Photography: ©John Stadnicki, 2018
Photography: ©John Stadnicki, 2018
There is no way one can observe the social transformations within a community and society without resorting to strong political clues in order to understand the sources of those transformations. And clearly, when things go wrong, we blame the politics, the legislators, the government. But when the political sphere moves away from the reality of the working and the middle classes, the laws and the policies have no real impact on the wide majority. The decision-making groups have little will to support change and the economic downturn Britain has been experiencing for over a decade seems to move towards a silent collapse. And nobody appears to take responsibility. The blame placed on the government rules like a shadow, hiding underneath the roots of bad financial decisions, personal greed and managerial incompetence.
Let’s consider the situation the art sector is in at the moment. The issue came into focus with the news of the devastating fire which, this second time, damaged the Glasgow School of Art beyond repair. There you have £35m down the drain, or rather turned to ashes, and everybody is powerlessly looking at the building asking, with disbelief, ‘how could this be possible’. The fate of the Glasgow School of Art seems, for now at least, sealed by confusion and uncertainty. Who is to blame this time?
Extrapolating the Glasgow tragedy, who is to blame for the uncertain fate of hundreds of art schools across the country slowly but surely decapitated by unachievable targets and percentages? We are looking at another type of devastating fire slowly cooking to ashes the art sector, in general, and the art education, in particular. The drive to achieve the funding targets, the attendance and the achievement rates, the literacy and the numeracy benchmarks. What do they all mean? Certainly, they mean nothing to those involved in the art sector (students, artists, writers, musicians, teachers) but mean everything to those in charge to justify the bureaucracy which supports their livelihoods and to satisfy the pleiades of regulators and inspectors. The focus of this type of education is not the youth’s creativity but to produce a nation of self-absorbed adults ready to slot into whatever social square has been allocated to them as soon as they joined the education system.
And here we face again another type of politics. The ‘politics of inevitability’ as Snyder eloquently describes it, which makes the art education vulnerable and a victim of the constantly expanding globalisation. Since the mid ‘80s, the way we talk about art has fundamentally changed as well as the way the education system works to serve the economy, under the bright colours of neoliberalism. And, one would say, what is the problem with that? The education and the arts remain the essential social institutions within a healthy society and preserve what we call our ‘decency’. They remain our ‘sane barometer’ if you like, which support the configuration of our future and the values this future will act upon.
I remember a recent conversation I had with a head of school who recognised that things have taken a turn for the worse, with the Brexit uncertainty looming, but, as he said, ‘what can one do against a whole government, with a mortgage to pay?’ And here we are again in the blaming game equation. The well-suited head back in his leather chair, the young artist back revising for another maths test. New financial cuts are drowning the hope of an economic recovery and the silence of those suffering its effects sounds more and more like a resigned agreement. Not once we feel that the history allows us to see patterns and to understand that action is a possibility. History permits us, ‘to be responsible; not for everything, but for something’ as the poet Czeslaw Milosz said. This responsibility has always worked against loneliness and indifference.
©Maria Stadnicka, June 2018, Gloucestershire, UK
Stroud’s Politics Kitchen presents a musical experience showcasing a new and exciting political paradigm whose time has come – the Politics of the Heart. This is Politics that recognises that we have more in common than that which divides – a more intelligent, courageous and compassionate politics.
The event, on 11th February 2017 at 19.30 – The Subscription Rooms Stroud, features music from the sensational Bristol-based Spiro who are described as “World Music that speaks directly to the soul” – this is a truly unmissable event.
“This is soulful, passionate music, and I love it”, says Peter Gabriel, speaking of Spiro (see links below). If there were a ‘Stroud Sound’, Spiro would surely be it.
They are supported by Jennifer Maidman Music, stellar singer-songwriter and ex-member of the legendary Penguin Café Orchestra, 1984–2007.
Spiro are also supported by Hattie Briggs another wonderful singer-songwriter, inspired by the likes of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor Hattie recorded her debut album, ‘Red and Gold’ with Peter Waterman (Joss Stone/Uriah Heep/Emma Ballantine), as was her second album, ‘Young Runaway’, in 2016.
The event is supported by and features poetry readings with Gabriel Millar, Maria Stadnicka and JoJo Mehta.
