Lincoln Drill Hall

Lincoln Drill Hall
Lincoln Drill Hall

Monday, 20 May 2019

Can we learn from history?

I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s carefully argued book, Team of Rivals, the book at inspired Barack Obama. It is about the incredibly complex and divided political landscape that surrounded the American Civil War. A hopelessly divided country.

One of the many things that struck me was the immense care the new Republican (anti-slavery) Party took in selecting the right leader in the person of Abraham Lincoln. There were four strong candidates, all with principles passionately held. Three of the candidates were far better known that Lincoln. Those making the choice were seasoned politicians who understood not only their parties(the Republicans were a joining together of smaller groups) but the electorate as a whole.

They chose Lincoln for his undoubted gifts but also because he would attract wide support.

Perhaps our Brexit riven country could take a lesson from this?

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Polarised debate

Team of Rivals is a fascinating book, dealing as it does, with the biographies of the four men who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1860.
So what?
The winner was Abraham Lincoln and the battle ground slavery.
Dories Kearns Goodwin traces the slavery debate with the Southern States fighting for their treasured way of life, the Northern States fighting for emancipation, not only on moral grounds but also to unleash the economic benefit of many more free Americans. In the middle politicians seek endless compromise designed to keep both sides happy, but ending up pleasing no one.
Does this ring a bell?
The debate is characterised by violent expression of feelings particularly from the South with deep longings to keep things how they used to be.
The arguments revolve round the will of the people, the astonishing power of the press and the inability of Congress to reflect this will and power in legislation that will command a majority.
I read on. It is a long book. The parallels with the Brexit debate are chilling.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Concentrated wealth as a major drag on national prosperity

The concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is a drag on any economy. So said Adair Turner in his book, Debt. Such wealth is frequently saved in the form of nonproductive assets. In contrast, wealth more widely distributed is circulated within the economy to the benefit of most, if not quite, all.

Quite why I had seen this as a 21st century phenomenon, I don’t really know. It was the case in 19th century Britain, but many of those with wealth then invested it in industry which in turn created employment and, to a degree, distributed wealth. 

In her masterly book, the Team of Rivals, Doris Kearny Goodwin tells of the Southern states of America before the abolition of slavery. 

‘Slavery trapped a large portion of the Southern population, preventing upward mobility. Illiteracy rates were high, access to education difficult. While a small planter aristocracy grew rich from holdings in land and slaves, the static Southern economy did not support the creation of a sizeable middle class.’

In contrast of the Northern states, she sees a land ‘teaming with bustling, restless men and women who believed passionately in progress and equated it with growth and  change; the air was filled with the excitement of intellectual ferment and with schemes of entrepreneurs.’

I can’t help seeing a parallel with 21st century Britain, where we are told that employment is at an all time high but so much is part time and low paid, and that wealth is again concentrated in the hands of the few and invested in such as empty London penthouse apartments. Employment for middle earners is shrinking. This is before we look at the wider world and the plight of refugees.

Schools in poorer areas, for all the efforts of teachers, are not enabling upward mobility. Our public schools, great educational establishments though they are, are overwhelmingly the preserve of the wealthy whose children go on to Oxbridge and well paid jobs.

Are we so different economically from pre-civil war USA?

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Employment in the 21st Century

On 18 June 2019 Lincoln Drill Hall is hosting a one day symposium presented by the University of Lincoln to explore the nature of employment in the 21st century.
The numbers of people in employment are said to be at record levels, but how much of this is full time employment, how much is capable of providing a family's income and how much is fulfilling?
The arts sector is said to be a significant contributor to the British economy, but how much employment in the arts is full time and sufficiently income providing? Very few writers earn their living from writing.
Computers and robots are said to be ready to take on a great many jobs which used to the preserve of human beings. What impact will this have on employment, and on the distribution of national income?
These are some of the big questions which the symposium and the process that will follow will seek to explore.
Follow this link to find out more and to register your interest.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Cherish city's artscape

I take the title of the introduction I wrote for this season's Hello Lincoln. I reproduce the article below, but I want first to set out just why our city's artscape is in need of being cherished.

It is about being a city which embraces excellence in all its forms and not just a city what was notable in the past.

In order to be a place of excellence, I believe a number of factors need to be present. Excellence in education, which we have in our universities and college; excellence in work and employment, which we have in Siemens, Lindum and James Dawson but also a host of very creative businesses; excellence in architecture and heritage, which we have in abundance. It also needs excellence in the provision of arts and culture. It is simply no good if people living here have to go elsewhere to ‘feed their souls’.

