Breaking Bread

Spotlight

A little while ago, I started compiling a list of Toronto-based food-related projects and people for a friend going to North America on a professional research visit. Some of them are based, like me at the time, at the Centre for Social Innovation – such as Aruna Handa’s Alimentary Initiatives, who mixes art, food and social interaction in her Future Food Salons to “examine and taste what we may be eating in the future”; others are well-known and liked institutions, at the forefront of education, social justice and community engagement, like 30-year-old foodbank The Stop; others still had just sprung up during my time living in the city: surplus urban fruit harvesters Not Far From the Tree (presented in the video below by founder Laura Reinsborough) or ethical catering company (and B CorporationPaintbox Bistro, which employs and trains residents from Regent’s Park, one of Toronto’ so-called “priority neighbourhoods”.

I recently came across a few new food-sharing initiatives in France and the UK that make a great start for a closer-to-home list – so here they are.

 

Alimentary Upcycling: The Real Junk Food Project

The Real Junk Food Project is a “global, organic network of pay as you feel cafés (that) divert food destined for waste and use it to create delicious and healthy meals”. The first one opened in Leeds in December 2013 – and there are now about 50 affiliated community-led outlets in the UK, Europe and as far as Australia.

As founder Adam Smith (delivering his TEDx Talk above) puts it, “it’s wasted food, not waste food”.

Here’s a look inside the latest Real Junk Food Café in Manchester, entirely furnished and equipped with donated gods:

 

 

Digitally-enabled Local Sharing: OLIO

Like FreeCycle for food! “OLIO is a free app which connects neighbours with each other and with local businesses to exchange their edible surplus food. Think food nearing its sell-by date in local stores, spare vegetables from the allotment, cupcakes from an amateur baker, or the groceries in your fridge when you go away.”

First launched in London’s Crouch End neighbourhood in July 2015, OLIO has already expanded to 6 boroughs in London and is planning to expand its offer to Bristol and other UK cities.

App users can upload items they want to donate or sell (at no more than 50% of the original retail price).

OLIO screen grab

Other users can then contact them to arrange a pick up – either at their home, or at a registered Drop Box location.

The app developers have made sure to include a few guidelines to ensure that all exchanges are respectful and responsible – starting by “Only add items that you would be willing to eat yourself”.

 

Targeted Fundraising: Ernest

It’s not just happening in the UK – in France too, food-related charities – foodbanks, social groceries… – have seen the demand for help increase and public funds decrease in recent years.

Ernest was set up in 2015 to run fundraising campaigns with partner restaurants that contribute to specific needs of identified local charities. For each meal consumed in a partner restaurant during the campaign, a few centimes are added to the bill and redistributed to a selected local charity, generally towards a capacity-building project (the current campaign in Toulouse is raising funds towards buying fridges or renovating the kitchen for three foodbanks).

They aim to create “local solidarity networks” by linking restaurants, their customers, charities and their clients around the notion of sharing.

This week: start of the ERNEST campaign +0.20 € added to your bill on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays

This week: start of the ERNEST campaign +0.20 € added to your bill on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
Image © Lucky Miam (www.luckymiam.com/ernest/)

 

 

#artspolicy50: an update on Jennie Lee’s White Paper

The Long Read

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first – and so far only – White Paper for the Arts, written by then-Minister of State for the Arts Jennie Lee. We’re also just 70 days away from the next General Election – time to take a stance on the future of arts funding.

Timely reports, such as the 2015 Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value and GPS Culture’s A New Destination for the Arts – Between a RoCC and a Hard Place are calling for more involvement of local and central governments into rebalancing the cultural and educational provision and for a new ambitious national policy for the arts and culture.

Meanwhile, the BBC and What Next? have just launched a year-long Get Creative campaign to encourage participation in artistic and cultural activities, and the RSA’s Chief Executive Matthew Taylor is proposing a national contract between the Government and the arts & culture sector, which draft version can be consulted here.

Jennie Lee’s White Paper runs as a red thread through all these initiatives, and a few participants from the last Devoted&Disgruntled event took it upon themselves to put the original text into today’s context. Extracts from the 1965 White Paper are in black, and recent relevant quotes in red (full references are available on the 50th Anniversary Response document).

