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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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Photo: Cory Weaver
Wexford Festival Opera:
Dinner at Eight, by William Bolcom, got its European premiere at last fall’s event.

Back in the 1990s, I worked with a woman whose father was an opera buff. He loved opera so much that, although he had no real connections in the field, he managed to organize a high-quality company in the part of New York State where he lived. Westchester, if I remember correctly.

It wasn’t his day job: it was what he did for love. In another example of opera lovers who go out of their way to lend support, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has taken small, non-singing parts on stage, attracting some new audiences.

At the Irish Times, David McLoughlin has another example of what some folks will do for opera.

“Never intimidated by the weight of cultural heritage, each new generation of Irish artists continues to reimagine, reinvent and reinvigorate. The arts are constantly changing, finding new forms of expression and igniting new flames. …

“Wexford Festival Opera was founded on an idea and ethos which still remains at its core today, 67 years later – to present rarely performed operas, to unearth and shine a light on hidden gems.

“I was once told by the then chairman of a leading American opera company that the reason Wexford has rightly survived is because from the outset its rationale was plain wrong.

“He was right: the dream by a small group of local people, including a GP, a hotelier and a postman, in the early 1950s, of bringing international singers to a remote corner of Ireland to present rarely performed operas, wouldn’t even get past the first page of a modern-day feasibility study.

“But they weren’t dissuaded, and the minor detail of no real financial underpinning was from the outset not even considered a hindrance. The dream they were determined to see become a reality was enthusiastically shared and championed by the local community, who volunteered their time and skills. …

“The festival opened up not just Wexford itself, but Ireland and its arts sector, to the international performing world in a way no other cultural venture had done up until then – nor, I would argue, since. The spin-off has been enormous – artistically, culturally, and economically, generating [$14 million] annually. …

“Wexford is often defined as what it is not: a national opera company. It isn’t. Wexford is an annual festival, an international event, proudly Irish, presenting Irish and international audiences with a distinctly international repertoire, featuring Irish and international performers and attracting an audience that stretches well beyond these shores. It makes a vital contribution to the profile, development and reputation of the Irish opera sector. It may be niche but it’s broad enough to accommodate new audiences.”

More at the Irish Times, here. It will be interesting to see how this festival fares after Brexit, when Ireland will still be part of the European Union and its closest neighbors won’t.

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091617-Lowell-mill-girlsMico Kaufman’s 1984 “Homage to Women” captures the determination of Lowell’s 19th century mill girls.

Like many of New England’s postindustrial cities struggling to reinvent themselves, Lowell has attracted a thriving artistic community to its old warehouses.

And as a magnet for generations of immigrants since the Merrimack and Concord rivers were harnessed to power cotton mills in the 19th century, the city has also attract a rich array of cuisines and cultures.

The late U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas helped to create a popular national park in Lowell. Today, others are building on the city’s arts reputation to attract tourists while strengthening ties among the various nationalities.

Yesterday I decided to check out one of the city’s newest festivals, “Creaticity.” Despite good weather, music, food, giant bubbles, and booths that featured artisans of many ethnicities, the event didn’t have anything like the attendance of the city’s 31-year-old folk festival. But you couldn’t expect that. It probably just needs time to get established.

Here are a few Lowell scenes to give you a taste. The last photo is an editorial comment on how challenging it can be to unlock all the inherent beauty of a city like Lowell.

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Photo: SWG3/Facebook
Y
ardworks takes place May 6 and 7
, 2017, in Glasgow, Scotland.

Melita knows I like artistic graffiti. In fact, we are both such fans of Lata_65 (graffiti for old folks) that we intend to try our hand at spray painting if the organization ever comes to the Boston area.

Today Melita shared a link on Facebook about graffiti in Glasgow.

Gregor Kyle wrote at GlasgowLive, “Scotland’s first dedicated graffiti festival will take street art into the heart of the community in Glasgow and open up new opportunities for young people across the city.

“Next weekend (May 6 and 7) in Finnieston, SWG3 will host over 30 of the world’s finest graffiti artists and 50 of Scotland’s street artists at the Yardworks Festival. …

“One of its main aims is to strengthen SWG3’s bond with the local community and the city of Glasgow as a whole.

“School and youth groups have been invited, with the days featuring specialist graffiti workshops and a ‘Creation Station’ for children which will allow everyone the chance to try their hand at painting. …

“ ‘It’s Scotland’s first graffiti festival and the scale of it now, the way it has grown, it’s massive now,’ explained Gaz, who is himself a graffiti artist and part of the management team at SWG3. …

“Most Glaswegians will know SWG3 as a club and concert space but by day it is a thriving hub for artists, filled with studio spaces and workshops. Slowly but steadily it has progressed over the years with the scale and ambitions of its projects growing bigger and bigger.

