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Photo: Simon Buckley
Grandad, an artist who has experienced homelessness, is one of 33 people behind the “Doodle on Ducie Street” mural, part of the International Arts and Homelessness Festival and Summit in Manchester, UK. The event used art as part of a holistic approach to tackling homelessness.

So many initiatives to address the world’s problems feel like a drop in the bucket, but I have to believe that the bucket can be filled — even if it’s only one drop at a time, even if some drops spill out along the way and have to be replaced. Little things mean a lot if they hit a person just at the moment of receptivity.

In England, a homelessness summit last fall tested the potential of art to spark conversations between haves and have-nots and also to give homeless people a reason to get up in the morning. Helen Lock has the story at the Guardian.

“Two armchairs are facing each other in the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester. Denise Harrison, a mental health blogger with past experience of homelessness, is sitting in one of them, waiting for questions.

“A member of the public sits down opposite her, and tentatively asks if she thinks it’s OK to give money to people on the street, as charities discourage it. ‘It’s down to personal choice – you shouldn’t feel bad if you do or if don’t,’ replies Harrison. ‘Some worry it’s enabling addictions, but it’s also providing someone with the option to pay for shelter. On the street, someone can end up with several free McDonald’s burgers but nowhere to sleep that night.’ …

“Dialogues are part of a performance artwork called Are You Sitting Comfortably? by the artist Emma Turner, who felt the public were becoming inured to homelessness in Manchester. The official number of rough sleepers was 278 in 2017, a 41% increase on the previous year, but the true number of its homeless people – counting those in temporary accommodation – is likely to be much higher.

“As Harrison says of her time suffering with alcohol addiction and sofa surfing after the breakdown of her marriage: ‘It’s scary how quickly a situation that was so abnormal became normal, my new normal. It can happen to anyone.’

”The work was part of the inaugural International Arts and Homelessness Festival and Summit, running 12-18 November [2018], which explored a potentially contentious idea: the role of arts and culture in tackling homelessness.

“Manchester was chosen for the event because the city council’s homelessness strategy for the next five years explicitly includes a commitment to increasing access to arts, and because of how the city’s cultural sector has stepped forward to provide support for the council’s plan. …

“Third sector organisations began working together to approach the council, consulting businesses, universities, cultural organisations and the faith sector, as well as people with experience of homelessness. Their findings underpinned the new Manchester Homelessness Charter. … Officials will now work towards what is described as a jigsaw of homelessness support approaches, rather than focusing exclusively on immediate needs such as shelter and healthcare. This includes the chance to meet people, build skills and have fun. …

“But how would this approach work in practice when the crisis is so severe? Beth Knowles, an adviser on homelessness for the mayor’s office, reiterated that the call for a more holistic approach came from homelessness services themselves – even frontline providers such as the night shelters.

“ ‘I’ve spoken to some about trialling the jigsaw approach,’ she said, ‘and while it might not seem the most immediate thing when you’re trying to find beds, some see the value in maybe having some singing or photography sessions on site, because it’s worked well.

‘Of course, not every council officer is going to see this as a priority. But to do something, it doesn’t have to be a priority. It’s part of a whole package. It’s about what that individual needs and offering it.’

“[According to Amanda Croome, chief executive of the Booth Centre, a day facility for people who are homeless or at risk,] ‘We find that if you put someone into a flat and they have no support network, no interests and nothing to do, then very often in six months they’ll be back on the street. What the arts do is give people a new perspective.’

“Lawrence McGill has become an avid gardener since first becoming a regular visitor to the Booth Centre, filling salvaged containers with soil and seeds. He has also written poetry, and a song, ‘Spinning Plates,’ about juggling life’s hardships. ‘My life started the day I stepped into this place.’ ”

Read about other aspects of the festival, including a description of the “immersive opera” Man on a Bench, here.

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Although black history is not a one-month-a-year-thing, having a dedicated month does seem to turn up stories that might not otherwise be heard. I got this one from the BBC television show Our Classical Century, “a celebration of the most memorable musical moments from 1918 – 2018,” which focused on broadening the audience for classical music.

In this episode, Sir Lenny Henry expressed admiration for forgotten black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

“I have been enthralled and captivated by the story of a man from Croydon in south London who died more than 100 years ago and who wrote one of the biggest musical hits of the 20th century. He was a total genius – a bit like Prince, but for late 19th-century London rather than 1980s California – and his name was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. …

“Young Samuel was brought up by his mother and her extended family in Croydon. He never met his doctor father, Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, who was originally from Sierra Leone and had come here to study medicine in London. …

“The family clubbed together to pay Samuel’s fees at the Royal College of Music, which he entered at 15 as a violin scholar. But the violin was set to one side and composition took centre stage and he was taken under the wing of the composer and conductor Charles Villiers Stanford. … For two years running, Coleridge-Taylor won the RCM’s Lesley Alexander composition prize and was championed by Edward Elgar, who recommended the talented young composer for a major commission – an orchestral work for the Three Choirs festival, his Ballade in A Minor, opus 33.

