With delicious irony, the spirit of Wat Tyler has been stirred in Basildon’s creative communities by the way in which Basildon Council dumped Dave Chapple’s Woodsman Poacher sculpture at the park that bears Tyler’s name. I am sure Wat Tyler, who led a peasant army in revolt against financial dictats from the King (a poll tax, actually), would smile at the way Basildon artists are speaking out in opposition to local politicians who are quite happily rake in our taxes, but appear to have no respect for what the community actually wants.
Yesterday, The Echo reported how on Monday “More than 50 painters, sculptors, performers, heritage bosses, and other members of the arts community gathered for their inaugral meeting.” Liz Grant, who worked with other local artists to convene the meeting, describes it brilliantly:
“We had lots of people from across the arts spectum, which is fantastic for a first meeting.
“The Woodsman has been the catalyst for the group’s formation.
“We see it as a symbol of how the artistic community and the public feel about how the arts are being dealt with by Basildon’s current council and the previous one.
“It’s a symbol of all that’s wrong with how the council is operating.”
To my mind it is quite incredible how the plight of a single wooden statue has brought together Basildon’s creative communities in a way nothing else has. Steve Waters is one of the artists behind Old Man Stan, and his quote in The Echo captures succinctly the way in which the treatment of Dave Chapple’s creation has caused people to take a stand:
“We now have one united voice for the arts community in Basildon.
“The Woodman is what has brought us all together.
“We don’t want it to happen again, or ever be forgotten.”
Too damn right we don’t.
There was unanimous agreement on a motion of no confidence in the way that the Council currently engages those involved in the arts – and the way it looks after Basildon’s valuable collection of public art. As someone who has blogged variously about The Woodsman, public art in Basildon, the Wat Tyler sculpture trail and the Motorboat Museum, it was truly heartening to learn that all these issues were discussed.
What is particuarly exciting about this venture is that it is professionals and amateurs alike who are involved. Quite simply, it’s local people saying they want to have a say in how their public spaces look – and how their interests are supported – in just the same way that sport and other leisure activities are supported.
Politicians might think they can shrug this off. I don’t think they can.
Many of those who enjoy participating in the arts – creating things, making things, acting things, singing things, watching things, listening to things – get fed up with being treated as the Cinderella sector, left to sweep up the crumbs whilst the ugly homogeneous stepsisters “Sport” and “Leisure” receive the funding and the attention.
My own view, as someone involved in local politics and the local art scene, is that we attempt to tell people what they want at our peril. For me it comes back to the “raucous, unpredictable capacity of people” that lends our communities power and vibrancy and which, when untied in a single shout, demands attention as the voice of local people that help pay the Council’s way.
Being involved in the arts, involved in Basildon’s creative communities, is about being involved with each other, in all its glorious messiness.
Some things we’ll love.
Some things we’ll hate.
Some things we’ll think are pointless.
And some things we’ll disagree on.
But some things – like The Woodsman Poacher – will make us realise that we have much more in common than we think.
If you want to get involved, the next meeting is on Monday 22nd March at 7.00pm, St Martin’s Church Hall. Please call Elizabeth Grant on 07939 122864 for further details.
If you think Basildon deserves better than bulldozers and excuses, come along.
And finally, for those politicians who still think that all this really doesn’t matter, there’s a salutory lesson on Facebook.
Friends for the The Woodsman Poacher? 1,651.
Friends on the campaign page of Basildon’s Tory candidate? 150.
The Woodsman Poacher rests his case…