Being back on the Vale

For those of you who don’t know – in a former life I worked in community arts which in English basically means working with local communities and groups of people to plan arts activities that they might otherwise not get the chance to enjoy.

I think that many people think that this is some sort of middle class interference where people who are in the arts foist the activities they like onto those who don’t normally participate in a ‘it’ll be good for you’ type of way.

Well – that certainly is the case for some misguided projects – but the for ones I’m excited about it couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people in the community arts, like myself, discovered the arts themselves and found the experience to be transformational. I for one credit Birmingham Music Service, their free bassoon and some very inspirational music teachers for the career (and the life) I have today.

Therefore when you get people like me in a room we do get a bit evangelical about the power of the arts to change lives but our approach is one of working with communities as (quite frankly) we get out as much out of the experience as the people we are working with.

Take today for example. I was working with a group of what can only be described as ‘arts activists’ on Castle Vale. They have formed a group called Active Arts and are embarking on a planning process to ensure that they are setting the organisation up to succeed and continue for many years.

The group consists of residents, youth workers, arts workers, community workers, community volunteers and much more – but what unites them is their vision for how the arts can play a part in the continuing regeneration of Castle Vale. Some of them have seen the evidence with their children who have taken part in arts activities, others think that the arts makes the Vale a nice place to live and all of them are willing to put their own time in so that they can share their passion with others.

I came out of a fairly intense afternoon with this group – with my faith in human nature charged up. For those of us who are lucky enough to earn a living from the arts it is sometimes easy to forget how lucky we are. OK – so they pay is not always that great and the frustration of lurching from project to project and chasing funding in between can wear you down. But what working in a place like Castle Vale reminds you is that the arts (delivered well) is a bloody amazing day job.

It has been 3 years since I last did any work like this in Castle Vale and it is great to see that things have moved on, people have taken on new projects and made them work and new people have got involved and have a sense of ownership of the arts projects. It is also nice to be welcomed back like an old friend.

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