Outside Edge

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Alex Clark has come a fair way to be in London this May Wednesday. Not just physically - though his home is on the Isle of Arran - but personally, too. It is safe to say that Clark is the only former miner and Communist Party organiser to have served on the Board of Scottish Ballet. He's here to collect pounds 10,000: recognition of his lifelong voluntary work on behalf of the arts.

The money's not for him. It's the Reed Elsevier Award - which along with the Goodman Award has been presented to him by the Association for Business Sponsorship of the Arts. It's destined for two projects of his own choosing: the Glasgow Film Theatre and a scheme to convert a derelict church on the Isle of Arran into a theatre.

The eldest of 10 children, Clark was born into a mining family in Lanarkshire. He remained a a miner until he was 31, and took his passion for music to the pit face.

'I felt a bit separate,' he says. 'I remember when there was a matinee of Tosca at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow. I came off the night-shift at the pit, washed and went straight there. By the time I got back home it was time for work. They used to say, 'The man's daft.' '

Selling tickets for a play which visited the village in the late Forties set him on the way to working with an array of arts bodies. By 1969 - after a long spell working for the Communist Party - he became regional branch secretary of Equity, and began seeking out new spaces in which to take drama to a wider audience: to schools, to small communities, to the workplace. He fixed canteen concerts at Clydeside factories and shipyards: and they were a success.

'Bill McEwan, the singer, had a lovely show called So You Say You Dinna Like Opera which he took to some of those factory concerts. People recognised tunes they'd lived with all their lives. I never worked a section of a pit in my life where if I started to sing an aria from La boheme or La Traviata, someone wouldn't have joined in, because they'd played in brass and silver bands. It was a part of the culture . . . a culture that's died a death now the mining villages of Scotland have been decimated.'

Involving trade unions in the arts remains Clark's central concern, and encouraging Scottish trade unions to sponsor the arts remains his main aim (Clark was instrumental in creating the post of arts officer at the Scottish TUC).

'Some trade unionists still see the arts - especially what they would call the 'high arts' - as a bit of frippery,' he says. 'But I just work away and hope that the changes will slowly take place. As William Morris said: 'I do not want art for a few any more than I want education for a few or freedom for a few.' That's a cracking quote. That just sums it all up.'

Comments