Coales' Notes: The missing links: Gordon Coales happens upon an apparent creative void

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The Independent Culture
MONDAY: A symbolic moment. Today I sat down again at my old desk in the Wormwood Centre - now re- opened, pro tem, as the Festival Centre. The council cleaners have been in all weekend. Iz has taken the office next door. And we have a few students who believe that they are gaining work experience. I will not say it is quite like former times. But there's still that unusual smell.

This afternoon I gave an interview to Dave Curley for the Herald. Or rather, he presented me with an interview he'd already written, because, he said, 'We've got to get this absolutely right.'

It began: 'BACK IN THE HOT SEAT - 'I'm in charge now. And I'm ready for anything.' I'm talking to Gordon Coales, formerly head of the late-lamented Wormwood Centre, now newly appointed director of the May Festival. But before I can draw breath, he continues: 'We're here to celebrate the life of the city in all its aspects. You name it. We'll celebrate it.' The impression is overwhelming. This is a man in command.'

He paused. I said I thought 'late-lamented' was pushing it a bit. He said: 'But we've got to push it, if we're going to beat the 'antis'. And I'm putting the spotlight fully on you, because, quite frankly, if your colleague has many more words in edgeways, everyone's back is going to be severely got up.' I approved his article.

We're having a public consultation meeting at eight o'clock, Thursday.

TUESDAY: Iz arrived today with an idea. Couldn't we get hold of some artist or performer, born in the city, now famous, to be a festival focus?

I said it was an interesting point, because the strange thing was, there wasn't one, certainly not living - not a poet or sculptor or pop-star, not even of fourth rank and living in Canada, and it wasn't for want of searching. Something about the place, it seemed.

And someone, I remembered, once wrote a paper on this: 'Blushing Unseen? Towards some Considerations on an Apparent Creative Void in Middle England.' The writer had proposed the city as a crucial negative instance for the sociology of art - which, if properly studied, would enable one to pinpoint the specific pattern of conditions that favoured the total non-production of art. He was all set to do some serious field-work, but then the grant fell through. So we never learnt the secret.

Iz wondered if we could do something with that. 'Where are our artists? Be the first, and beat the experts.' The posters are all up anyway: 'It's Your Festival] Bring your ideas, your demands, your energies . . .'

WEDNESDAY: I met Fiona, to try and get her to call off her anti-campaign. She hardly spoke. I told her, whether she liked it or not, the festival was going to happen; the emphasis was now firmly on the community; why didn't she just come along to the meeting with an open mind, and listen.

She said: 'Oh, we'll be there. In force.' I have been carefully wording my speech.

THURSDAY: Public consultation meeting, in the Centre's theatre. At five to eight, we took up our positions on the stage: me, Gavin Poole from the Sports Centre, and Iz - repeating to herself: 'Communicate, concentrate, activate. Communicate . . .' I waited in some trepidation.

By five past, no one had arrived at all. Poole checked the doors were open. They were. It went to 10 past. Still no one. Poole said: 'Pub?' Then Rowena walked in (I had specifically asked her not to come). She mouthed to me: 'Anywhere?' - and took a seat in the middle row.

I said we had better give it a few more minutes.

Shortly afterwards I saw Fiona hovering at the exit. She eventually came in, looked around her in utter disbelief, and sat down at the very back. I said, give it 60 more seconds. I put my watch on the table. At 50 seconds, Iz stood up.

'Right. Hello, people. So - can we all hear?' Fiona suddenly cried out: 'No Festival]' Rowena turned round and sssh'd at her. I stood up myself. I addressed Fiona.

I asked her if she'd like to come down to the front. She advanced reluctantly. I said we both seemed to have misjudged the level of support for our respective causes. She said: 'Hmm.' And I said, since there wasn't much at stake now, perhaps she might care to join us on the platform.

She came up. Iz whispered: 'Welcome.' Rowena clapped. Fiona said: 'OK. So this festival. What's the plan, then?'

I said one thing we might take away from tonight's meeting was that, if we played our cards right, we should be able to get through the whole thing without anyone noticing at all.