artworks. The performance has been created in response to the People’s History Museum’s collections, and on issues within their exhibition Represent! Voices 100 Years On which runs from Saturday 2 June 2018 to Sunday 3 February 2019. The project has been supported by a grant from Arts Council England.

Booth Centre workshop

 

Notes for Editors 

1) This event is part of Manchester Histories Festival 2018, the 5th edition of the Greater Manchester-wide biennial festival with the theme protest, democracy, and freedom of speech. Delivered by Manchester Histories the 2018 Festival will offer a long-weekender of music, film, debate, talks, performance, walking tours, arts and more. Visit www.manchesterhistories.co.uk

2) This event coincides with the launch of arthur+martha’s new book, THE WARM /&/ THE COLD, an illustrated poetry book by many authors. Life stories of homeless people, older people (often with dementia) and young offenders, are expressed in the form of poems, artworks, and quilts, ceramics. Manchester Central Library on 10 June 12-4pm, as part of Manchester History Festival Celebrations Day.

3) The People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester is the national museum of democracy, telling the story of its development in Britain: past, present, and future.  The museum provides opportunities for people of all ages to learn about, be inspired by and get involved in ideas worth fighting for; ideas such as equality, social justice, co-operation, and a fair world for all.  PHM offers a powerful programme with annual themes; 2018 looks at representation and commemorates 100 years since the first women and all men got the vote, and 2019 will see a year of activities around protest movements to mark the bicentenary of the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, 1819.

People’s History Museum is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm, Radical Lates are on the second Thursday each month, open until 8.00pm.  The museum is free to enter with a suggested donation of £5.  Winner of Kids in Museums Family Friendly Museum Award 2017.

phm.org.uk | Twitter: @PHMMcr | facebook.com/PHMMcr | Instagram: @phmmcr

4) The Booth Centre brings about positive change in the lives of people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, and helps them plan for and realise a better future. They do this by providing advice to find accommodation, education, training and help to secure employment, free healthy meals, support in tackling issues with health and addiction, and creative activities to boost confidence and self esteem. The Booth Centre is an independent, registered charity (no. 1062674) http://www.boothcentre.org.uk

5) For more information on Arts Council England visit http://www.artscouncil.org.uk

 

Performance

moving panorama

At this weeks session we once again took a duel approach – some people worked on a new scroll for a song called ‘Top Kid’ and others took part in rehearsals for the forthcoming performance.

Lois is great at encouraging people to be comfortable making art and I’m always amazed at the results. This week was no different as people took inspiration from a book of Trade Union Banners and started created beautiful text and scroll work. People become very focussed with their heads down and utterly absorbed in their art making.

painting and rehearsal

My part this week was to play some of the songs we’ve written and to help the people who are going to perform when we play at the People’s History Museum on June 11th. My first task was to set up a microphone and amplifier so we could practice getting used to singing into a mic. In the past when working with non-musicians I’ve seen quite confident people dry up around microphones. To hear our own voices amplified loud and clear can be an unsettling experience and people will often back away from the microphone.

For this reason I wanted to get our performers used to it and I came prepared for some gentle coaxing. I need not have worried! They all stepped up and were natural performers, with no fear of the microphone. It was a real joy to hear people get involved in helping to sing the songs and a real positive energy began to fill the room.

performing group

This was also our first chance to perform alongside our Panorama frame. It was interesting watching people as we performed and Lois cranked the scroll handles. We want our audience’s visual focus to be on the frame and the beautiful scrolls we have created. The songs and music forms a soundtrack to the visual, as they would if you were watching a film. But naturally when we see live performers singing and playing, our eyes are drawn to them. It was a valuable session in learning this and now we are thinking about how we can arrange ourselves physically so the frame and scrolls are firmly centre stage and the key visual focus of our performance.

This session was one of the busiest yet. We also had film-maker John with us to document the project and interview some of the people who have been taking part. With John filming, our artists drawing and painting and our performers singing it made for a lively and energetic session.

Art and Music?

moving panorama

How does visual art and music work together? Complement? add something? Make you look or hear something new? Its a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot with our current project ‘Moving Panorama’.  Today I’m sharing some of these thoughts- take a look at the value of choice, creative stimulation/inspiration, and performance.

