If you were at The Social Exchange on September 16th, you may well have seen me running laps around Midlands Arts Centre, clipboard in hand, with a look of determined confusion in my eyes. That is the lot of the producer, but in between making sure the cardboard city is not Godzilla-flattened by a well-meaning child and directing people to the Theatre for Democracy workshop, I somehow find the time to reflect a little bit, and now that just over a week has passed, I wanted to share three seemingly disparate thoughts with you.
1. Utopia wins with dystopia, eventually…
Speaking of the Cardboard City – watching it evolve was a fascinating thing to behold. The talented Malikah Holder created the blueprint, but people decided for themselves whether they wanted to add to The City’s dystopian or utopian side. Initially, the bleak end of town grew much faster, filling up with closed down libraries and smoke-spewing factories. But as we opened the doors to the public and the number of architects began rising, the balance shifted, and in the end the utopian end seemed more developed, more thoughtful, more important. Seems like people as a group are more interested in visualising an ideal world than in considering its darker alternatives. You might worry this is an escapist tendency, but I would probably disagree, because…
2. People want knowledge they can use to make changes
The programme featured several workshops and talks, and they proved very popular. Although the topics were varied and the speakers came at their topics from very different angles, participants kept mentioning the same elements in their feedback. Almost all the comments could be boiled down to “I want to know more about the issue/I want to know what I can do about it.” This was the single most heartening realisation of the day: our city is full of people who will jump at the opportunity to make a positive change in their world. So, one, we may not live in a utopia, but there is more of us working towards one than you might think; and two, watch this space for more opportunities, because if I have anything to say about this, they are coming.
3. Music can stop you like a red light
My final thought is nothing new, but bears repeating: in the midst of all the chaos and running around, art can still make you stop in your tracks and remind you to look inward. I spoke to a bunch of people who came to MAC that day and they all listed different acts their “special moments” – in fact, some of them had not connected at all with the very artists others mentioned as their favourites. But this does not really matter: whether you were stopped in your tracks by Shay D’s flow or Anthony Anaxagorou’s lyrical prowess, you can’t deny the sheer force of a performer who matches skill with passion and conviction. My own special moment came when listening to Jay Johnson’s Void, a song about the impossibility of feeling fully satisfied, just as the day began winding down and we all gathered by the Split stage to wonder at the things he does with his guitar.
So. I guess if I go through these three in reverse order, I have a recipe of sorts: make art, make change, build what makes you and others happy. A decent to-do list for the foreseeable future.
Written by Bohdan Piasecki
The Social Exchange: Utopia/Dystopia took place at Midlands Art Centre, Saturday 16th September. For further Free Radical events and projects head to the website.