South of the River – Art? What’s that all about then?


Compass-SouthComment logo 2I went to Cross Flatts Park yesterday. I didn’t want to go, it was cold and grey, but there was some art on and I thought it would be ‘good for me’.

We previewed Life Boat on South Leeds Life a few days ago. I think it’s an installation, it might be theatre, it’s certainly interactive. Would it work in Beeston? Should we have art in Beeston or leave it to the clever types in Headingley and Chapel-bloody-Allerton?

If you’ve ever read this column before you’ll know my answer is “of course we should have art in Beeston”. It’s largely a gut reaction, but a discussion at Hillside last night put some flesh on the bones for me.

You see I’ve been thinking a lot about art recently. I know I’m relatively privileged, having been introduced to theatre by my parents and dance by my Other Half (the things you’ll do when you’re courting!). Thirty years later, for her birthday, we went to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at the Alhambra in Bradford. You know, the one with the males swans … at the end of Billy Elliott.

I was reminded that that she and my daughter, having both danced ballet, view dance differently to me. They feel the moves and can thus distinguish the great from the merely good dancers.

I’ve been singing in the In Harmony Community Choir and I had a similar experience at Steve Williamson’s funeral. We were singing Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Redeemer (Bread of Heaven) and people were a bit slack launching into the second verse. For a split second I expected Sally from the choir to jump up and tell everyone to stop and do it again, from the first note of the verse. Singing in the choir has definitely given me the confidence to sing with, well, confidence.

Anyway, back to Cross Flatts Park and the rather wonderful Life Boat.


Here’s a slowly revolving ‘boat’ with four hammocks. What’s it about? Well it’s ‘art’ so it’s about whatever you make of it, there are no wrong answers. Jason, one of the people behind it said it’s a counter to the ever-increasing speed of life. It’s slow, calm, gentle, quiet, comfortable, kind. It’s designed to help you take stock and to provoke thought.

In the fast world of the funders they’ll want numbers. How many participated? What was the throughput? How efficient can we make this? How do we maximise the impact? Do we need to put this in the city centre or Roundhay Park where people will get it?

People in places like Beeston may not engage as easily, but they get just as much out of it once they cross that line. Children find it easier to cross the line, of course they do – they still know how to play. Just like the children in Middleton that the Big Lunch got to teach adults how to make friends.

Why don’t we engage? Sometimes it’s just because we’ve never seen something like this before. It’s different, it’s interesting, but maybe not for me? Sometimes it’s financial embarrassment. I don’t know how this works, what if I have to pay? I can’t afford it, I’d better stay away.

Crossing the line to engage with art is taking a risk. It might be difficult, but do it and it can spark your imagination. That’s the power of art. It can get you thinking, it can raise your confidence and that’s why it’s a community development tool.

So we’ll have more of that it Beeston please.

Jeremy Morton Aug13Life Boat will be in Cross Flatts Park on Saturday (5 April 2014) from 11am to 5pm and it’s free. Give it a go! It’s part of Ludus Festival Leeds, which is happening across the city in the coming months. Look out for events and cross another line – go to another part of the city. Who knows what you might find.

I’ll be back next week with more of my views from South of the River. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.


One Reply to “South of the River – Art? What’s that all about then?”

  1. I think it’s great that there are things like this happening in South Leeds. You’ve hit the nail on the head when you talk about the concerns that people have about anything artistic. Many people will be put off because they think they might have to pay and don’t want to look silly if they can’t afford it (I’ve been guilty of this one), and sometimes I worry about whether I’ll be pushed to participate and that fills me with dread.
    There has always been a certain stigma attached to anything that’s not functional and is entirely for the sake entertainment and enrichment, and I imagine this is the same in all working class areas. After all, why do we want to see grown men poncing abart on’t stage wi tights on? It’s just not reet!
    That was always the attitude as I was growing up and it took me a long time to throw off the constraints that my peers shackled me with. I now long to see the Royal Ballet and the London Philharmonic, and don’t tell anyone and ruin my reputation as a rough northerner, but I even have some classical music on my Kindle! Shhhh….
    The way I see things is that anything we can experience which gives us a different perspective or chance of enjoyment should be grasped with both hands – and if you’re of a grumpy disposition, just to discover what you don’t like.

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