Sharon Heal

What about community?

Sharon Heal, 14.02.2012
Museums Journal: blog
The Pennines have long been a symbolic and actual dividing line between all that is right and good and proper (Yorkshire) and all that is not (Manchester).

And so it was earlier this week when I headed off to an opening at the National Coal Mining Museum (NCM) near Wakefield, swiftly followed by the State of the Arts conference at The Lowry in Salford.

I was at the NCM for the opening of No Redemption, an exhibition of photographs by Keith Pattison.

In 1984 Pattison went to stay in Easington, a mining town, to document the local community during the miners’ strike.

He went for a month but ended up living there on and off for the duration of the strike, recording the passion, the commitment, and the highs and lows of the dispute, and its impact on the tight knit mining community.

His hard-hitting photographs have a grim beauty and speak of the solidarity and the determination of those prepared to make sacrifices for their principles.

Speaking at the opening Pattison talked about the heartbreak of going back to the community 20 years on to see for himself the devastation wrought by the closure of the mine and the economic gloom that has settled afresh over the North East.

His one note of optimism was that he hoped the exhibition would help people “find their voice”.

This raw and meaningful exhibition was in stark contrast to the State of the Arts conference at the Lowry today. Here the emphasis so far has been wholly on the artist with little mention of community, access, participation or audiences.

During the morning session we were repeatedly told that the artist was the centre of everything and must be the focus of the arts council’s work.

This is far removed from how many museums operate and shows the yawning chasm of understanding that still exists between the arts council and the average museum.

Sharon Heal is editor of MJ. She was born in Yorkshire.

Follow her on Twitter @Sharonheal

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MA Member
20.02.2012, 16:56
Does it matter, as long as the two know what they're about and ACE knows what they're about?

There are a number of organisations that are both museum and arts (e.g. the last comment); how do they manage?
20.02.2012, 16:51
Let's hope no-one expects the sheep to do just that now they've put in that sty : )
20.02.2012, 16:37
Perhaps neither side are wrong. The arts want art and artists to be at the centre of their mission; museums prefer to focus on different priorities. The gap between the two is more a comment on the bizarre decision of the Westminster government to scrap the MLA, a body with interests across the UK and to then strongarm the museum sector into the Arts Council OF ENGLAND, purely for, it appears, bureaucratic convenience. Just because you put your sheep in a pig stye, doesn't mean that they will oink, like rolling in mud and produce bacon!