2015 and all that.

I clicked on that facebook ‘Review of your 2015’ thing and it threw up 4 random photos, 3 of which I don’t even recognise.  So here’s my own pretty random review of 2015’s highlights without the aid of friendface. No world events, no links I clicked or petitions I signed, just things I remember doing. Thanks to everyone who helped make this a memorable year. Here’s to a happy and peaceful 2016.

moonwalk startTHE MOONWALK: The first five months of the year were dominated by training for this overnight marathon through London. Being of an age, Louise Timothy and I took the organisers’ advice and checked in with a podiatrist beforehand. I was ridiculously excited to be told I have mechanically perfect feet, my joy only slightly tempered by the situation from the ankles up. Setting off at the dead of night on 16 May, we crossed the finishing line the following morning, raising £1,593.18 for breast cancer charities through the generosity of friends and colleagues.

 

19194867530_73454c1ee8_kOUT ALOUD 1: What happens when you put Sheffield’s LGBT choir, the Friends of Edward Carpenter and Radio 2 Folk Music award nominees in a room ten days after the, shall we say disappointing, general election? The perfect musical antidote is what – a full house at Firth Hall for a concert with inspirational new songs written by Out Aloud’s musical director, Val Regan and “exquisite harmonies that truly shine” from O’Hooley & Tidow, restoring spirits, recovering mojo and generally cheering each other up. As an aside, I’d finished the Moonwalk marathon at 8 o’clock that morning and needed to be back in Sheffield for the final rehearsal at 2 p.m. The train guard (sorry, Revenue Protection Manager) spotted all the Moonwalkers heading back up north, asked where each one of us was getting off and stirred us from our gaping mouthed slumbers just before our destinations. What a gent.

docfestSHEFFIELD DOCFEST: There were 20 venues, two opening galas, virtual reality at Site Gallery (the big hit with festival goers). And then there was an hour spent in a darkened room listening to a radio documentary in Danish, with subtitles projected onto the screen. Rikke Houd’s THE WOMAN ON ICE unpicks the story of Karen Roos, a Danish woman who disappeared outside the settlement of Angmassalik in Greenland in 1933. The threads, the voices and the atmospheric soundscape were mesmerising. A deserved winner of the festival’s In The Dark Audio Award.

 

bette midlerBETTE MIDLER: “I know you’re all going to want to sing along to this one… Please don’t. There’s only room for one diva in this room.” And there was. She worked an Arena crowd like a cabaret room and it was marvellous. If not for Bette my best live gig of the year would have gone to Sharleen Spiteri and Texas on their 25th anniversary tour. Another sound woman who can work a room.

 

 

THE SUN AND THE MOON: Oh the portents… moonThe total eclipse was seen via my phone’s JMW Turner mode; the blue moon was via the Impressionist mode. On the night of September’s blood moon I woke at 3.01 a.m. precisely and took it as a message from the gods to get my photographic act together, dig out the proper camera and catch the event in slightly sharper focus.

 

BRUGES: Remembering the dead. Celebrating life. Visiting the First World War battlefields, cemeteries and the Menin Gate for the first time since a school trip many years ago. We also spent time at Langemark, a German war cemetery. On both sides, the scale is so immense and sobering. Two things in particular evoked the personal stories behind the numbers:

  • Andrew Tatham’s poignant history and art project based on 21 years’ research into the lives of the men captured in A GROUP PHOTOGRAPH – Before, Now & In-Between at the Flanders Fields museum.
  • Meeting a mourner at the Irish Farm cemetery (so called because Irish regiments had been based in the farm buildings just outside Ypres). She didn’t seem that much older than me. She had found the grave of her uncle. She had not known him, obviously. Her mother, just a baby when he left for war, had not known him. In the hundred years since he was laid to rest there, no other member of the family had ever visited his grave. She cried as though she was crying for them all.

Bruges itself was as beautiful, charming, mediaeval, cobbled, beery and chocolatey as you could hope for.

germanyOUT ALOUD 2: Our friends Heart Core in Mönchengladbach were not only celebrating their 20th anniversary but also offering a masterclass in hospitality – food, drink, singing at their homes, singing in the street, singing in a lantern parade, singing at their concert, singing in a crypt. And then there was the cheesy disco. Some of the choir brushed up their German in advance. To my shame, I wasn’t one of them but I tried my best with Arschloch (rude) and the ‘boom boom’ of “Ich gei mit meiner laterne, boom boom”. All the right booms, not necessarily in the right order. Danke.

 

20151117_144230THE HURST ARVON CENTRE: A week in John Osborne’s former house. Writing, listening and story telling. How lucky was that?No phone signal. No wi-fi. And I imagine the first time Thomas Mann’s ‘Death In Venice has ever been greeted with howls of laughter (charades).

 

 

AH openingTHE ART HOUSE, Wakefield: Opened! A Grade II building saved. A community of 34 artists built. Three years of hard work rewarded. Some friends for life made.

 

 

 

WALKS AROUND SHEFFIELD: In all weathers, with the best companions and most wondrous sights.

mud monthA little reminder that pre-Roman Britons called February ‘Solmanath’ – mud month.