 

Jennie Lee’s White Paper
A Policy for the Arts
First Steps
a 50th Anniversary Response
to be widely shared on 25th February 2015

 

Only yesterday it was the fight for a free health service. The day before it was the struggle to win education for all … In any civilised community the arts and associated amenities, serious or comic, light or demanding, must occupy a central place. Their enjoyment should not be regarded as something remote from everyday life.

In the zero-sum economy of austerity Britain, the arts are increasingly required to couch their case in terms appropriate to those basic services – social care, education, policing – with which they’re in competition for dwindling public funds. (David Edgar, 2012)

It has been an incredible life-changing opportunity for the town/community. We loved being able to give opportunities to young people. We also discovered so many local charities and companies that we can give a boost to. (Luton Fun Palace, 2014)

But if a high level of artistic achievement is to be sustained and the best in the arts made more widely available, more generous and discriminating help is urgently needed, locally, regionally, and nationally.

Arts Council England has revealed plans for implementing the 29.6% cut to its budget announced as part of the Government’s Spending Review. (The Entertainment and Media Group News, October 2010)

 Too many working people have been conditioned by their education and environment to consider the best in the arts outside their reach.

The lack of opportunity is not simply limiting the people coming in, it’s restricting what’s being written. Working-class kids aren’t represented. Working-class life is not referred to. It’s really sad. (Julie Walters, 2014)

If a sane balance of population between north and south, east and west, is to be achieved, this kind of development is just as essential as any movement of industry or provision of public utility service. If the eager and gifted, to whom we must look for leadership in every field, are to feel as much at home in the north and west as in and near London, each region will require high points of artistic excellence.

2012/13 found that Londoners benefited from £69 a year spending per head, compared with just £4.50 in the rest of England. Overall, a balance in London’s favour of 4.1:1. (Rebalancing our Cultural Capital; David Powell, Christopher Gordon, Peter Stark, 2014)

The concept of the arts centre is most valuable since such a centre can be of almost any size and cover any range of activities. A single hall can provide a place where local people can meet, perform an amateur play, hold an exhibition of their own or of professional work, put on a film show, lecture or recital and generally act as focal point for cultural activities and amenities.

We felt it was really important to hand over the venue to the local community; local individuals and organisations were invited to take part. This ensured a wholly accessible approach, with new audiences in a family friendly setting. (ARC Stockton Fun Palace)

 Certain sections of the press, by constantly sniping at cultural expenditure, made philistinism appear patriotic.

The wicked Tories will be blamed for ‘vandalising’ the arts, just you see. Yet how bad are the arts cuts? Or is much of this merely special pleading by an over-indulged quango? (Quentin Letts, Daily Mail, 2011)

If children at an early age become accustomed to the idea of the arts as a part of everyday life, they are more likely in maturity first to accept and then to demand them.

I am prepared to fight to give children independence and autonomy, and the psychological space to respond in the way they want – and that sometimes means the right to respond and process privately and without adults around or the need for any measurable outcomes. (Purni Morrell 2014, Artistic Director, Unicorn Theatre)

But too often, as boys and girls grow up, the impetus seems to weaken, so that as adults we are more vulnerable than we should be to criticisms of our inadequate uses of literacy, of our failure to appreciate poetry, of our limited tastes in music and drama, of our ignorance of the visual arts and of our blindness to good design.

What is clear now is that young people, especially those in the less affluent regions, are not getting any opportunities at all, because arts … access for young people has been swept away. And I think it will only get worse. Paul Collard, Chief Executive at CCE (Creative Culture and Education)

Nor can we ignore the growing revolt, especially among the young.

I don’t doubt that many of the rioters out last week have no father at home. Perhaps they come from one of the neighbourhoods where it’s standard for children to have a mum and not a dad… Many people have long thought that the answer to these questions of social behaviour is to bring back national service. In many ways I agree. David Cameron, 2011

The crafts also have an important contribution to make in the field of education and leisure pursuits as well as in their influence on good design.

Where else could a knitting fan, a bread-maker, a psychologist, a toy shop owner, a jewellery maker, a storyteller, a poetry fan, a book group, a drama teacher, a scientist, a museum, a library, a fish and chip shop, and a bored marketing manager be involved in creating a day of free entertainment for our town? (Whitstable Fun Palace)

Nor must Government support be given only to established institutions. New ideas, new values, the involvement of large sections of the community hitherto given little or no opportunity to appreciate the arts, all have their place.