I have written elsewhere of Charlotte Bronte who only found her eyes opened to art in the then new National Gallery when she visited London. In Lincoln we are amazingly lucky because, unlike Charlotte Bronte, we don’t have to go to London to have the experience she had; we have it on our door step. The Usher Gallery is surely, in its own way, as beautiful a building as the National Gallery and its setting on the hill nestling below the cathedral surely knocks Trafalgar Square for six. It has in recent years welcomed exhibitions that would make cities many times our size green with envy. It speaks of a city that is significant.

We do of course need more that just that. Many of the people of this city live in some of the most deprived wards in the UK. It is vital that our provision of art and culture reaches as far as it can and is as accessible as it can be. At the Drill Hall, we are delighted to be working in partnership with the YMCA to bring the experience of theatre to young people living in their part of the city and also to be working with the Mansions of the Future project to make art accessible in the very centre of Lincoln.

The Usher has the potential to be a massive force for good. It has been neglected and does need investment to be fit for purpose in the 21st century. The building is one with its collection, and this is important. It was built for the purpose for which it is still used and is a necessary complement to the art on display. It can speak loud and clear to the Lincoln community and to our many visitors.

The reference to visitors is important. We will soon have two wonderful heritage sites and visitors, I am sure, will come in their thousands. However, once they have visited the cathedral and castle, what next? To my mind, it is vital to have strong cultural offering to encourage those vital repeat visits.  I would argue that high quality public performance is part of this, but also the opportunity to experience great visual art in the place built to show it.

Both the Drill Hall and the Usher have a further vital role to play. They need to be places where today’s and indeed tomorrow’s artists can work. In today’s world, art cannot be something that is just ‘consumed’; there is a hunger to participate. Both places are ideally suited to this.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

What kind of a City is Lincoln?

It is a question I have asked before but in a different context; this time it is much more about whether we are a city that looks back, or one that looks now? Let me explain.

Millions of pounds have been spent at the castle, and indeed are being spent at the cathedral, to enable visitors and, of course, local residents to see what Lincoln was. All this is done in a very engaging and expert way, and that is wonderful. But is that all, and should it be all? What about the creative people of today? More to the point, what about you and me - now?

We all get on with our day to day lives, and much is far from easy. We need, from time to time, to be taken out of ourselves to experience something totally different. Here I declare my hand, I am chair of trustees at the Lincoln Arts Trust which cares for and runs Lincoln Drill Hall. So I would suggest that it is a pretty good thing to go to the Panto and have good laugh. I know, from talking to audience members, that the experience of a performance of Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera truly lifts the spirits. It may be music; it may be comedy or theatre; it depends what is your particular cup of tea.

It is more that just live performance; it is the other ways artists speak to us. The work going on at Mansions of the Future is reaching many more people than some existing venues and that is good, but those other places can too.

As I have written elsewhere, I have come to the world of arts and culture quite late in life. I still remember the thrill of seeing paintings in an art gallery and, rather than shuffling round bored and embarrassed, having someone open my eyes to what I am seeing. I am currently writing about Charlotte Bronte, the author Jane Eyre, and have found in her letters that the same was true for her; she had her eyes opened when she visited London and the then new National Gallery.

In Lincoln we are amazingly lucky because, unlike Charlotte Bronte, we don’t have to go to London to have the experience she had; we have it on our door step. The Usher Gallery is surely in its own way as beautiful a building as the National Gallery, and its setting on the hill nestling below the cathedral surely knocks Trafalgar Square for six. It has in recent years welcomed exhibitions that would make cities many times our size green with envy.

More than this, Lincoln as city is radically different to the one I first worked in only twenty years ago. Its biggest population group by far is 18 to 25. These are young people at an incredibly important time in their lives. They already have world class universities and colleges; for their nourishment, they need access to great performance and truly engaging art. The same is true of you and me, and tragically we are at risk of losing both, for ever.

The Drill Hall is at risk of closure, which is why we are running our Buy a Brick campaign. The Usher Gallery too is as risk of ceasing to be an art gallery at all and the County Council are consulting all of us for our opinion.

With both, the question is the same: do we want to live in a city where we have on our doorstep excellent live performance and a gallery that can welcome world class art? Both need to be accessible and I know that more work is needed to achieve this. 

But, what do you think?
My article in the Lincolnshire Echo of 14 March 2019

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Let's talk

The late Jo Cox gave this country a great deal, but not least when she said, "we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divided us."

The Queen perhaps continued the theme when she said to the Sandringham WI, '“As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture.”

