Fresh Streets #2 Street Arts Conference in Santa Maria de Feira, Portugal.
Portugal has been a real treat. Who doesn’t want to eat fresh tomatoes, view a diverse range street theatre and talk about art in a hotchpotch hybrid of broken French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German? I feel very grateful to have been selected as part of the ISAN delegation to Fresh Streets #2 and am happy to share as much of the experience as possible with other members.
Stepping away from work and regular responsibilities liberates time and in this fresh mental space, new work takes place. Removing myself from “The Real World”, I’ve stepped into a landscape of thought that I normally only explore in the creative process. It’s lovely, if a bit indulgent, to inhabit that world, uninterrupted, for an extended period of time and meet so many other professionals from our tribe on the same “trip”. It really did feel like those engaged in the conversation were developing and progressing street arts, live in the room.
After three days of presentations, conversations and debates, the flood has abated and I’d like to offer what’s washed up. I am saturated with information, mostly biased by my own interest, but if I’ve learnt anything, it’s that often experiences are universal. So, here’s a few of my Fresh Streets #2 take-aways:
No 1. – RAGE, RAGE WILD BEASTS
(In response to Keynote speech by Noeline Kavanagh, Macnus)
Street artists can and should be creative anarchists, redefining the order of public space to the benefit of beauty. In a world that needs fun and love more than ever, we must be wilder, braver, more provocative and less patient. What are we waiting for?
No 2. – REACH OUT AND TOUCH
(In response to a conversation with Miguel from Project Ez)
We make theatre in the street because we want to connect with audiences directly. Street Theatre steps between the audience and their technology or social media. It offers unsanctioned and thrilling moments of human connection that people didn’t even realize they needed. A fantastic example of this was Su A Feu by Deabru Beltzak, holding the street to ransom. Tight, machismo and thrillingly intimidating, they left a nervous and giddy crowd in their wake. I also loved the brilliantly curated Steli by Stalker Theatro, for this reason, literally bringing people together in spontaneous creative connection.
No 3. – GOOGLE DOESN’T HAVE ALL THE ANWSERS
(In response to Rita De Graeve Policy Adviser for Culture and Economy, Belgium)
There are so many skilled professionals beyond our existing network that are well placed to guide us as individual practitioners and companies if we just make the effort to identify them. We must not presume we have an acceptable understanding of law, finance, policy or business just because we navigate it as part of our work. We must also not presume that non-arts practitioners don’t understand our creative practice or that they are somehow incapable relaying their knowledge creatively. If you don’t ask for advice and help, you are only liable for you own lack of knowledge
No 4. – AN IDEA IS JUST AN IDEA
(Copyright in Street Arts Workshop with Matthias Rettner and Teresa Nobre)
ARTISTS: If you do nothing else today, read this and get savvy about copyright and how it impacts your practice as makers and doers.
I know too many artists who site occasions where they feel that their material or ideas have been copied but their name has not remained attached to their ideas or is credited. The law protects intellectual property as the expression of the idea, for performance artist this is the show. Here lies a problem, because in order to acquire funding/commissioning we must be transparent and tell people about our ideas before the show is made. The law does not protect shared ideas, but to my mind they feel like they exclusively belong to the artist. Lawyer, Teresa Nobre, said the only thing we can do to protect our ideas (before they become a tangible expression and made into work) is to arrange a confidentiality agreement. To extend the trust between commissioners, funders and applicants, perhaps all application processes should include a confidentiality clause, leaving artists confident that their ideas remain their ideas, especially if they are not awarded the commission in the first instance.
(In response to the Manchester Arena Bomb.)
This trip is stained with guilt. We stepped away and relinquished the horror of Manchester’s recent bombing. How dare we have such a heartening experience when families who live near us are engulfed in a searing new Hell?
Unexpectedly, I found myself reflecting upon my journey from a 1980’s childhood in a divided Northern Ireland to a career and love affair with Outdoor Arts and creative interruption in public spaces. I know what it feels like to wake-up to bad news and realize it’s not going away. The darkness goes on and on and sometimes gets closer and it’s difficult to imagine a world where things are different, where peace reigns. I didn’t experience outdoor arts (bar the odd busker) until I was well into my 20’s because congregating people in public spaces was deemed agitating in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland however is a great demonstration of hope. In parallel to the contagion of extreme politics, I truly believe that acts of kindness, art and inspiration only risk epidemics of the same. If you stop using public spaces for culture and connection because of fear, terror wins. We must occupy the streets, now more than ever, populating our cities and towns with acts of peace, reconciliation, understanding and hope. Who says we should feel safe all the time? I have small children and like any mother I live with permanent low-lying anxiety about their safety and well-being. But what am I teaching them about the transformative power of art and culture, our power as artists to shape the world we live in, if I keep them tucked up safe at home?