5 January 2017

A Happy New Year from Walk the Plank

At our staff Christmas lunch before the holiday break I made a brief speech to thank everyone for their hard work in helping us create yet another year of spectacle through our various outdoor arts productions, both here in the UK and abroad.

It has been a rewarding yet demanding year for Walk the Plank with some notable highpoints, including staging the northern element of the national celebrations for our Rio Olympic Games Heroes with a parade through Manchester in October.  But it has not been without its hiccups too.  Although any organisation on the cusp of its first quarter century in business would not have got this far without a few bumps and scrapes – it’s just that the wider landscape against which we and so many others operate has changed beyond all recognition.

I concluded by summarily dismissing 2016 as a challenging year, wished it good riddance and declared with a toast that 2017 would be considerably better.  Apart from the roll call of iconic names from the world of arts and entertainment leaving us for other celestial planes, 2016 threw at us some jaw dropping moments of political melt-down.  Indeed such was our shock at the first of these that we felt compelled to share our thoughts on the impact of Brexit here. It was a disappointment, not just for us, but for everyone in the arts, and so many other sectors, who see that we are stronger and richer as a society by sharing the different perspectives that people bring from their different cultures.

And while this disappointment was compounded by the outcome of the US election, perhaps what both these seismic events have shown us is that now, in these uncertain times, our chosen field of outdoor arts is perhaps the perfect antidote to a gamut of raw feelings that have come to the fore in communities up and down the UK, and beyond our shores.

2017 won’t be a better year just by willing it to be. We need to remain fixed on our vision to leave a positive and lasting legacy through what we do.  On so many different projects we have seen the difference our work has made by giving people from all cultures and walks of life a sense of place, a sense of identity and a sense of pride.  From our work on Liverpool 2008 European Capital of Culture, and with communities in Derry-Londonderry, the first ever UK Capital of Culture in 2013, as well as parades in towns and cities such as  Paisley,  Newcastle,  and Manchester one thing is abundantly clear – a community that plays together stays together.  Just take a look at our showreel which shows how we go about our work.

This year, Hull takes centre stage as the UK Capital of Culture, a city once voted as one of the worst places to live in the UK, and cited by the Economist as one of the UK’s decaying towns.  How things have changed.  Hull is now a city with enormous pride and self-confidence and the dynamic programme of events this year will no doubt provide so many different people and artists with a platform to express themselves.  We already saw this happen while evolving and shaping its Freedom Festival during our three year tenure as Artistic Directors 2013-15.

Despite the uncertain European political landscape we’re really proud to be driving forward our pan European School of Spectacle which sees creative practitioners and artists from five European countries Cyprus, Lithuania, Ireland, Bulgaria and Greece share skills, develop talent and create collaborative outdoor productions that share our rich tapestry of European heritage.  The work from our first School in Pafos last autumn comes to fruition this January with elements forming the opening ceremony to mark Pafos 2017 European Capital of Culture. Our thanks to Creative Europe and Stavros Niarchos Foundation for supporting our vision during these uncertain times.

Finally, as we enter our 25th year we embark on our long planned relocation (albeit just a mile down the road) to Cobden Works, our new creative hub in Salford, an exciting new space lead funded by Arts Council England that will enable us to bring creative practitioners, makers, and our head office functions together under one roof along with a dedicated learning facility.  We look forward to making a big noise about our new home, due for completion in the spring, with a series of events throughout 2017.


Sadly, 2017 has already seen the loss of another key figure in the world of arts. John Berger , the art critic and Booker Prize Winner who made appreciating art accessible and meaningful to everyone through his 1972 TV series and book ‘Ways of seeing’ has died at the age of 90.  So, perhaps the final word on 2017 should rest with him – not least because what we do at Walk the Plank is always based on a belief that we can make a difference by channelling the collective energies of individuals and artists to produce something that expresses what they want to say when so many other forms of communication have fallen short.

“Hope is not a form of guarantee; it’s a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.”

Happy New Year

Liz Pugh, John Wassell and everyone at Walk the Plank

(Photo: Europia, who represent East and Central Europeans across Greater Manchester present Science Marries Folklore at Manchester Day 2016, commissioned by Manchester City Council)