We’ve come a long way since Jennie Lee and yet… there is still a significant engagement gap, with education and affluence the major factors influencing likelihood and levels of engagement. (Deborah Bull, Young People and The Arts: Lessons from 50 years of Arts Policy, 2015)

At present, the artist, having finished their schooling, has still to gain experience and has difficulty in obtaining employment. Many turn aside to other types of employment because the life of the artist is too precarious.

The so-called golden age of arts funding has given way to debilitating austerity, particularly for artists who find themselves at the end of a long food chain, divorced from arts funding and policy decision making. (Susan Jones, 2013)

Many well qualified, talented and passionate young people lack the resources to pay their own way through an unpaid internship. (Institute for Public Policy Research, 2010)

In order to bring the arts within reach of a wider public, greater use might be made of the subsidised travel for special occasions which the Arts Council already operate and the practice of giving specially reduced theatre prices to students and to special groups should be more widely adopted.

It’s great to have a £10 a ticket system, but if all the £10 tickets are being sold to people who were buying them for £50 the week before, then that’s no great gain. (Chris Bryant MP)

Between February 2009 and March 2011, A Night Less Ordinary gave 393,657 free theatre tickets to people under 26. (Arts Council England)

The exclusion of so many for so long from… our cultural heritage can become as damaging to the privileged minority as to the under-privileged majority.

This is something worth fighting for. It’s not just about showbusiness – everywhere you go people are discriminated against. And if by having an organised voice against inequality and a lack of diversity we might be able to push that down – how brilliant would it be?” (Lenny Henry, Actor, Writer, Comedian, TV Presenter)

Some local authorities will need a good deal of persuading before they are convinced that the money it is in their power to spend on arts and amenities is money well spent and deserving a much higher priority than hitherto.

For every £1 spent by local authorities in England, less than half a penny is spent on culture. The average net spend by local authorities is only 16p per person per week. (National Campaign For The Arts)

If one side of life is highly mechanised, another side must provide for diversity, adventure, opportunities both to appreciate and to participate in a wide range of individual pursuits. An enlightened government has a duty to respond to these needs.

A new social as well as artistic climate is essential.

5 Questions to… Eleanor & Rosie, The Brick Box Ladies

5 questions to...

I recently had the great personal and professional pleasure to work with The Brick Box, a Community Interest Company currently working across London and in Bradford but constantly expanding their reach thanks to their determination to spread “art, love and magic” all over the world.

Ruling the roost, the Brick Box Ladies – a.k.a. co-directors Eleanor Barrett and Rosie Freeman – preside over a small army of artists of all denominations and project managers – like myself – who work collaboratively to infuse under-used public spaces with a new lease of life. Their latest projects include the A13 Green in Canning Town (a village green complete with fairy-lit bandstand under a concrete flyover), the Light Fantastic in Thamesmead and the Electric Fireside in Little Germany, Bradford – and most recently the event I contributed to, the Big Draw by the River in Nine Elms. There are tons of photos and videos on their website (they’ve got their marketing priorities nailed down and always employ top-notch photographers and videographers) so I’ve pinched a few to include in between each question and show off their fantastic work.

 

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

Rosie (centre) and Eleanor (right) at the Toast Temple, Wandsworth Arts Festival 2014. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch.

1. Your next event is Light Night Canning Town on 29 November 2014. What’s a typical day right now?

Busy! We’re ramping up marketing and press, trying to get the word out far and wide. We’ve got such a fantastic programme we want to make sure lots of people come and enjoy it. We’re also making daily prayers for good weather!

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Light Fantastic on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

2. You’ve been organising events for several years now. What gets easier with time? And what doesn’t?

It’s been 4 and a half years as The Brick Box, far longer in different incarnations. It’s easier to work out budgets, have an idea of what an event might be like, and pack gaffer tape! What doesn’t get easier? Worrying that no one will come!

Half Moon Theatre's Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

Half Moon Theatre’s Punch and Judy on the Royal Victoria Beach. Photo: Kevin Ricks.