“The thing I like about Coleridge-Taylor is that he fought adversity to reach the top. He suffered racial abuse at school – apparently he even had his hair set on fire – but remained dignified. His compositions are dynamic, bold, incredibly melodic and immediately accessible. I was blown away. And I wasn’t the only one. He was known as the ‘African Mahler’ and his success stretched far and wide.

“In the US, he was a household name in his lifetime, and travelled there by invitation of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington DC in 1904, and again in 1906 and 1910. The US marines band were engaged for his first performance and 2,700 people were in the audience, two-thirds of whom were black. He went on to compose Twenty Four Negro Melodies and Five Choral Ballads after that visit. He became interested in interpreting African American melodies, writing: ‘What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvořák for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro melodies.’ When success hit, he used it to tell stories about his racial origins in a musical way that might uplift others.

“His best known work, ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, part of the cantata trilogy ‘The Song of Hiawatha,’ premiered in 1898 to huge acclaim, and went on to play, with the other two parts in a semi-staged version, at the Royal Albert Hall for a fortnight in June every year for almost 30 years in the interwar years. …

“But Coleridge-Taylor never got to enjoy his success – he died tragically young, aged 37, of pneumonia in 1912 – illness said to have been brought on by overwork. Nor did his family enjoy the financial fruits of Hiawatha’s success – the composer had sold the publishing rights to it to Ivor Novello’s company for a low flat fee.

“[My family] never went to a concert hall, and I didn’t see any black musicians. When I finally heard a live orchestra as an adult, it hit me like lightning. … Perhaps it’s time for everyone to take a fresh look at classical music and put aside the stereotypes. … This is our music – it’s music for everyone.”

More here.

Photo: Hulton/Getty
The multitalented 19th-century British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was best known for “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.”

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Modern reusable nappies are available in cotton, bamboo, and hemp and have more designs than the diapers of old.

When John and Suzanne were babies, disposable diapers weren’t very reliable, and I rarely used them. I chose a diaper service that delivered clean ones every week and picked up dirty ones. I not only thought cloth diapers worked better, but I thought I was doing something good for the environment. It was only later that I realized that all the hot water and bleach the diaper service used wasn’t good for the environment either. My four grandchildren all used the Pampers/ Huggies type of diaper.

In England, where they called diapers “nappies,” Tess Reidy explains at the Guardian that reusables are coming back. But the change involves doing your own washing.

“If the idea of cloth nappies conjures images of towelling squares loosely held by a large safety pin, think again. Modern versions have come a long way and are now available in bright colours and a variety of materials, including cotton, bamboo, microfibre and hemp.

“Growing consumer concern over plastic waste, and a more pragmatic desire to save money, means boom times for the reusable nappy industry.

“ ‘There is increased awareness of the impact of disposable nappies – they are a single-use plastic. It started with coffee cups, then disposable wipes, and the jump from wipes to nappies is clear,’ said Wendy Richards, director of UK online provider The Nappy Lady. She says the number of people using the service has grown by 80% in the past year. The business has doubled its staff since the start of  2018.

“About 25% of a disposable nappy is plastic and three billion nappies a year end up in landfill. Some councils in Britain now give new parents vouchers worth up to £55 [$72] to help pay for a set of reusable nappies. …

“Data from Nottinghamshire county council’s nappy project finds that using real nappies and washing them at home saves £200 a year compared with buying disposables. ‘This could help UK parents save as much as £360m a year, while helping us move towards a zero-waste society,’ said Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green party. …

“Social media platforms have also helped spread the word. Kasia Reszel has a two-month-old son, Julian. …’ We do one wash a day and it’s pretty easy. You rinse before putting on a longer cycle and wash at 60C [140F].’ …

“Upfront costs can, however, be a deterrent. With full nappy starter kits ranging from £100 to £350, some low-income parents are wary. …

“According to Charlotte Faircloth, sociology lecturer at University College London, it is often socially aware middle-class parents who have the luxury of worrying about natural styles of parenting. ‘Other people are more concerned about meeting bills,’ she said.” More at the Guardian, here.

I got curious to know whether safety pins were still used. Not necessarily! Look at the array of new fasteners here.

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Photo: BBC
An aerial performer rehearses on stage at Shakespeare’s Rose, a pop-up theater in York, England.

You’ve heard of pop-up libraries, pop-up gift stores, and pop-up restaurants. Now here comes a pop-up Shakespeare theater in York, England.

Ian Youngs writes at the BBC, “Shakespeare’s Rose, which [opened in April] and has cost £3m, is Europe’s first ‘pop-up’ Shakespearean theatre. …

“The temporary theatre has been built in a car park in 28 days to a circular design, similar to those erected on Bankside in Shakespeare’s day.

“It will stage four of his plays with a cast including [TV actor] Alexander Vlahos, who will play Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, and Catesby in Richard III.

“As well as the audience members standing in the centre, a further 660 will watch from seats on three levels around the edge.

“Shakespeare and his contemporaries would recognise the design and ‘tricks’ like trapdoors and flying, which have hardly changed over the past 400 years, according to [producer James] Cundall.

