Friday, March 10, 2006

From Prison to the Private Sector

The morning at Brixton Prison. I've never been in a prison before, and the endless locking and unlocking of doors and gates, combined with the colossal amounts of barbed wire and the net over the exercise yard ("to stop people throwing drugs over the walls") rather freaks me out. The wing itself looks uncannily like the set of Porridge, with lines of men queuing to get their lunch, before they take it up to the cells to eat it under lock and key, while the warders have their own lunch break.

Brixton is making huge strides in terms of generating positive activities for the inmates, which serve as a surreptitious way of giving them important skills (like improved literacy, team work and so on), which may help the to avoid re-offending once they're released. Given that some of the men I see today have been in prison 20 or 30 times, you can see why this is important. My visit overlaps with a lady called Sue, who does music work with them, and the initial contact came as a result of us having worked with South Bank Education, who have also been doing music here. There's been film work too - apparently they're in the process of editing a film about being Muslim in prison(which about 1 in 7 of the prisoners at Brixton is: half of the prison chapel is now a mosque, and there's a resident imam, who cuts an intriguing figure as he moves through the Dickensian buildings). What they've not done much of is theatre, because (they tell me, rather flatteringly), they've been waiting for the right people. They like ur intercultural remit, and they like the idea of devised work. Scripted plays are going to be problematic when the literacy level is so poor - but the improvisation to script process might actually help build literacy skills.

I'm quite excited by the possibility of making a piece here (and very aware of the challenges!). My enthusiasm takes a few steps backward when I'm told it would be up to us to raise the funding. Not that I think it would be hard - art for social change is what the Arts Council is all about these days - but I'm concerned that it shouldn't get in the way of our core programme. Community work like this should relate to, feed into and feed off the company's professional work, but it can't knock that professional work out of the centre of the company's mission. I'm very wary of doing anything which might shift us from being artist-led towards being funder-led.

Thinking about all this, I shift ground to Butler's Wharf, and the offices of Arts & Business. I meet Vanessa Robinson, who looks after their Board Bank - people from business who might be interested in becoming trustees of arts organizations. She's very optimistic about finding somebody who'd be attracted by our international remit, and who might be able to give us the boost we need in terms of scale, visibility and sales. Well - let's see......

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