Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Backdrop to the birth of the poem 'The Arts Manager'

I had volunteered at a charity for adults with learning difficulties as 'Basic Education Learner Support Volunteer' in its 'Computer Club' and become more aware of what else was going on around me within that charity. It had a Thursday night 'drop-in' cafe for service users at which wholesome food was prepared for the customers.

Through discussion with the Acting Arts Manager of the place, who was also the main organiser of the 'drop-in' cafe, I also realised that as an amateur entertainer I might have something to contribute in a reciprocal way with an audience of [other] adults with learning difficulties.

It was some years since I had been 'Resident Court Jester' at Julie Felix' and Marianne Segal's Magic Messenger Club, and communicating with an audience had always appealed to me more than Simon Cowell-type-competition 'stardom'. The then Acting Arts Manager was very welcoming of my idea of my entertaining that audience, and so I went along with my guitar and provided musical shakers to audience members to help further their participation and inclusion. That also tied in with a renaissance period regarding my creativity and I made the most of it while I could, writing new words to a traditional melody presenting a sense of common cause with the socially undervalued audience, and sharing humorous and children's songs from my Magic Messenger Club act, and more.

The Arts Manager also told me in a very inspiring way that while she was not comfortable with using computers, she had done a presentation about Nobel Peace Prize Winner, the Kenyan Wangara Maathai in a PowerPoint slide show.(1) I felt that Maathai's work against deforestation was an excellent metaphor for what we were creating in that 'drop-in' cafe where I was a cabaret performer, despite having been told many years ago that I had no potential as a singer.

Though my cabaret singer role there fizzled out as an Arts Manager with different priorities was appointed instead of The [Acting] Arts Manager for whom that poem was written, I treasure the memories of what we shared together in that space and will leave this story with an image that highlights what we created there.

One of the service users was a wheelchair user requiring intensive care including the care required in being fed. (The word 'require' connotes rights as well as need and responsibilities, as Disability Equality Trainer Michèle Tayler told a class I had participated in in 2004.) The one-handed use of a musical shaker helped ensure her inclusion and a transformation in her mood, as her face and her whole being 'lit up' and she might as well have been 'The Belle of the Ball', as her smile beamed so radiantly!

It's years since I was last in touch with that [Acting] Arts Manager who facilitated such transformations in service users, and as I thus don't have her permission to name her here, I shan't but I take the opportunity of celebrating what she accomplished by publishing this story and the poem The Arts Manager.(2)

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