 

 

 

jazz in snowA dawg.

 

 

 

 

agnus deiA mediaeval altar piece – I’m thinking ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lambs’.

 

 

 

SITE GALLERY: My rewards for chairing Site’s board over the past six years have been many. Watching the gallery blossom under Laura Sillars and Judith Harry has been a joy, as has being introduced to the ideas of artists and collectors from around the world, culminating in GOING PUBLIC: International Art Collectors – a collaboration between collectors and Sheffield’s visual arts venues to share the best and most challenging contemporary art and artists. As if that wasn’t enough of a high to stand down on, I was presented with two works by Zoe Beloff, one of the artists in Site’s ‘family’ whose work I most admire. An absolute surprise and joy. Oh you shouldn’t have, but… yes please and thank you. What a lovely way to end the year.

AND FINALLY, SWFC:

Weds3Arse0“We’ll always have Paris Arsenal. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca Hillsborough. We got it back last night.” As Ingrid Bergman almost said. Happy New Year, everyone.

 

A little bit of history and a lot of future.

When I first walked into the Carnegie Library in Wakefield almost 3 years ago it was cold, dark, damp, stripped of all its books, but not unloved. Though the staff and users had moved to new premises 12 months beforehand, they and other Wakefield residents held on to their fond memories and hoped the library would somehow be brought back into public use.

Today, following a £3M refurbishment, the building is officially re-opening in its new guise as 34 artists’ studios run by The Art House, Wakefield. The team that made this mighty transformation happen includes an award-winning brass bander, an illustrator, the star of a classic 1980s pop video, a burlesque artiste and a make-up guru. Only in the arts.

In February 2013 my job was to bring the Old Library back to life, guided by plans originally set out in 2011 that had stalled due to lack of funding.

Year one was spent mainly instilling belief that the project would happen, meeting Arts Council funding conditions, securing £1.5M from Europe and transferring the lease from Wakefield Council. Paperwork was involved. Meanwhile, the condition of the Grade II listed library was deteriorating as rain came in through the roof, the windows and the floors, pigeons made merry in the cupola and a tired and emotional citizen of Wakefield propped herself up against the stone balustrade. Both she and the stonework took a tumble.

The following 18+ months were spent mainly instilling belief that the project would happen (that’s a bit of a constant in capital projects), and procuring the contractors – the builders, the asbestos removers, the metal workers, the historic paint samplers. After which:

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18 layers of paint were stripped off the walls to reveal handmade arts & craft tile work.

The original cast iron radiators were blasted and fitted.

A lasagne of floor coverings was peeled back to reveal the original parquet flooring.

A ramshackle history of 20th century wiring was pulled out, along with pipes, conduits and phone sockets.

Historic paint schemes were agreed, disagreed, agreed again.

The weather vane was removed and restored.

Two buildings on slightly different levels became one.

The roof was re-leaded.

Pods and partitions were installed.

Lighting schemes were agreed, disagreed, agreed again.

People said you’ll never fill the studios.

New studio holders and office tenants moved in.

The project was completed – on time and on budget.

 

Was it worth it? A little bit of history and a lot of future.

 

Early postcard showing ill-fate stone balustrade

Early postcard showing ill-fated stone balustrade

Built in 1905, Wakefield’s library was one of 660 in the UK and Ireland made possible with assistance from the Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. At the time it was criticized for its cost (£8,000 from Carnegie, plus a penny rate levied by the council) and its appearance (a ‘plain, barn looking building’).

The design had been put out to competition. Of 81 submissions, Surrey-based Trimmell, Cox and Davison won the contract. Their budget was based on London prices. Finding materials and labour much cheaper in Yorkshire, they were able to respond to the ‘barn’ criticism by creating a neo-Baroque style topped by a wooden cupola with leaded cap and an ornate iron weathervane.

The foundation stone was laid by lord mayor Henry Childe in February 1905. Carnegie himself – “just a quiet, well-dressed little man, with nothing in feature, figure or apparel to suggest any special distinction except his big head and large top hat” – formally opened the library in June 1906.

So that’s a bit of the history and one reason for preserving the building. The second reason is the people who will be using it.

“… A brilliant resource for Wakefield and Yorkshire. With leading facilities it can host national and international artists, provide a flexible and supportive workspace for visual artists and showcase the best of visual arts.” (Arts Council England, Feb 2014)

The Art House was established in 1994 by a group of artists with a vision to provide fully-accessible studio space, where disabled and non-disabled artists could work side by side. In 2008, The Art House ‘Phase 1’ building opened on Drury Lane in Wakefield, with exemplary access for people with physical and sensory disabilities.

Now, with the doubling of facilities provided through the Old Library project The Art House can continue to develop and work towards removing barriers for artists through residencies, professional development and mentoring and extending its remit through new activity challenging conventional approaches to diversity and the arts.

The opening, fittingly on the International Day of People with Disability, is an opportunity to show off the building. More importantly, it is a showcase for the work of a new creative community of artists who now have a base in the centre of Wakefield.

As the wonderfully committed project team would say, “You’re welcome.”

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