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Matt and Roy, working on a song for Moving Panorama

Being able to offer a combination of visual art,  song writing and performance, means that our group has far more choice- if they are not in the mood to try one thing- they can concentrate on another. We all come to creative activity with one burden or another- it might be that you’ve been told as a child that you can’t draw, or you lack in confidence, or maybe you have never learnt much reading and writing, or maybe you are just not in the mood- are suffering from lack of sleep, or mental or physical issues.

By offering the choice of a visual art or writing or performing- we give people an opportunity to take a look at something might intimidate them, they can be joining in the singing and at the same time seeing that the art making isn’t so scary- or visa versa. There is never pressure to join in, we always welcome people just to sit and watch if they like- although this rarely happens for long. We create a safe environment for people to try something new, or re-visit something that has been lost.  And choice should never be taken for granted. Many of the people we work with have restricted choice in their lives- whether restricted by ill health, disability, or social and economic reasons.

One of the joys for me of working collaboratively is the inspiration of different artistic disciplines- working with skills unlike my own, looking at the subject with fresh eyes. It stimulates my artistic practice, makes me look again, think freshly. I witness this in the group with other people- for the last few weeks in our Moving Panorama session we have been working on 10 meter scrolls of paper, filling them with responses to the songs, as we draw/paint/write/print, we are referring to the lyrics.

Top kid artwork

artwork to be scrolled with the song ‘Top Kid’

The most exciting and stimulating experience, is when we get a live performance led Matt- we hear the song as we create the visuals. This artistic conversation is not just one way- the artwork created feeds back into the song- for example changing the order of the verses, inspiring new lyrics, thinking about rhythm and speed.

Then there is performance. We are still to try this out properly- the Moving Panorama frame is in production. The songs and the art each stand on their own, but I have a feeling when they are put together they will create something wonderful. We have experimented with hand rolling the scrolls whilst listening to the music- it appears to work-  there is a joy in simply watching our performers singing- and the songs are really, really good. The art complements, at times tells a slightly different story, showcases different skills, other ideas. We are yet to really discover the limitations and all of the joys, it might take another few years, and a few after that.

Join us at lunchtime on the 11thJune at The People’s History museum 12-1.00pm for a performance of Moving Panorama, as part of the Manchester Histories Festival.  A collaboration between The Booth Centre, singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner, artist Lois Blackburn/arthur+martha and the People’s History Museum 

Getting in the zone

moving panorama

Roy is someone who has really engaged with this project and has come back each week. Over the past weeks I’ve really seen him grow in his confidence as a writer. This week he told me how much he likes “getting in the zone” and he arrived at our session with some words he’d been working on following our visit to the People’s History Museum last week. He’d spent time looking at the sabres that were used in the Peterloo massacre and that had led him to write this.

Peterloo you needed a shield
Cos sabres the yeomans they did yield
They left a claret-stained Peter’s Field
But the working class will neva yield

Campaigning man – Sam Bamford
Marched to Manchester – what a hoard
To put his case to the manor lord
who sent in yeomans with sabre and sword
left lives and limbs hanging by a cord

As you can see here Roy is really drawn to rhyme and his poems have a distinct style in that he uses the same rhyme scheme for each line of his verse. This structure really works for him and he has embraced it, so it’s now very much his signature style.

As a songwriter rhyme is very important – the repetition of vowel and consonant sounds helps fix the melody. So for me it’s been great to work with Roy as his words fit very easily into melody. But such an approach to rhyme, also brings restriction, you are tied to the scheme and so your brain has to be able to think very creatively to continue to tell the story.

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Roy and Danny working on the ‘Dust’ panorama

Roy works quickly and has a fast brain which is well suited to this style but he’s also very willing to re-work. He’ll often hand me a piece, then take it back, scribble out and re-write. The great Paul Simon once said “A good song is not written, it’s re-written”. As the weeks have gone, that willingness to edit and adjust, has helped Roy mature as a writer and I think that shows here in his use of phrases like ‘claret stained’ and “lives and limbs hanging by a cord”.

Roy tells me he’s a big Clash fan so I’ll be listening to London Calling this week and hoping we can find a Strummer/Jones flavour to the next song we write.

roy drawing

Roy working on the ‘Dust’ Panorama

Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner writing about the arthur+martha project Moving Panorama, supported by The Booth Centre, The People’s History Museum and Arts Council England.

Tinplate workers

moving panorama

Drawing a long line

Today we visited the People’s History Museum. I met Ian for the first time, he’s currently homeless and came to the museum today carrying a sleeping bag with all his belongings inside it. As we chatted I found out that Ian was a builder by trade and is very knowledgeable about natural history as well as social history. He told us –

I’ve visited more museums since I’ve been homeless than I ever did before.