In The Guardian of Saturday 16 February, Ian Jack quoted both in his piece about a visit to Brexit voting Boston in Lincolnshire with a couple of people from Remain voting Lambeth in London.

In the same paper Jonathan Freeland lauded the action of school children in demonstrating against those of their elders who ignore global warming. He offered his argument with some delicious humour:

"Such is the upside-down, topsy-turvy state of our world, that the children are now the adults and the adults are the children. In Westminster, our supposed leaders – men and women of mature vintage – keep stamping their feet and demanding what no one can give them.

They insist they should be allowed to gobble up all the birthday cake and still have cake left to eat, threatening to storm out of the European Union and slam the door behind them. As Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, rightly puts it: “Threatening to leave is the behaviour of a three-year-old who says that they are going to hold their breath if they do not get the toy that they want.”

In Washington, meanwhile, Donald Trump, aged 72 and three-quarters, has screamed and screamed and screamed until he is sick, pounding his little fist on the table as he demands money for the big wall of bricks he wants to build, and today declaring a national emergency to get his way. The House speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, assessed the situation accurately last month, when Trump was shutting down the government: “It’s a temper tantrum by the president. I’m the mother of five, grandmother of nine. I know a temper tantrum when I see one.”

Marina Hyde then despaired at how our adult leaders are spending the days as the clock ticks down to Brexit:

" If we crash out of the EU without a deal, I hope someone publishes a coffee-table book detailing each of the irrelevant arguments we had on each day as the Brexit doomsday clock ticked down. T-minus 42 days: was Churchill a shit or not? T-minus 41 days: where do you stand on the Boer war?

There is something truly grotesque about all this playing out as children around the country and the world strike from school to protest against climate emergency. In Westminster, a generation who will never be forgiven don’t even have the thing they won’t be forgiven for on their radar. It is left, shamefully, to actual kids to point it out. With absolute ironical inevitability, then, May made the time to criticise the nation’s young for their actions. Apparently, the climate strike “wastes lesson time”. Just to be clear, Prime Minister, on Thursday a party colleague requested an emergency parliamentary debate on Winston Churchill, who literally DIED IN 1965. Can you grown-ups give the kids another lecture on time-wasting, please?"

I strikes me that we, 'ordinary' people, need to talk to each other. Our politicians are failing us in a big way. They must not be allowed to succeed. So, whether you favoured Brexit or wanted to Remain, let's start talking before it's too late.

What's more, I will offer a venue for that conversation. Who's up for it?

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Lincoln Book Festival 2019

Our friends at the Bailgate Independent suggested that I might come up with a Book of the Month recommendation. Bliss or what?

Here is my first from the February edition:

They then asked about plans for this year's festival:

Thank you Bailgate!

I hope you agree there is much to look forward to.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

Be a Brick and Buy a Brick

It is true, I am not sleeping for worry about the future of the Drill Hall.

We have such an amazing team who are working tirelessly to keep this vital venue open at the heart of our city. So I was delighted to read in my Lincolnshire Echo (see below) an article written from an interview I gave on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. My delight was at the accuracy of the reporting and that fact that I had obviously said what I really wanted to say! (not always the case on a live interview).

So, what were these things I really wanted to say?

"Lincoln Drill Hall being a place for the people of Lincoln has continued for the last 130 years."

Peter Hennessy writes: Putting up prices is not an option according to Mr Hamlyn Williams. "Our purpose is to bring art and culture to the people of Lincoln, that's why we're here. We have to have tickets that are affordable - we want more and more people to come."

My predecessor as chair of trustees, Phil Cosker, puts it brilliantly in the animated video on the website. I have also written on Why it matters, on The Proms, on CompassionateLincoln Big Soup (next one 23 February), on Lincoln in WW1 and on some wonderful memories from years gone by.

That's why we are asking people to Be a Brick and Buy a Brick.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

My Christmas present from my lovely children - at the Barbican

Not for the first time am I in the Barbican awaiting a production by the RSC. Last year it was all about revenge with Titus Andronicus; this year it is darker still with The Scottish Play.

My lovely children get together to buy me theatre tokens and I choose something that will get me thinking.

The programme made a good deal about the play being about time; indeed there was a digital clock on stage. For me the casting of three young girls as the witches was far more powerful. Shakespeare was writing amid the Jacobean witch hunts. Men were portraying witches as evil hags in league with the devil; in truth they tended to be intelligent women (always hated by men) with skills of healing. Tracy Borman's wonderful debut novel, The King's Witch, shows this vividly. So the casting of children made it clear that evil was not external to Macbeth and his wife, but within them, as indeed it is within all of us. No excuses.