Nobody told me it was happening…

P1020430For the last 13 years, the thing which has annoyed me the most is when somebody says, ‘I didn’t know this was happening’.

I’ve heard people say this at art exhibitions and open meetings, big public events and intimate get-togethers. I’ve heard it at festivals with 50,000 leaflets, at art happenings that have been on the TV news, at poetry readings plugged across local papers, radio and social media. I’ve heard it said about gigs, talks, books, shows, exhibitions, stunts, interventions, festivals and readings. ‘Nobody told me. Nobody told me.’ (‘But still, somehow, you’re here anyway,’ I always want to shout.)

The truth is, if you want to know what’s going on where you live, you have to make an effort to find out. Art, real art – the type that fizzes and crackles and makes you think, the sort that wakes you up, shakes you about and reminds why being alive matters, the stuff that changes your life – is happening within a mile of where you live. But you have to want it. You have to look for it. You have to find it. Nobody is going to knock on your door, hand you a leaflet, and ask you to come. Artists aren’t like Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Finding out what’s going on where you live doesn’t take a huge effort. Read the local newspaper, online or on paper. Search Twitter, Facebook or Instagram and follow people talking about local things. Listen to local radio. Watch the local TV news. Most importantly, pick up flyers in local shops, cafes, libraries and community centres and look at posters. None of this is a big effort, but it will make a huge difference to your life.

There is a whole industry built around the ‘audience’ for art – there are arts professionals who can provide insight and development and tracking and engagement and mailing list management. But that whole industry ignores one important idea; that actually, audiences have to take responsibility for themselves, too.

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