As we went round the museum Ian’s eye was taken by this oath – sworn by one of the Tin Plate Workers Society. They were a very early form of trade union – back when it was illegal to join one. It was clear they took membership of their society very seriously –

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“If I reveal any of this solemn obligation. may all the Society disgrace me so long as I live and may what is now before me plunge my soul into the everlasting pit of misery”

Later on I caught up with Ian and his friend Kathryn, sat round a table attempting to make some match boxes. The challenge was to demonstrate how ‘sweated labour’ had been a norm in the 19th century. Whole families would work from home assembling matchboxes. If they took longer than a minute per box it was likely they would starve and end up in the workhouse. Such was the low levels of pay for this piece work.

Later on we asked people to reflect on the museum and Ian wrote these lines, clearly taking his inspiration from the Tin plate Workers oath but giving it a twist –

Working in the everlasting pit of misery
So many hours, so little pay
Injuries the norm, death not unexpected

As we discussed as a group what we’d seen in the museum it became clear that some of the issues raised had played a part in people’s lives. Some of the older members of the group recalled the days of ‘closed shops’ when you couldn’t get a job unless you were in the union. One of our group recalled a protest for homeless rights he had taken part in.

We drew events onto a long scroll – marking dates and names. It was a long line that began with Thomas Paine back in 1792. Roy wrote a few lines about him, as he recalled working in Paine’s birthplace of Thetford, many years ago and how American tourists came to honour Tom Paine for his role in their independence.

With or without a brain
Plotted two revolutions – insane or sane?
Both without a penny gain
The great man – Thomas Paine

The scroll went on through the 19th and 20th century drawing a long line. As we read it all back, Danny reflected that “Every generation has its own fights”. We saw the line as one of progress as rights are won and eventually become taken for granted – like the right to vote. But also that in some areas we are going backwards and having to fight again for things we won before but have been eroded or taken away.

All of us there today brought our history with us. We’re all part of that long line.

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Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner writing about arthur+martha’s project, Moving Panorama. Supported by Arts Council England, The Booth Centre and The People’s History Museum.

Silent Voices

moving panorama

2 o’clock break time, our brews made by the familiar face of a man who I’ve never seen sat down, always helpful, cheerful and friendly.  It turned out that he could have died yesterday- he’s got a problem with his heart, it’s a mystery to the medical profession. He’s getting further tests done, but at the moment, everyones in the dark.  His turn of phrase is mater of fact, he’s one of life’s survivors, does things himself, gets on with it.  3 years ago he was homeless, living on the streets. An alcoholic with no money for drink, and with no intention to beg. His solution? locked in a garage, on his own, no food, no drink, he dried himself out for three days. He crawled out looking for water. These are not the usual things you hear about when someone is fixing you a cup of tea. But then The Booth Centre isn’t usual. It’s a quite extraordinary place, a place where you always have another chance, you can recuperate, see yourself differently and the arts play a big part in it.

Johno drawing

I’m working on the project Panorama, with singer songwriter Matt Hill/The Quiet Loner. It’s week 3 of our workshops at The Booth. We’ve got lots to do before our performance in June at The People’s History Museum, but todays session reassured me that we could do it. We’re beginning to refine our theme- there is so much to inspire us at The People’s History Museum, but something that everyone in our group related to was the theme of struggle.

‘Everyone who comes here finds something a struggle, from the past, present or the future.’ Gary.

‘Struggle, that’s about it- last week I didn’t turn up for the trip- no roof over my head, I’ve got one now…but it’s still a struggle. I’ve had it nice a few times, but that neck of oil (alcohol) will be the death of me’ Johno.

Johno's drawing of Lois

Johno’s drawing of Lois

Matt worked on a song with the group, I did some drawing with everyone- some examples here. We laughed as we drew, it was more like a game at times, playful but very productive. We used techniques I acquired at art school, blind drawing, keeping your pen on the paper… I joined in, I loved it, the results are wonderful. Next time we start collaging them together into a crowd scene for our panorama.

Johno's drawing of Bella

Johno’s drawing of Bella

Some beautiful lyrics appeared.  Gary wrote about silent voices, ‘Silent voices in my head all the time…’ the chorus was sung loud ‘This is life’.

Thanks to everyone who is supporting this project, and all who are joining in our workshops with honesty, openness and a sense humour.

Lois Blackburn

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