Connecting all the dots by Paul Cann


Paul Cann is the Chair of the Entelechy Arts Board of Trustees.

What would you most like to wake up to on the radio?  A weather forecast predicting occasional showers and grey skies?  A Brexit ‘Groundhog Day’ type interview? Or Entelechy Arts and David Slater’s dulcet tones on ‘Start the Week’ with Andrew Marr.  (There’s a right answer to this question).

Andrew Marr, of course, has his own story with the arts; after his disabling stroke at the age of 53 he took up drawing and wrote eloquently about how creating things was his way back (and forward): as he put it, ‘to make is to live’.  He clearly warmed to David describing how many people working with Entelechy Arts like the ‘Meet Me’ groups had spent their lives slogging away to support their families, but in doing so had submerged their own personal impulses to create, to let themselves go, to make and to live.

I think our quest at Entelechy Arts is to help people find that something for which they want to get out of bed in the morning.  The friends, the singing, the Tea Dance, the crafting, the movement and touch, whatever makes life worth living and keeping hope alive. I’ve spent nearly 30 years in charities and voluntary agencies seeing care services reduced to protection, feeding and watering, survival through to another day of functioning rather than flourishing.

I came to a heartfelt view that, yes, it was important to campaign for better pensions, dignity in care, basic rights.  And at Help the Aged, Age UK and elsewhere we did that well. But meanwhile, we neglected the things that, actually, keep hope alive for us.  What has most lifted my sights has been the example of so many wonderful ‘flowers’ across the UK that have bloomed, often because of visionary support and funding.  And we’ve been so lucky to have our own great friends, the Baring Foundation, the Arts Council, Lewisham Council, to name just a few.

I think of the amazing dance troupes such as The Company of Elders at Sadler’s Wells (pictured) or Candoco.  I recall going to a posh dinner (more later) and being delighted not to win the Radio 3 Classical Music Award because the winner was the breathtaking South West (now National) Open Youth Orchestra: a group of young people making great music despite severe disabilities.

two older women dancing on stage

I look around and see how barriers such as disability, poverty and isolation are being torn down to enable people to bring their real creative selves to the surface.  Look at ‘Armchair App’, where if you are in Nottingham and housebound, you can tour the city art gallery without leaving your home, using a tablet.  I watch with awe as the ’In Harmony’ project, learning from the Venezuelan music-in-slums initiative ‘El Sistema’, has reached into the most deprived areas of Britain and equipped thousands of children in primary schools each week with musical instruments and tuition to give them this great gift of music.

And, being a singer myself (‘enthusiastic’ is a coded adjective for my singing here), I look with hope at the awesome online choirs assembled by the American composer Eric Whitacre.  Bringing together 2,000 singers, each on their own from 60 countries on the internet, they create beautiful renditions like Eric’s piece ‘Sleep’ (pictured) And wonder too, that if he can do this, why aren’t we getting out there and insisting on better for the many people stuck on their own at home.

many images of choir singers around a globe

Of course, there’s no substitute for face to face, for touch and for being in the same room, in good company.  It is what we all crave.  So many people of all ages experience the heartache of loneliness.  And this is what spurred me to commission one of our very best composers, Bob Chilcott, to write a choral work ‘The Voyage’, performed in person now by young and old together across the world telling the story of life and loneliness in nine beautiful movements.  We didn’t win the award at that posh dinner.  But I like to think ‘The Voyage’ created something special, which lasted long after the plates were cleared away.

So, to you all, and especially to those responsible for caring for others, I hope that together we can transform the meaning of the word care. ‘Day centres into arts centres’. From a series of disjointed ailments and frailties to one single thread of living life to the full, being one’s fullest creative self, keeping hope alive.  If anyone can do it, surely Entelechy Arts can. After all, we’ve been doing it for over 30 years.

Paul Cann

Chair, Entelechy Arts

Listen again to Andrew Marr’s ‘Start the Week’ featuring David Slater, Artistic Director of Entelechy Arts. First broadcast Monday 8 April 2019.

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