Tickets available at Stroud Subscription Rooms: http://www.subscriptionrooms.org.uk/whats-on/politics-of-the-heart-with-spiro/
It might be that the Panama Papers will become as iconic in history as the fashionable Ecuadorian ‘panama hat’; a striking and a bit ostentatious item, which everybody wants but nobody knows how to properly wear it. Not in Britain. For obvious climatic restrictions.
However though, on Monday morning, Britain received such a hat, delivered by the mediatic postal service, whilst not wide awake yet, post Easter holiday, when the weather forecast was not that brilliant anyway. Would it worth the bother, for the sake of seven or eight hours of sunshine a week? Should it return to sender and have the money back?
The British rich and the poor found out, with some surprise, that once they had signed for the goods, the sender remained unknown. And, as the box opened, millions of other items emerged. Things which we all ‘kind of’ knew about, but wished we hadn’t. The truth.
The shock of discovering your master licking his honey smeared fingers in your own pantry. The shock of being discovered and still trying to say ‘sorry it won’t happen again’ type of thing.
In a society where the wealth and the poverty cohabit undisturbed, in their own universe, parallel with each other, it becomes increasingly difficult to formulate an opinion about social injustice, corruption, and privileged few. Almost impossible to do something about it. This explains the public opinion’s delayed reaction to the recent ‘Panama Papers’. But does it justify it? And even if, let’s say, something could be done about it, what resolution would not involve fundamental change and transformation, on both sides?
Given the realities of international and national politics, each of us is, to some extent, victim of conflicting demands between truth and power. Observers of social reality, rather than makers of it. Furthermore, the unfortunate circumstances, which define the current trends, deepen in a climate where radical thinking and critical debate do not address the core values on which we built our social structures and institutions.
With the current revelations in mind, it is rather justifiable, once more, the duty to bring in focus the possibility of change, which, ‘to some extent’, comes from our desire ‘to create the future rather than merely observe the flow of events. Given the stakes, it would be criminal to let real opportunities pass unexplored.’ (Noam Chomsky, 2014, ‘A Genuine Movement for Social Change’)
As the refugees’ crisis is widening across Europe, the public opinion becomes more polarised, with people supporting the Schengen agreement for settlement whilst others oppose the migration from the Middle East and Africa. In England, my decision to collect and deliver donations to Calais has been welcomed and facilitated by family, friends and work colleagues on one side, and criticised on another side on social media by a few online acquaintances which disagree with the idea of personal intervention in a problem that should be left to the international political factors. And this is how, on the way to Calais, the concept of ‘border’ started to emerge in my mind as my new British passport was scanned at Dover. Watching the ferry depart I thought of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian ethnographer which summarised a valid point on this matter. ‘Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.’
With this is mind, I entered the refugees’ camp in Calais on Saturday and observed the difficult living conditions of thousands of mostly young men, lucky enough to have walked or travelled for weeks in search of stability and peace. Dreaming maybe to be accepted in Britain whilst waiting for help from a country which they see a promoter of fairness and humanity. Some have been there for months, others just weeks.
Thousands of tents were spread across the camp but there were people still living in cardboard shelters, in flip-flops and T-shirts with autumn coming and the rain slowly settling in during the next months. People I met looked at me with curiosity and friendliness. One welcomed me and asked if I had a good night on the way there. Another asked for a pair of shoes or trousers. And more and more slowly surrounded the van. But having just fifty boxes of supplies in the van made the distribution impossible. What about the people in need of supplies, which could not communicate in English, nor French, could not ask, could not arrive at the van, could not reach for my help?
People living in the camp need help and support, and donations are slowly going and are being distributed by very few charities and private companies as well as volunteers and locals. Packing and then safely and equally distributing food, clothing and other necessary materials to thousands of people is a process which takes time and logistics. This positive action can only be successfully delivered before winter comes with more help from volunteers and strong support from the international community. As the European budget is spent on numerous emergency summits, the conflict between decisional factors becomes apparent and the people involved in helping the refugees in Calais get a sense that the governments have no real understanding of what needs to be done on the ground.
The governments do not have understanding. But governments, with their complicated power structures, are not people. They are, at this point, the borders. Those volunteers spending their time and resources, dedicated night and day to help the refugees are my example of humanity as well as my hope. I have heard their names (Riaz, Maya, Christiane, Vincent, Clare, Toby) and their voices on the phone helping me help others. I have not seen their faces, nor their colour, but I have seen their actions, their beliefs and values, which made me write this to ask for yours.