I am trying to stay calm but things are moving so fast and, on a limited budget, it is hard to keep things on track.
But in terms of the big picture I think it should be good. We have some great speakers and an amazing group of people coming. It will be, as they say, a good and lively debate.
I am speaking for ten minutes in the morning and have been thinking about what I might say. I will be very optimistic about the people engaged with this conference. We have such a good cross section of people from many different sectors of the community, the arts, local authorities, charitable organisations, people working in areas of health and well-being and academics. A lively mix. But I am quite concerned about the way we currently work together, how we organise ourselves and how the funding works etc. I have a nagging suspicion that we could work better together and we should consider each other as complementary partners and not forget who we are working for.
I am currently working for a group of people who are living pretty chaotic lives. I am based in a homeless hostel in Newcastle’s West End. Sometimes it can be depressing. I work to try and take people’s minds off the things that trouble them – which can lead them into taking an excess of drugs or alcohol to dampen the pain that I imagine they feel. I hope that by introducing some creative projects into their lives that, maybe for a time, they will see an alternative to the deadening of their minds, their emotions and their creative spirits.
I have worked here for two years now and I know it has been useful for some people that I have been around. Many people have told me that their relationship with the arts has given them something extra, something that their support workers, the probation service and the health workers cannot give them. It is a privilege to see the the progression that some people make with their lives and working with them teaches me about resilience and determination and the joy of the simplest thing. Sometimes I see people make incredible progress only to then see them fall back into their old ways. That makes me really sad.
But I also know the arts have helped some of them to grow – helped them in their battles with addiction- helped them feel better about themselves – helped them to live healthier lives – helped them to progress to independent living – helped them look at the world differently with more optimism – helped them to see a brighter future for themselves – helped them to lift their spirits when they have felt depressed and helped them in more ways than iI can imagine.
I believe the work will also have saved money for local authorities across the country and national governments. In the age of austerity governments and local authorities have a duty to consider what the arts are able to do.They should accept the finding of many reports that tell them that the arts are extremely good value for money. That they are helpful in creating better lives for all citizens.
We must change the attitudes of the people in positions of power that believe the arts are irrelevant – because they are simply wrong.
I hope our conference goes a little way to helping us achieve this goal.