3. Before, during or after an event – what’s your favourite moment, the one that makes it all worth it?

Definitely during an event – it’s great to see people enjoying themselves and taking part in the things we hoped they would.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

The Toast Temple on The Moorings estate in Thamesmead. Photo: Roxanne Grant.

4. What other event(s) would you love to attend as audience member?

Eleanor: Shambala Festival
Rosie: another Bruce Springsteen gig!

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

10-piece drum and brassband, Old Dirty Brasstards, at the launch of the A13 Green 2014. Photo: Matt Badenoch.

5. Who would be your dream artist(s) to collaborate with?

Eleanor – Grayson Perry and Mae West
Rosie – William Blake and my friend Lisa!

And finally, hot off the editing bench, here’s a little film of the Big Draw day by Tomo Brody.

First Encounters: Cafe OTO, Vortex, BFI and National Gallery

Spotlight

Discovering a venue is like entering a new universe: if they got it right, their identity – the type of art they programme, the values they carry, the experience they create – is palpable right from the front door. This is how I felt recently about Cafe OTO, an experimental venue in Dalston, East London, where I went in September to see Rodrigo Constanzo (with whom I’m currently working on developing his dfscore project) perform with Distractfold as part of the Kammer Klang series of contemporary chamber music.

Here is Rodrigo performing one of his composition, iminlovewithanothergirl, a solo piece for snare and microphone, right at the end of the set.

The austere feel of the venue – basically a warehouse – creates an edgy focus for the music and makes the listening experience that much more intense. The acoustics are not even that good, there’s a loud fan that comes on between each set, and I can’t describe the seats as comfortable, but the space creates an intimacy not just with the performers but also between audience members: I was on my own, but I could easily strike a conversation with people sitting near me.

Not long after, I was at the Vortex, just round the corner, also for the first time, for what I can only describe as a journey through abstraction and emotion with Electric Biddle, a Jazz Shuttle project (Jazz Shuttle is a creative scheme supporting new Franco-British bands that I’ve recently started to coordinate on the UK side). A team from Paris venue Le Triton was there to film a documentary about the band, and here’s an extract from the first leg of the tour, filmed in France.

My latest encounter with a venue is a double one: I was invited to the BFI to watch the latest documentary by Fred Wiseman, who spend 12 weeks inside the National Gallery. He filmed everything from guided tours to executive meetings and restoration work, and condensed 170 hours of footage into a 3-hour film that celebrate both the art and the institution that hosts it, in all its complexity and contradictions.

I’ve never actually been (yet) to the National Gallery, so this was a formidable virtual encounter. The spotlight is of course on the paintings, but also on people: those who make, buy, care for and admire the art. We’re privy to debates amongst staff over the purpose and limitations of restoration, or on the tension between ‘inclusion’ and ‘excellence’. We also get to eavesdrop on the vast array of education, engagement and participation activities that take place within the National Gallery: from guided school tours to teacher training, a life-drawing class, or a session for visually impaired people observing Pissaro’s The Boulevard Montmartre at Night through touch and words.

National Gallery is a journey through art and humanity told with a multitude of fragments that continue to resonate and build a meaning long after the film is finished. The most powerful moments are wordless juxtapositions of masterpiece portraits and the people observing them: a mise en abyme that connects past and present, art and life, and artist, sitter, museum-goer and film spectator, in an infinite jeu de miroir of “who’s looking at who?”.  I was also reminded of Thomas Struth’s Museum Photographs, a series of large-scale images showing museum-goers engaged in the process of observing paintings at several institutions, including the National Gallery (below).

National Gallery I, London, 1989 by Thomas Struth

National Gallery I, London, 1989 by Thomas Struth

The film is out in the UK in January 2015. Meanwhile, I’ve been back to Cafe OTO for another great night hosted by Kammer Klang, I’m off to the Vortex for the Emile Parisien Quartet in November, if not before, and I’m planning a visit to the National Gallery in the next few weeks. I haven’t said much about my experience at the BFI, but it inspired my to start a weekly film club at the Cat’s Back, the South West London pub I run with my husband, so surely that’s their job done!

Grow Your Own City

Programming

Gardening is my graffiti: I grow my art.

