So, 2016 continues to distinguish itself as possibly one of the worst twelve-month periods in recent memory.
I’m not going to list here all the sad losses and crushing disappointments – quite apart from the incredible (not to say alarming) turn of events on the world stage that you literally could not make up – suffice to say that on many levels it’s not been a vintage year. What has been heartening, however, is the response by the arts community who are leading by example, reminding us of our common humanity, emphasising that there are so many more reasons for us to be united rather than divided.
Two examples in our region spring to mind. Last week I attended the awards dinner at the Hepworth Wakefield for the inaugural Hepworth Prize for Sculpture and witnessed winner Helen Marten’s extraordinary act of generosity in proposing to share the £30,000 prize with her fellow shortlisted artists. In her moving speech she said that “in the light of the world’s ever lengthening political shadow, the art world has a responsibility to show how democracy should work.” Her remarks were brief, to the point and followed up with action.
This is also true of a recent expression of inclusivity by Sheffield Theatres new artistic director Robert Hastie. “Our doors are open to everyone,” he pledged. “And in uncertain and divisive times, the importance of spaces where we can come together to share stories and debate ideas has never been greater.” He too put his money where his mouth is, announcing that they will be providing 10,000 £15 tickets and scrapping their booking fees. They are also inviting all young people studying drama at either GCSE or A level in Sheffield to come to the Crucible to watch theatre for free.
The temptation is to use the arts and entertainment as a comforter, a momentary escape – Strictly Come Dancing is certainly helping me through a lot at the moment – but they also give us some insight. They can help explain the times we are living in, elucidate the cyclical nature of history and offer an alternative future way of being.
I went to the funeral of an old friend this week – he had lived a long, happy and fulfilled life and it was actually quite an uplifting occasion. He was a wise and visionary man who valued the arts and had lived through some difficult times in history. His advice, one of his former students told me, when the ‘state of the world’ depressed you was to ‘find the better story’. That is exactly what the creative community is trying to do.