In November 2010 I arrived as a new member of the editorial team at mailout. Admittedly, and in hindsight, my interpretation of the arts were as shallow and narrow-minded as the portrayal society had given me.
To my understanding and experience the arts were the masterpieces which lay beyond the red rope barricade, the front row seats at an extravagant price. The arts were weighed in worth by their price, exposure and status. I knew little of where its real gold lies.
mailout, and the participatory arts, radically transformed my understanding of everything I have known in the creative sector.
Like the Midas touch, I discovered the participatory arts had the ability to double the value and worth of everything it touched and what an incredibly fortunate position mailout has given me to witness this. For where else would I be able to report and record the thousands of stories that rose from this ever fascinating sector? A sector surrounded by a passion and an ebullience so infectious that I have never stopped feeling privileged that I hold front row tickets to this captivating realm.
As I’m sure you’re all aware in January 2011 mailout went digital, it’s been a remarkable 20 years since our first printed “Independence Issue” and I have been on a mailout mission to make arts practitioners, facilitators, workers, fans and activists aware that we do indeed still exist as the only national platform for the participatory arts.
This platform has seen an amazing variety of participatory arts, arts which hold healing properties, arts that increase confidence in children, arts that tackle issues of sexuality and identity, arts that unite the community and in this issue, arts that give the homeless a voice. I’ve enjoyed building www.mailout.co and our bi- monthly magazine into a rainbow spectrum of the participatory arts, showcasing to the world what we can achieve.
In March 2011 the NPO funding announcements shook the participatory arts at the grass-roots and it hit me; the participatory arts were, in fact, extremely vulnerable. mailout received a tirade of tales from participatory arts organizations across the UK who faced cuts, or the axe completely, and my heart went out to them for mailout had too lost its NPO funding status.
It was a struggle to understand how the voice of this powerful, pioneering arts force could fall on so many deaf ears at ACE. Our statistics confirmed that only a mere 7.5% of the NPO funding was allocated to the participatory arts – a statistic that I, among others, felt did not do our sector justice.
By no means did we accept defeat. In a united accession the participatory arts world decided that no, they would not resort to retaliation but would in fact keep calm and carry on. This was the rationale mailout wanted to reflect – and, to prove every cloud has a silver lining, we created
‘There’s more to life than being an NPO’, a survivors guide how to get by without the NPO badge.
These turbulent times have proved testing but we’re in no way slowing down, we’re only getting stronger. I am relieved that despite all the odds, participatory arts organisations across the UK are achieving the same. The credibility and value which belongs in our sector was well articulated by Labour Peer and former Minister of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Estelle Morris when she said: “A thriving arts sector isn’t about hiding away from the arts. It’s about connecting it with the communities, locally and across the nation. The community and participatory arts sector excel at this; they work with young people, at the local fetes and celebrations, and for some people that’s all the connection with the arts they’ll get. Without that our lives aren’t as rich.”
Our lives wouldn’t be as rich without the participatory arts, and from one politicians understanding to the other I discovered how the participatory arts can also be so misunderstood.
In mailout’s biggest interview of the year the Culture Minister Ed Vaizey confessed to me he did not know what the participatory arts were. It’s a worrying sign that our governing bodies are ignorant of a culture which is well and truly alive in their own nation – mailout was the first to inform our Culture Minister about our artistic movement and it won’t be the last time he hears about us either.
This interview was one of the more surreal moments at mailout but allowed me to mark a milestone in my own personal journey – from my lack of understanding of the participatory arts to teaching it the Culture Minister himself, the transition is incredible. So here’s to a year at mailout! And here’s to another 20 years of mailout! I look forward to waving the mailout flag for many more years to come.