Magnetic North help experienced artists. Why would they do that? Isn’t that like offering to help an elite athlete cross the road? Or polishing a Formula One car?
Before we can even begin to have this conversation, we must first look at what an experienced artist does. The myth is that they sit around all day, thinking self-indulgent thoughts then pouring them out onto canvas, or the page, or in a little dance. If their work is good, they will leave the grubby Art World behind, for the glitzy world of Meeja. That’s how we know if they’re ‘worth’ something. Because they’re rich and famous.
The reality couldn’t be further than the truth. I have met hundreds of veteran artists and the vast majority were poor. No money. No pension. No mortgage. No wellbeing. No security. No promotion. No basic stuff like, “a six-month appraisal” because there are no appraisals, just darn hard work, eking out a living, year after year. And lots and lots of No’s.
A mature artist isn’t a Formula One car, it’s an old postal van. In a world of flashy cars, the postal van is easily overlooked but it does a darn good job. A low-cost, low-key delivery system for helping others communicate and appreciate what it is to be human.
Arts funding, what there is of it, tends to favour the young and good luck to them. The default option to improve a town, is to buy it a shiny new moped. Who wouldn’t cheer as some fledgling artist wobbles out of their garage for the very first time? But then what? What happens when bits of that moped fall off? What happens, decades later, when the moped has rust but can’t afford an MOT? That’s the question we should be asking. Who services the old postal van with 200,000 miles on the clock? I’m going to repeat that number because it’s important. 200,000 miles of graft, craft and grit.
In my own work, I’ve helped every stratum of society to share their stories. From surgeons to self-harmers, ‘tower block’ kids to the terminally ill, gay groups to people who didn’t know there WAS a group, people who’ve survived Cancer, Failure, Pain, HIV, FGM, stigma and all the consequences that follow, Bright Young Things whose moped wheel has fallen off and those who only had one wheel to start with, yet still went on to win the race.
My role is not to ‘raise awareness’. It’s to take positive, practical, pro-active steps to ensure that awareness is acted upon, for the good of Society as a whole. Because the thing about the postal van is, it’s not about the van, it’s about the town it serves.
For example, I was part of the team that created the first online play for the Royal Shakespeare Company, a major educational outreach programme that appeared on 25 million Tweets. That’s one hell of an ‘outreach’ for one little van. For the Chatham Placemaking Project, I captured the voice of an entire working-class town and had it set into the pavement, so the voice, soul and history of the community ‘literally’ rose up from the streets. Every NHS Leader I help, drops new magic into the pool and the ripples benefit everyone. My postal round is huge, so if nothing else, it is very cost-efficient to service the van. It’s town’s ‘emotional broadband’.
Being an artist is the best job in the world but after 22 years, I needed a pause to take stock. I’m not rusty or broken, just wanted to check in with an experienced mechanic, to fine tune my engine.
So, I’m incredibly grateful to Magnetic North and Red Bridge Arts. They scooped me up, with TLC and spruced up my van. They had a very nice garage at Cove Park on the West Coast of Scotland, where I met other vans and together, we shared our own stories, of which there were many. I left refreshed, all buffed up and shiny, and headed back to work. That’s where I am now. Giving a voice to the voiceless.
Rob Young is a veteran writer and fledgling artist. In October 2019, he attended a Space/Time Residency at Cove Park on Scotland’s West Coast. For further details of how you can take part, click here.