The week in the Uists has been very, very good. I always felt that it would be a useful venture for us, but what I didn't realise was just how important it would be. Important in a number of ways – firstly, a key stage in developing a theatre show about Angus McPhee; but also important for doing something altogether more fundamental – reminding us, when it comes to the crunch, of what actually matters.
To work in the (publicly subsidised) arts right now can be frustrating. Matters of funding, of management, of income generation, of negotiations with the Arts Council, of service and contract agreements, sit so visibly on the surface of our day to day work life that it often feels as if the real substance of our work – the creative vision and all the work that springs from it – is totally squashed by the these considerations, and that the sheer weight of emails, budgets, meetings, audience analyses and suchlike dominate and take precedence over the relatively straightforward matter of creating work which communicates and explores ideas with grace, in the process entertains, and then brings people together meaningfully.
Loz Kaye described this well in his guest blog on Monday – and reminded us that we are dealing with a man who needed his art for his survival. We were told that Angus felt that the system had crucified him, and we saw how his grass weaving grew from his deep need to reconnect himself with the culture and place from which he came, and from which his life was so abruptly severed.
The meetings we've had with people here who are working to sustain the rich Gaelic and Celtic culture of the islands have been extremely stimulating. Honesty and integrity has shone through. South Uist, where Angus was brought up and where he died, has a population of about 1800 people spread over a large area. In this context an art centre, or a centre of learning, can be seen clearly for what it is – as an essential and necessary part of the community, maintaining and sustaining and developing the history and heritage of the people. On these islands the creativity of the community shines out – most particularly in the musical heritage, but also in the wealth of fine artists and craftspeople and their studios that dot the landscape.
Back in Lancashire the landscape is very different of course, and the view is more complex – shops, traffic on the roads, business of all sorts - all this and much more obscures the picture. But at heart the same human needs remain – places where we can meet together with meaning; opportunities to create and express our anxieties and uncertainties, as well as celebrate who we are individually and collectively. Having got considerably closer to Angus this week, I'm humbled that this humblest of men can still manage to give me something very important to take back home to our own community and place in Rossendale, reminding us of the real urgency and importance of what we're trying to do as artists.