The Yorkshire Sculpture Park has just unveiled its new Revolt and Revolutions exhibition looking how the arts has shaped the protest movement. Featuring a jukebox which only plays songs addressing social issues and an installation of Ban the Bomb placards, ahead of its opening we asked writers, curators, poets, directors and photographers how they would make the world a better place in 2018.
Anthony Clavane: Author
Where does one begin? There are so many things that I would do to make the world a better place, including impeaching President Trump, nationalising the railways and banning phones pinging on public transport. I suppose I should get my priorities right – and start by restoring the Mighty Whites to their rightful place in the Premier League.
To be serious, (Leeds United have little chance of promotion), I’ve travelled the country over the last few years for my book Moving The Goalposts: A Yorkshire Tragedy and one thing that has stood out is homelessness. It is clear to me that not only is it on the rise – but that it has reached crisis point in many towns and cities. To state the bleedin’ obvious, the cause is a shortage of homes – but also high rents and government restrictions on benefit. All three issues make it difficult for homeless people to move into a stable home.
You need to go back to the damaging right-to-buy policy introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s to understand the origins of this problem. So the Bill I would pass, immediately, to make the world a better place comes in three parts. First, commit the Government to adopting an effective strategy on reducing homelessness. Two, ban the right to buy. And three, allow local authorities to borrow to build – something that happens in many other European countries.
Helen Pheby: Senior curator at Yorkshire Sculpture Park
I feel very lucky that my art teacher, Mrs Wyles, advised me to never lose my sense of wonder. There are many things that could be improved in our world but perhaps if we take a moment to think about the planet and our place in it, we might appreciate how truly wonderful it is, and the amazing things we are capable of. We might be encouraged to care for it, each other, and ourselves a little better. To be more kind in general and to think twice about what we need, rather than what we want.
There are limited resources, but they can support all living things if used carefully and thoughtfully. The Yorkshire-born artist Henry Moore said that artists encouraged other people to see. That is the power of art for me, that we not only appreciate art for its own sake, but that it makes our eyes that much bigger. That we notice the fleeting shape of a cloud, or the colour of a wing, and be grateful that it is there.
Now that more than half of the world’s population lives in towns and cities it’s more important than ever that we stay connected to the natural world, and our place within it.
Ian McMillan: Poet
I’ll pass the ‘Open Your Mouth’ decree that makes it illegal for people not to talk to each other.
Too many of the world’s problems are caused by people’s attitudes and opinions being stuck, very firmly, in the ideological mud because they don’t try to communicate with people from the opposing camp.
And I’m not talking about yelling and shouting and the kind of bad temper you get on Twitter and Facebook, either: I mean people meeting each other halfway and listening to opinions and putting forward points and nodding. And disagreeing, of course. But agreeing to disagree and then making sure something positive grew from the talking.
‘Open Your Mouth’ would insist that people talk to each other in bus queues, in shops, on trains. It would be illegal not to say ‘Hello’ to strangers on the street. Talking Tents would be set up in town centres to allow people to sit in them, with a cup of tea and a biscuit, and talk to one another, to strangers as well as friends and family. Open Your Mouth merchandising would replace Keep Calm and Carry On as the cultural strapline of choice. Men would have to talk to women as equals. Disabled people would not be talked down to. Opposites would meet and some kind of compromise would be talked out. And the sales of throat sweets would soar because people would be hoarse from all that talking!
Adelle Stripe: Author
Had I the power to change anything, I’d vote for a complete dismantling of the party-political system. There would be no red, blue, yellow, or green – we’d simply elect the best person for the job. For example, a person with a proven track record in that field would run the culture department, an expert on the NHS would run health.
There wouldn’t be space for failures who are shifted from one role to another, or incompetent managers, such is the current rule of thumb. They would all have actual real-life experience as opposed to a degree in PPE from Oxford and a lifetime in the Commons. I have no faith in the existing government, or any of the alternatives, and I think people feel this frustration the world over. We are permanently stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Simon Wallis: Director, The Hepworth Wakefield
We could start by trying to fully accept that seemingly contradictory viewpoints can usefully co-exist in our minds. We don’t have to rush to judgment for right and wrong, a winner and loser, a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’.
How much more useful it would be to change our thinking and dialogue from one of prejudiced exclusion to one of inclusion, where other viewpoints are welcomed, respected, considered and put to use through making new connections and compromises?