” ‘The yard is now basically a massive canvas for the artists,’ continued Gaz. ‘We have rendered the walls, wrapped containers in sheet metal – at no small expense – and every surface will be perfect for the artists to paint on. …

” ‘We are trying to build a sense of community in the area, which can be hard sometimes when you have a transient population with some of the students maybe only staying in the flats here for a term and then moving on.

“ ‘Finnieston has this reputation as this hipster area; what people forget is that there is this core population here and in the likes of Partick and Anderston who have lived here a long time. …

“ ‘The Commonwealth Games in Glasgow were fantastic for the city. They drew people together and, through a number of projects, connected me with a lot of other artists and graffiti writers that I didn’t know in the city.

“ ‘We will be looking to run workshops in the summer for young people and will try to play our part in improving the area and bringing the community together.’ ”

More at GlasgowLive, here.

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Sometimes it just takes one person to be a catalyst. Internationally known jazz musician Danilo Pérez is a catalyst for a growing jazz scene in his native Panama. He has a special focus on getting young people excited about jazz and giving them a chance to become musicians.

At the NY Times, Melena Ryzik writes, “Even in jazz, which has a long tradition of mentorship, Mr. Pérez, 49, has emerged as a singular figure. Nearly 30 years after he left his native Panama to study jazz composition at Berklee [College of Music in Boston], he has made promoting musicianship in Panama — using music as a springboard, cultural unifier and teaching tool — his life’s work.

“In 2005, a year after he started [a] jazz festival with his family, he created the Danilo Pérez Foundation, a nonprofit center for music education and outreach; the festival, which draws as many as 30,000 people over its six-day run each January, provides money for the foundation. The club, which opened last February at the new American Trade Hotel, a luxe outpost of the Ace Hotel chain, is, in his view, the last piece of the puzzle.”

Read more.

Photo: Jennifer Shanley
Danilo Pérez (right) directs the Berklee Global Jazz Institute inaugural class.

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The Upper Midwest has some unusual races. One year in Minnesota, for example, my husband and I went to an outhouse race, and I wrote up the experience for an East Coast community paper.

Today I read in the NY Times about a Wisconsin race. Mitch Smith writes, “In Spain, they run bulls. In Kentucky, thoroughbreds. But here in America’s Dairyland, llamas are the four-legged athletes of choice.

“On Saturday afternoon, the llamas converged on this tiny town in the corn-covered hills of western Wisconsin, as they do each September. A llama named Lightning, a 14-year-old with swift feet and a bit of a temper, claimed the heaping basket of tomatoes and peppers that goes to the speediest camelid.

“To the roughly 1,900 residents of Hammond, the Running of the Llamas is something far more than an annual excuse to watch South American pack animals lope down Davis Street. In the 18 years since a local bar owner first let the llamas loose, the event has become a source of communal pride and identity in a state where it seems every dot on the map has its own quirky festival.

“ ‘It makes our town unique,’ said Ariel Backes, 16, the reigning Miss Hammond. ‘It just shows small towns are the best.’ …

“Some llamas were eager to race, sprinting swiftly behind the handler holding its reins. Others were compliant but unenthusiastic, making their way past the cheering fans, lined up four and five deep on some stretches of sidewalk, at more of a brisk walk than a run. And a few llamas were downright uninterested, forcing their handlers to practically drag them to the finish line.” More here.

Suzanne and Erik’s two-year-old fed a llama this summer. I can’t quite picture that llama wanting to do anything but eat.

Photo: Colin Archdeacon on Publish September 14, 2014.
This llama-racing event is in its 18th year in Hammond, Wisconsin.

 

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After a delightful morning with my granddaughter and my older grandson, I went to Providence to hang out with my younger grandson and Suzanne and a good friend.

I caught up with them at the park, where the farmers market was winding down and a free summer concert was revving up: the annual Summit Music Festival. (Check it out here.)

The four of us liked a blues group called the Selwyn Birchwood Band (pictured) and another band called Smith and Weeden. The ice cream eater below had reservations about a third performance. Everyone’s a critic.

We spent a chunk of time going “higher, higher” on the swing in the playground and watching a multi-ethnic group of small boys kick a soccer ball. (How brave it is to go up to boys you don’t know and ask to play!) We skipped the face painting, which was gorgeous but, to a 2-year-old, kind of pointless. We watched kids and grownups painting a mural wall.

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