20 December 2018

Happy Christmas and best wishes for a new year filled with light, optimism and hope

At the time of writing, as we head towards the shortest and darkest day of the year, the chaos and uncertainty that is occupying our political leaders has become an all too prevalent story when, surely, so many other things need our attention.  The world in which we live does seem a particularly gloomy place, both literally and metaphorically.

The Brexit issue preoccupies us all at Walk the Plank, not just because it affects our future but because it strikes right to heart of what we, as an arts organisation, strive to achieve by working with artists and communities of all nationalities, faiths and cultures.

As we said in Our thoughts on Brexit after the 2016 referendum, we genuinely believe that we are stronger together.  We can readily testify to this following the successful completion of our European School of Spectacle, lead funded by Creative Europe, which brought together over 130 creative practitioners from eight European countries to develop their outdoor arts practice through producing six events in public space in four cities (and one small village, in Limerick County).

Looking back on other 2018 projects, it’s reassuring to see that our work continues to draw people together in many shared moments of celebration: a collaborative journey of discovery and co-creation remains a tried and tested formula that works on so many levels.

As we saw in the creation of our ninth Manchester Day in June, community groups really do become empowered when they work together with artists to create striking visual images that are given the most public of platforms when paraded through a city centre.  2018’s theme – Word on the Street – enabled people to make a noise about a range of issues that resonated with them – from the devastating impact of plastic on the environment, to the 100th anniversary of the Suffragettes’ success in securing votes for women.

Our national identities are often expressed in fervent patriotic ways, as we saw with the 2018 World Cup which virtually brought our nation to a halt during the scorching heat of July.  But it was on one of the coldest days of 2018, back in February, when we marked another sporting moment with the  Paralympic Flame Lighting Ceremony  at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium to coincide with the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Exclusion can be challenged in various ways, and while sport has clearly gathered together a global community of Paralympic athletes, the world of contemporary arts is also beginning to show its might in empowering people with disabilities to voice issues that matter to them.  Which is why we’re delighted that we’re working with one of Europe’s leading learning disability theatre companies Mind the Gap  to stage Zara: Daughters of Fortune  in 2019. This exciting collaboration will challenge how we – as individuals, society and the state – perceive motherhood and parental responsibility when a giant baby is entrusted to the mother who bore her.

But before we embark on our Spring programme, we still have long winter nights to grapple with. We’re indebted to our tireless team of firework fusers and pyrotechnicians who play a pivotal role in an impressive programme of dazzling displays which light up the skies from October through to New Year’s Eve.  This year we’ve helped the people of Tower Hamlets celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror Frankenstein, and created a mythical bonfire sculpture in the form of a serpent, the Larne Leviathan, in Northern Ireland – not to mention the Winter Wonderland displays at CenterParcs, the New Year’s Eve fireworks for NewcastleGateshead, and various smaller shows.

Every culture and faith has different ways of celebrating the power of light over darkness, and this year we embarked on a collaboration with Kadam Dance to create a new touring show, Sacred Fires, which made its 2018 debut at the Dashehra Diwali Mela finale in Manchester. Watching the audience respond to this powerful celebration of Indian temple dance was another testimony to our unwavering belief that we can all enjoy each other’s cultures, and in doing so, become more expansive in our viewpoints and more inclusive in the way we work and live together.

If Brexit is teaching us one thing, it’s the power of belief in a cause. Regardless of your viewpoint, belief and conviction are powerful forces.

And so are light and hope.  In his latest book ‘Living with the Gods’, Neil McGregor cites the fascinating example of the Newgrange Monument, a massive Neolithic burial mound c3200 BC in Ireland, for its power to capture light at the most unlikely day of the year.  Such is the mathematical accuracy of its alignment with the rising sun that, on the day of the Winter Solstice, a spear of light enters through a roof box of this burial mound – casting light on the inner tomb for exactly 17 minutes.

So, for 2019, we hope that light and optimism will cast their magic on all your creative projects and enterprises, whatever and wherever they may be.

“The strange power of art is sometimes that it shows that what people have in common is more urgent than what differentiates them.”   John Berger

Happy Christmas and all the very best for 2019.

Images: Manchester Day 2018, the lead image depicting the rising sea waters and melting ice caps that characterise climate change; lantern making with families in Co.Limerick, Ireland; Sacred Fires for Dashehra Diwali Mela.