The Agora was the central public space in ancient Greek city-states. The word means either gathering place or assembly. The agora brought together the artistic, spiritual, civic and political life of the city in one space; it was a space for creating social capital.
The Agora is an idea I’ve explored previously, in empty shops – the long-running WorkShop series (2010-15) came out of a Shoreham-by-Sea project called Agora.
The new, nomadic Agora is a mobile intervention, which will appear in everyday places.
Agora will travel the UK. As part of the Troublemakers’ Festival, the Swansea Agora will appear in five different locations on five days for five one-hour sessions. The Margate Agora will appear a few times in different places during the Margate Festival. Stoke Agora will happen as part of Festival Stoke. Short, sharp versions are being planned for London, Eastbourne, and Worthing.
Agora is a social artwork, and in each iteration, I will sit down with about ten people for an hour to have a conversation about local life. A range of prompts and simple activities will be provided. It’ll be a conversation in Plain English, using everyday examples, about citizenship, social capital and democracy.
All the local conversations will become part of a wider artwork about the UK’s identity and ideas of citizenship at this time of change. The things people say and do in each place will travel on to the next.
At the end, I’ll produce a state-of-the-nation piece, in writing but also as an exhibition at my studio. Whichever way the general election goes, we’ve fallen apart as a country and it’s time to work out what’s next: our politicians have failed us in that, and it’s time for citizens to talk.
Natural capital gets lots of air time because banks – in their ongoing quest to own the world – like to invest. Social capital? Not so much. Dan Thompson bangs the drum on behalf of all of us. He is expert at unlocking potential in people and places that are ignored. Lucy Siegle
There is no individual act in performing arts that does not require collective effort to be realised. Together each individual element, be it the artist, producer, venue manager or facilitator, forms a collective experience for our sector, and our wider society.
Too often the “Them and Us” distinctions we draw can become entrenched and hostile. This conference, will look at these perceived boundaries through a variety of lenses – exploring the separation of artist from state, distinctions between makers and audiences, performance spaces and communities, the “established” and “emerging”. Do common issues and concerns arise? Are there shared approaches that could be more fruitful? What is our single and collective responsibility?
There are plenty of opportunities to talk, and in my time I’ve covered leadership styles for multinationals, digital strategies for social action, grassroots regeneration of town centres and everything inbetween. In June, I’m travelling to Galway for the All-Ireland Performing Arts Conference (APAC) to talk about the performing arts need individuals and a collective effort.
It’s a subject that I find very interesting, particularly as theatre (where my career started) offers such a different approach to the visual arts, which hold up the myth of the individual as the artistic genius. I was standing on the waterfront in Newcastle, NSW a few years ago talking to a bunch of interesting people after a conference (Marcus Westbury, the Renew Newcastle gang, the great people from Gap Filler in New Zealand) – and we realised that all of us, and the people we admired who were taking creative collaborative approaches to urban renewal, had a thread of theatre in our backgrounds.
And it’s an approach I’ve applied to 15 years of working with mostly visual artists. I am beginning to realise that the lines between the different elements of my practice, between performance and design and visual arts and regeneration and urbanism and social action, are very thin.
Perhaps, in a dozen universes that are just a subtle knife cut apart, I have different job titles; artist, writer, activist, producer, urbanist. For my talk at APAC, I’ll try to tie them all together.