” ‘They’d find everything they had in their theatre — they just probably wouldn’t recognise [Layher] scaffolding,’ he says. ‘Each length [of scaffolding] is probably about the same size as a standard oak beam, so that’s how Shakespeare’s oak became German scaffolding. …

“There was an actual Rose theatre in London in the Bard’s time, which was recreated for the 1999 film Shakespeare in Love. …

“Professor Judith Buchanan of the University of York, who has advised on the pop-up theatre, said: ‘Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre is not a historical reconstruction of the early modern Rose playhouse on Bankside, nor of any other early modern playhouse. It is an approximate and suggestive architectural allusion to the idea of the early modern playhouse.’

“The creators of the York theatre will hope that their venue doesn’t replicate some other aspects of the original Rose — which had to be closed occasionally due to riots or the plague, and which had one cast member who killed the other in a duel.”

Read more at the BBC, here, and at the Independent, here.

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Photo: Thierry Bal
Artist Richard Woods’s cartoon-like fake bungalows, installed for Folkestone Triennial, are a commentary on the surge in second homes along the coast.

An English artist who favors cartoon-like architectural constructions has created six bungalows for a Folkestone Triennial installation called Holiday Home.

Kathryn Bromwich interviewed him for the Guardian. “Born in Chester in 1966, Richard Woods graduated from the Slade School of Art in 1990. … [For the triennial] Woods has created six colourful bungalows, situated in unexpected locations around the town.”

According to the interview, the artist is trying to reflect general concerns about who gets housing. People who can afford a second home? Immigrants from Calais across the Channel?

” ‘I was in Folkestone 18 months ago and got given this strange leaflet saying, “Have you thought about turning your property into cash?” – basically, “give up your house so someone can buy it as a second home”. The idea grew out of that: to make six identical bungalows and install some in very desirable locations, some not, but keeping it very open-ended. There’s been equal [numbers of] people coming up to me and discussing the second home issue, and immigration. …

” ‘There’s one house in the harbour, floating around – somebody heard through gossip in the town that it was going to be floated to Calais and back again. Some people are genuinely interested in whether “boat people” will move into the houses. But then lots of people in the town completely get the project.’ ”

The interviewer asks, “What can Folkestone tell us about wider trends across the country?

” ‘It’s a compressed version of the UK: all those issues that are prevalent everywhere are kind of heightened. On a clear day we can see Calais … Folkestone has very broad, different economic groups and because of its proximity to London people are moving here wanting a second home. People have asked if the homes are going to be available for local residents or just people from London.’ ”

The exhibit runs until November 5. More at the Guardian, here.

I’m sitting in my second home as I write this. There is no question that second homes in resort areas make housing extremely difficult for year-round residents. That’s one reason I support efforts to build affordable housing with subsidies, but I’m afraid it’s just a drop in the bucket.

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Photo: Sara Teresa
The rollout of a dance-based falls prevention programme in the UK by arts and health charity Aesop will see 1,000 older people benefit.

About 15 years ago, after breast cancer treatment, I joined a hospital-based class called “I Hope You’ll Dance.” I used to call it Cancer Dance Class because anyone who was being treated for cancer or had been treated could join. It happened to have only women during the time I was a participant although men were welcome.

The dance routines were very simple, but there was something pleasant about doing them with women you didn’t know but with whom you shared something as big as cancer. I also liked the music selections, which ranged from the playful “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” to numbers that were more moving, like “You Raise Me Up” and “I Pray You’ll Be All Right.”

I thought of the mysterious comfort that class provided when I read about a dance program for the elderly in England and Wales. Christy Romer described it at Arts Professional, a UK-based website.

“The rollout of a dance-based falls prevention programme by arts and health charity Aesop will see 1,000 older people benefit from a new £2.3m investment.

“The programme will run for two years from October 2017, during which time 63 interventions will take place across England in Wales. These will be delivered in collaboration with health and social care providers, and arts organisations including Yorkshire Dance and Birmingham Royal Ballet. …

“Previous Aesop research showed how the Dance to Health programmes could address a problem that costs the NHS £2.3bn a year, as the rates of completion for dance-based alternatives to NHS exercise courses are 55% higher.

“An evaluation of the Dance to Health pilot programme in February 2017 also concluded that dance artists could be trained to deliver classes which were an enjoyable artistic challenge, faithful to healthcare objectives, and would deliver measurable reductions in loneliness for participants. …

“The expanded programme will receive support from ‘Dialogue Partner’ organisations, including Age UK and NHS England, and collaborate with eight Arts Council England-funded dance organisations. …

“A formal evaluation of the programme will be conducted in 2019, ahead of an anticipated national rollout in the coming years.” More at Arts Professional, here.

Romer mentioned the effort to address loneliness through the dance classes, but I imagine that the way physical motion improves thought processes is a big piece of the health benefit. And what about improving balance? That’s a concern for me, and a reason I take both tai chi and Essentrics when I’m not on vacation.

But I’m on vacation. So I’ll sign off now and go practice standing on one foot.

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