– Ron Finley

Ron Finley urban famer

Ron Finley, graffiti-gardener

Urban farming has its new hero: Ron Finley, artist-gardener, on a mission to make kale sexy in South Central Los Angeles, one of America’s food deserts. Since he planted a vegetable garden on a city-owned strip of land outside his house in 2010, then got fined for it and successfully led a campaign to make curbside gardening legal, he’s received a lot of media attention, including a TED Talk in 2013 (from which the quotes above and below are taken).

“Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

“Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries.”

“If kids grow kale, kids eat kale. If they grow tomatoes, they eat tomatoes.”

“We gotta flip the script on what a gangsta is — if you ain’t a gardener, you ain’t gangsta.”

The video below, featuring Ron pre-TED fame, encapsulates the multiple benefits of urban gardening: healthy eating, communal activity, cultural heritage, sensory stimulation…

From producing fresh food in a brownfield and at the same time beautifying an area to providing a physical activity to local people while creating community links, urban farming is a multi-layered activity that keeps on giving. I’ve looked below at 3 other initiatives with deep roots – transforming a school’s rooftop, re-inventing the city as a public orchard and blowing the seeds of change from a West Yorkshire village to the rest of the world.

The Teachers: School Grown

If there is one constant with urban farming, it’s that it can happen anywhere and everywhere: on the side of the road in LA, 33 metres below the busy streets of Clapham, or at the back of a truck, anywhere. By comparison, a rooftop farm is perhaps quite banal, but the one transformed by Food Share in Toronto – that can be seen from scratch to end in the timelapse video above – is rather special, because it doubles up as a “food literacy education centre, large market garden and vibrant event space all wrapped into one”.

The 16,000 square foot rooftop currently includes over 450 garden planters, 100 shiitake mushroom logs, a dwarf fruiting orchard, seating for over 200 people, a covered area and an indoor classroom – and has plans to add a rooftop teaching kitchen, a small greenhouse, a composting area and an open air cafe.

Students sell their ‘school grown’ produce at three local farmers’ markets and also supply several Toronto restaurants.

foodshare.net/schoolgrown

@FoodShareTO

The Gleaners: Not Far From The Tree

Founder and director Laura Reinsborough got the idea for Not Far From The Tree when she was working as a Community Arts Facilitator for the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) and was asked to pick apples from an urban orchard and put them to good use.

From this first experience was born Not Far From the Tree, an initiative that picks unwanted or surplus fruit from residential properties, sharing the harvest 3 ways: ⅓ to the fruit owner, ⅓ to the the volunteers and ⅓ to social agencies. In 2008, their first full season, 150 volunteers picked a total of 3,003 pounds of fruit, and the concept has now grown into a fully-fledged, city-wide, award-winning charitably constituted organisation with permanent staff.

In 5 years, they have:

  • harvested over 70,000 pounds of fruit;
  • donated more than 22,000 pounds to social service agencies;
  • registered over 1,500 trees to be picked in our operating area;
  • registered more than 1,600 volunteer pickers.

They have also produced a pretty 5-year annual report available to view online, listing these achievements and more, and also regularly commission artists – such as the one below – for their event and campaign visuals.

Apple-by-Zeesy-Powers-Oct-2012-e1393605838297

Apple by Zeesy Powers (2012)

notfarfromthetree.org

@NFFTT

The Planters: Incredible Edible

This is the extraordinary journey of a small market town in the North of England, now a hotspot of the local food revolution. With just a handful of people and seeds to start with, Todmorden has transformed itself into a place where fruit and vegetables are grown everywhere – outside the police station, in the cemetery, along the canal – and for everyone. Pam Warhurst, one of the instigators, calls it “propaganda gardening”: a way of ensuring resilience by creating deep links between community, learning and business. It’s even created a brand new genre of tourism, with “vegetable tourists” coming to the 15,000-strong town to visit the Incredible Edible Green Route.

The Todmorden experiment has inspired over 200 local groups in several countries that form the Incredible Edible Network and are typically involved in “setting up community growing plots, reaching out to schools and children, and backing local food suppliers”.

c554_incredible_edible_todmorden_police_station_food_to_share_incroyables_comestibles_w680

Incredible Edibles, outside Todmorden Police Station

c558_incredible_edible_todmorden_green_route_food_to_share_incroyables_comestibles_w1600

Food to Share – Incredible Edibles Todmorden

incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk

incredibleediblenetwork.org.uk

@incredibledible