WEA October Visit to Turner-Monet-Twombly Exhibition at Tate Liverpool

We shared a lovely day yesterday exploring the paintings and meanings behind the canvases at Tate Liverpool. In all, 16 of us took part, including students attending WEA art classes, a couple of tutors and voluntary members. The natural light through the windows was atmospheric. I knew we were in for a good experience when I marvelled at a whole rainbow, overarching the river Mersey.

The day was introduced by Alison Jones, Programme Manager: Public and Community Learning for Tate Liverpool who welcomed everyone. I then spoke about how excited the WEA is about being able to bring together a mix of adult students, of tutors and a sprinkling of voluntary members to share in what we anticipated to be an enriching, lively experience, outside of the classroom environment.   Then, the artist, Susan McCall, introduced the outline for the day. She was to be our guide.

Susan let us see how the paintings on display at the exhibition linked to the themes of power, beauty and space, atmosphere, fire and water and vital force. She held our attention as she demonstrated ‘markings’ on paper (vertical, horizontal, triangular) as guides to the intention of the artists. It was a way in to seeing how the artists’ works inter-related. A good start, I thought, and everyone listened intently, not wanting to miss a thing.

The rest of the morning was taken up by viewing the artworks, including Monet’s Water Lillies, among many glorious works on display. ‘Lillies symbolise grief’,  Susan told us. How far was Monet thinking of all the young men, killed during the First World War while he painted? In the afternoon, we got practical. Susan led the group, using first charcoal on a stick to take us out of our comfort zone, then paints.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the workshop. It was only our second collaboration between Tate Liverpool and WEA North West and everyone was enthused by it. We hope in finding out about these opportunities for learning, more and more people will find their way to the WEA, to Tate Liverpool or to others to see and talk about art in a new and fresh way, one which forces them to question their own experience. ‘How will we know?’, someone was heard to ask. ‘By looking again at the paintings and asking why…’, came back the reply.

A Tangle of Spiders

I thought I’d write a little about my experience of attending the annual gathering of the Alternatives to Violence Project in Britain (avpb) at Woodbrooke from 5-7 October 2012. I can’t say it’s been exhausting but it has been tiring. I haven’t flung myself into activities. Shyness, lack of confidence….? None of these . It’s simply been a getting to know people and avpb and holding that up to see if it’s worth me taking a further step as an apprentice facilitator. This is my title, my status and position in the charity.

Like all small charities, public bodies, even some large private organisations – practically all institutions in Britain today, save you might say the banks which seem to be doing fine – avpb is at a crossroads. Financially, it needs to bring in more resource to maintain and develop its work. It wants to align itself more closely with potential funders’ fit. We now have a raft of policies and procedures, all of which I value. Just a part of me regrets the passing of a ‘make-do-and-mend’ approach which characterises small and not so small charitable organisations. Will we see avpb grow its corporate image and become a bigger player on the scene of restorative justice or mediation?

I can hear voices telling me you’re not been here long enough to know what it’s like. And it’s true. I stand with one foot in and one out. What I can say is that it’s hugely beneficial for people to come together to discuss what everyone here is clearly passionate about, the past, present and future of avpb.

Come out early morning onto the terrace at Woodbrooke in October and you may find a weave of what looks like frost on a corner of the grassy bank. Look closer. It’s not early morning frost but a mat of interwoven spiders’ webs. I’ve seen these here on the grass before, alone or in small clusters but I’ve never seen such an expanse, covering two to three square metres. It struck me how this image fits in with how I see avpb. It’s benefited me personally and I wonder how it might grow in the future as one single spider’s web joins onto a neighbouring one, which joins onto…and so on. I’ve met some of the ‘spiders’ of avpb and wonder where they find the time, energy and commitment to give as much as they do.

It feels that you build something up, only for it to shrink or disappear, just like the spiders’ mat, once the sun warms it. As I write this, I’m sitting only a few yards from that corner and there’s no sign of it now. Yet, it will be back tomorrow, hopefully. No, it will. Will avpb? That seems to be a question that many are asking here.

In the funders’ eyes, who are the target groups most attractive to drawing down public or trust money? The disadvantaged, obviously. I wonder, do you know anyone who is disadvantaged? Do they have an East London, cockney accent (forgive me, I’m a simple Liverpudlian with no accent to speak of, I’m told)? Do they have a history of violence, of communication failure, of financial struggle, of turning left instead of right and finding themselves in a difficult situation? I was attracted to avpb because of its human face, because it enables people to tell each other their stories.These can be painful and there are often tears. I hope these are tears of release, of change. Even if no tears, you hope for a shift within, a dawning realisation both of the need to change and of seeing a way to do it. I hope avpb doesn’t lose this thread, flimsy though it is. I needed avpb and found it because I am a human being with faults, not because I was one of a target group.

What do I sound like? Get a grip. There are proper reasons for avpb reviewing and strengthening its strategic direction, its governance and management structures and procedures to make them an effective as possible. To any problem, people often have their own solutions, only they don’t or can’t see them. It could be right under their noses. But it’s the people directly involved who will be able , perhaps with some creative facilitation, to see the way forward and around, over, or under the obstacles ahead. I’ve only come in at the end of this process. It looks like it has found the way forward but it worries me that avpb might be trying to fit itself into others’ agendas rather than sit confidently within its own.

‘What brought you to avp?’. I was asked this question a couple of times this weekend. If I came to avp now, I would have to fit into one of three target groups. If we take the broad view, they include practically everyone. A narrower view ie the disadvantaged may have excluded me. ‘Before you got to the end of the question’, I told a friend, ‘I would have put the phone down.’

Over the course of the two days, I’ve been reminded of who I was when I went to my first level one workshop as a participant. This put me in touch with the emotions I was feeling back then, 3 or 4 years ago, and also the ones which rose to the surface during the workshops. Yet it felt perfectly safe. I still marvel at the strength, unity, unflappability and tenderness of the facilitators, all volunteers. They were like me and I wasn’t the only one to have experienced ‘violence’ in one of its many guises and to have dished it out. avpb was one of a number of experiences I went through and am still going through which have helped me to see myself and my situation more clearly. Caring for myself enables me to care for others which, in turn, nourishes me further.

But it’s not for the faint-hearted and it’s not for everyone. I liken my first ever workshop over a dank weekend in Birkenhead to having all my emotions put in the washing machine on full spin. You feel drained but you are cleaner, inside out, for having shared the experience.

I hope to add my own small thread to the tangle of webs, my bit of avpb, linking up with others. If my web melts in the warm sunshine, the memories will not. I know they will be back tomorrow, maybe not in the same place but providing an opportunity for renewal. We are only human after all.