After thousands of years of a reductive binary approach to political, philosophical, economic and sociological problems, we have let our imagination ossify within a hopelessly narrow perspective.
The need for a more imaginative mindset is now pressing and urgent to overcome entrenching societies in increasing addiction to the binary political extremes of the far left and far right that suppress the more complex, ambiguous and useful middle ground.
We need the mental strength to hold ourselves open to the changing complexity and uncertainty of reality whist we build pragmatic compromises for a better world that can only materialise from using the full capacity of our human imagination untethered from limiting polarisations.
It is one of the primary reasons I am passionate about the work of public art galleries, because they actively help open up the full power and freedom of our imagination, giving us new options and hopeful visions that each of us is capable of creating.
Esther Richardson: Artistic director, Pilot Theatre
In my conversations with the young people we are working with, I’m acutely aware of how shockingly disadvantaged they are by our current system compared with previous generations. We now have the highest university tuition fees in the world, but under current minimum wage legislation you’re not even entitled to equal pay till you’re 25 years old.
In an increasingly unequal world, it’s more important than ever that younger people have platforms for self-expression, to share what matters to them and the challenges they face. That’s why we’re making Eighteen next year. This film-making project by 17 year olds from Yorkshire will capture the story of what it’s like to turn 18 in 2018. There’s also a real and pressing need for these kinds of projects for young people over 14 because the arts and humanities are no longer compulsory at school for this group.
Thanks to an EU-funded project, Eighteen is also happening in Italy and Portugal next year and will give some UK teens the chance to go abroad for the first time in their lives. To show new countries to those who have not ever experienced them, and to give younger people a chance to understand the true international context of their lives, is one of the most important things of all we will do next year to make the world a better place.
Ian Beesley: Photographer
I’ve always thought that the poet and super tramp WH Davis had the right idea when he wrote, ‘What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?’
Perhaps the world could become a better place if people were encouraged to pause from their hectic lives and look at the world around them. Look at the communities they live in, look at the environments we are creating and destroying.
A sad side effect of our digital age seems to be that, so often the view, the panorama, can only be witnessed via a selfie. So I would encourage people to put down their smartphones, their Kindles, their iPads and their tablets and look out of the windows, look at the world around them. After all it doesn’t cost anything, it does no harm, but it just might inspire some good looking after the things we have and in a small way make the world a better place.
Joyce Branagh: Theatre director
I would make it compulsory for the government to fund artistic projects that bring together children from differing backgrounds to work together. Yorkshire is comprised of a huge range of different people – a mix of different cultures, religions, skin colours and social backgrounds. Sometimes these differences can act as a division, creating a ‘them and us’ feeling, which leads to huge problems in our county. I believe this distrust comes mainly from a lack of interaction with people who aren’t ‘like us’ – we fear what we don’t know.
Art, dance, music, film and drama all have the ability to lift people’s spirits – to sing in a choir, act in a play or make a short film and reach a shared goal, working together – can be a life-changing experience.
If this is also combined with working with other children from differing backgrounds to our own, it can be an enormous learning experience that those children can take through life. Lots of projects like this are already happening and are making huge strides for the communities of tomorrow. But we need more.
Cherie Federico: Founder of Aesthetica magazine
The world has changed. Amid the consistent rise in globalisation, digitalisation and separation, this year has been particularly complicated. We are living in uncertain times and everything is moving at a cataclysmic speed. Fear, isolationism and populism are the becoming part of the language used in contemporary society. In order to move forward, we must look at the unprecedented rate of change and try to decipher it in the most empathetic, selfless, humane way.
Alternative facts are becoming a reality and post-truth is something we must dissect and question as the rise of radical politics is snowballing into acts of extreme nationalism. These destructive systems of thought will only be overthrown if we engage in acts of understanding and compassion, pulling together rather than apart.
Finally, and perhaps more optimistically, we must look towards the arts. They are the mechanism through which we make sense of what’s happening around us, reminding us of our humanity and connecting us on a universal scale that usurps the metaphorical and literal walls being built between us.
Peter Murray: Executive director, Yorkshire Sculpture Park
If we could eliminate greed and prejudice we would be in a better position to create a more equal society with respect for diverse cultural values and human dignity. Without the magic wand, however, I would like to see a UN initiative to sponsor an international Gap project enabling young people to live and work across cultures and continents. This would be the best way to understand that what binds us humans together is greater than what divides us.
Revolt and Revolutions, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, to April 15. ysp.org.uk