‘In the last year, it’s sometimes seemed that we can only shout at each other these days’ writes John McGrath, Artistic Director of the MIF. In response, comes ‘Interdependence: We Need to Talk’ a series of talks discussing huge topics such as power, truth, technology and change, with the ultimate aim being to foster conversation and dialogue. The irreverent graphics advertising the talk, featuring a neon tongue unnaturally extended from bright blue lips, suggest provocation.
On 8th July, ‘Community’ was the theme to be discussed, a kind of meta topic for the whole event. Perhaps the answer to the seemingly chasmic rifts in society are better healed at the micro not macro level; perhaps the different communities created and enlivened by festivals such as MIF are a good place to start.
In this spirit, the first speaker was Rem Koolhaus (an example of nominative determinism if ever there was one), of OMA - a world leading architecture practice. He is in the process of designing The Factory – a £110m theatre and arts venue in Manchester that will become the home of the MIF. This first talk laid down many of the recurring themes for the afternoon: how do we get rid of cultural gatekeepers and allow in nonprofessional voices? How do we democratise art and get rid of the wrong kind of expertise? How can we involve local communities and have a dialogue with the dispossessed? Koolhaus tells that his OMA office (with workers of 48 different nationalities) aims to ‘unlearn professionalism and increase ambition with an indifference to status.’
Host Jude Kelly neatly summarised a unifying and urgent message underlying a lot of the discussion: ‘We need to do more naming of invisible realities.’ Enter a panel discussion on Manchester Street Poem, an installation that can be found in a reappropriated shoe shop on Oldham Street. It was a welcome change to see someone who has lived one of these ‘invisible realities’ actually on stage to tell her own story. Joanne Wilson was formerly homeless and worked with Karl Hyde of Underworld and others to create the poem.
And this is how discussion and community starts – by being able to see the words of people who have been homeless and being able to speak to Wilson in person at the site of the poem. ‘Access to art is a human right’ adds Jez Green from the homeless charity, Mustard Tree.
Talking is all well and good of course, but accessibility is crucial. BSL was used but the afternoon was long (2.5 hours) and could’ve done with a break. A sign of an inclusive discussion is one where the audience feel confident to interact and at one point Kelly asked if more women would like to ask a question, illustrating neatly the difference between people talking about creating dialogue, and about dialogue actually being created. One way of getting more women to ask questions is by having more women speakers (there was only one at this event). A reminder that gender is often most salient when it is not explicitly being discussed.
- Nathalie Wright
Links relevant to this diagnosis:
The Factory Manchester - £110m arts venue to open in 2020
What is Social Sculpture?
Manchester Street Poem