Coales' Notes: For the people

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The Independent Culture
TUESDAY: Festival Update. Basically, I think it's coming along. Now Fiona's on board, it's like old times.

Following the total lack of public response, we've decided to soft-pedal the whole idea of a community-oriented festival, which is a great relief. There's never been the smallest interest in the arts here, so best let sleeping dogs lie. We spend our time sitting in the Centre, ringing up people we know, and asking them if there's anything they'd like to put on. Fiona mentioned that she was in touch with Alan again - could we push a commission his way? I said, why not.

We're enjoying ourselves. We haven't seen much of Iz lately, which is also a relief.

WEDNESDAY: It seems some people just can't take no for an answer. Fiona said she had seen Iz this morning, and Iz had said to her: 'If they won't come to us, we have a duty to go to them,' and Fiona had gathered that she'd been 'out there, literally knocking on doors', asking people 'What do you want? And could art help?' I said, how extraordinary.

Fiona remarked that one did have to admit this was an area where we'd never really got it together, back in the days of the Wormwood. I said quite, back in the days of the Wormwood we always operated a strict policy of sensitivity to the community - ie leave the community well alone.

Fiona said: 'But when you have someone who is completely insensitive . . .' We laughed.

THURSDAY: Curious news of Alan. Apparently he is deeply involved in public, local-issue-based projects. He goes into a location, researches it, and identifies an issue; does this all over the place now.

I said fine, and it might look good to have at least one community-centred effort in the Festival, but how long would all this research take? She replied: 'Oh, only a day or two, I think. You know Alan.' I asked, what sort of issues? She said: 'I gather that 'homelessness' is always the issue he eventually identifies. It's kind of quicker for him.' I said, nothing too political though.

She explained that what Alan did then, was simply to dot a number of modernist-

type sculptures around the location in question. (He had an artisan who made them.) 'In a way it's drawing a parallel between the metaphoric homelessness of the modern sculpture and the literal homelessness of, well, the homeless. So it does have quite a political meaning.' I said, but not so as the casual passer-by would notice. She shrugged. I told her that, to my mind, that was the very best kind of political art, in fact the best kind of local-issue-based art all round. Book him.

Later I found a note from Iz on my desk, concerning some so-called 'Community Feedback Initiatives'. It appears she has actually been out there, talking to people. This is possibly worrying. I'm not having our festival hijacked by the public now.

FRIDAY: Saw Iz. She gave me a little lecture on 'what people want and what people need'. Then she said: 'One of the things we want to do is something that really deals with the problem of homelessness.' I told her I thought I might be ahead of her there, but go on.

She went on: 'Now I've spent some time down at that end of the Gilbert Arcade, where they tend to congregate - you know, just talking. And what we're thinking of is a sculptural group, as a memorial to the homeless of the city.' She said it was vital to avoid sentimentality. It must be something that responds realistically to the sheer resilience of the homeless. 'We're thinking that abstract or semi-abstract work might be appropriate.'

I said it was an interesting idea, but one could hardly speak of a memorial to people who were still there. She replied: 'Well yes, but when the sculptures are up on site - and we're hoping for something quite big - they'll obviously have to move on, won't they?'

I asked who she meant by 'we' here? 'Oh, all the shops in the Arcade. The initiative comes from them. You see, Gordon, this is art that actually fills a need. And the fantastic thing is, what I'm increasingly finding, these are people who wouldn't normally think of themselves as being interested in art at all.'