We have ‘indie’ writers and publishers, guerrilla artists and now ‘indie’ festivals like Scarborough Flare (www.scarboroughflare.co.uk). This is both exciting and daunting.
When I lived in the US working for an anti-poverty non-governmental organisation, I was impressed by the amount of grassroots energy I came in contact with. This is a side of that country which rarely gets into films or the media, it’s not glossy or sexy, but it does get the job done. Though these community actions are not without their difficulties. They are born of necessity where the state is almost wholly absent. They often fizzle once the founding volunteers have been sucked dry of their energy. And they are frequently isolated, unable to learn from other similar projects or from the past. Still I felt there was something admirable in the reflex of folks to get together and make things happen. It was something I was not so used to seeing in this country. Until now.
Leaving aside what the current government is doing to our welfare state and NHS, it is clear that money for the arts (especially outside London) is vanishing quicker than Monty Python’s rat up an aqueduct. Those of us who think that writing, creativity, storytelling, performance, art are essential and not just luxury add-ons to human life, are going to have to learn to shift for ourselves.
Even in this country, we have historical antecedents. Virginia Woolf’s husband set up a press to see his wife’s works published. Some of our best loved poets’ collections were brought to fruition by subscription. It’s really only been in the last hundred years that we’ve had a publishing ‘industry’ as such. Growing from companies created by individuals who loved books to what we have today, for the most part dominated by conglomerates which are profit motivated, risk-averse and overly obsessed by celebrity.
So we have fertile ground for the ‘indie’ and the guerrilla, of which Scarborough Flare is a fine example. Fuelled only by passion, persistence and many, many voluntary hours, it is on track to deliver an exciting and inspiring programme.
However, with my State-side experience in mind, I wonder are we up to the challenge? How will we ensure we learn from other similar endeavours and also from the past? How do we turn ourselves from mere writers into event organisers, volunteer organisers, PR supremos? Are we able to stay open to a breadth of works while maintaining the excellence of our offer?
All of us who are involved in Scarborough Flare should be very proud of what we have achieved this year on so few resources. I personally think the members of the committee have worked a minor miracle in bringing and holding everything together. Now, looking to the future, are we ready and able to keep Scarborough Flare ‘indie’ and something of quality?