Our Man in Guanajuato: insights on arts networks inspired by Mexico

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I recently spent a few days in Mexico, as a guest of the Mexican equivalent of the Arts Council, the National Council for Culture and Arts. I was there with 90 delegates from around the world (but oddly only 2 of us from the UK) to see a showcase of the country’s leading music, theatre and dance productions.

The shows were a mixed bunch, but the one that really came alive for me was set in a wrestling ring in a town square called La Impro Lucha  (see pic below). It was basically improv comedy and I’ve no idea if the jokes were that good (my Spanish is very limited), but being part of a large crowd, who were enthusiastically – and very vocally – responding to the performance, made the experience. They weren’t just passive audience members; they were actively involved in creating the experience and it was clear that the show couldn’t happen in the same way without them. The difference from sitting in an auditorium with a group of (jaded?) promoters and producers, as we had been for the majority of the trip, was marked.

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The difference reminded me of the disappointment I’ve often felt, seeing a play in the slightly sterile atmosphere of say a West End theatre. It often feels as if the action on stage is happening regardless of our presence; that one audience is as good as any other.

One of the most exciting things for me about the Albany is how often the audience  seems engaged in a much more active – sometimes vocal – way, making the experience feel richer and , well, communal. You feel you’re actually participating in something rather than observing it from afar. There are numerous reasons why this is, of course: due credit must be given to the artists we work with. But I’ve always felt that our audiences have a particularly strong sense of ownership of the Albany: that this venue, and the work within its walls, belongs to them. And they’d better let us know exactly what they think about it.

This all forms part of a larger conversation about community forming in the arts: who our communities are, and how they truly feel they have a stake in the work we undertake, not only at a local level but nationally and internationally. Talking to artists and producers from across Mexico helped me see the realities of working on the ground, and get a sense of the connections we could make, and what that might mean to artists and audiences in London.

The conversation often turned to comparing how artists and companies work together in each country, and what that can achieve.  I talked about a new partnership for arts centres across the UK which the Albany has been involved with forming. We have also been reflecting on how we can support networks at a local level in Lewisham.

Deptford reputedly has more artists per square metre than anywhere else in London. Across Lewisham there are so many people and organisations working in the arts, making a huge contribution to the life of the borough and beyond.

It’s crucial that we work together to sustain and build on the fantastic creative culture locally. To this end, we are launching What Next? Lewisham, a local chapter of What Next?  a movement bringing together arts and cultural organisations from across the UK, to articulate and strengthen the role of culture in our society. You can learn more about it here.

The first meeting will take place on 26th November, 9am, and we’d be delighted to see anyone who is interested in the future of the arts in Lewisham – whether that be professionally, as a student or audience member, there.

For more details please contact amber@thealbany.org.uk

Gavin Barlow. CEO, The Albany

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Photos:

  1. Street performers in Guanajuato
  2. ‘La Impro Lucha’ – theatre, music and wrestling in the town square
  3. Guanajuato, Mexico
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