Monday, March 05, 2007

Corridors of Power

Here I am, back at Heathrow, waiting to go back to Athens again and in a mildly poisonous mood, given that Olympic airlines have just charged me £50 for excess baggage – mainly books which I have to take to do this job properly. On the other hand, I’m typing this on my brand new laptop, which has to be good news! I’d been wondering about getting one for a while, given the increasing travel involved in running Border Crossings, and the ever-greater necessity of constant email contact. The clincher was when the email came from the Greek National Opera promising an apartment with an internet connection “for your laptop”. Assumption breeds purchase in this market-driven world. I do hope it will still be possible to disappear from time to time. There has to be wilderness, doesn’t there?

Much of the last few days in London have been devoted to the Origins Festival. This is Gordon Bronitsky’s idea for a Festival of First Nations Theatre in London, fronted by Border Crossings, with me as Director. It’s acquiring momentum: I think you’ll be hearing a lot of this in the pages of this blog. At the moment, we’re pulling together a launch event for later this year, when our advisory panel of First Nations theatre-makers will meet, give workshops and talks, create buzz and generate excitement, as well as begin the process of creating a Festival proper for 2008. We’ve attracted some exciting people to this board: Wesley Enoch, Hone Kouake, Drew Haydn Taylor….. and growing.

I went to a meeting with the Cultural Attach├ęs at the US Embassy. It was scheduled for 12 noon, and that’s when I (somewhat naively) arrived. Half an hour later, I was still battling my way through the security measures. Tank-proof barriers, endless queues for paperwork checking, photo i/ds, shoe removal, airport-style body scans, confiscation of mobile phones, car keys (car keys?!) and USB sticks, police with machine guns everywhere….. by the time I got in, I was more than ready to discuss Native American culture, its spirituality, its green-ness and what it could teach the mad Western world about living in harmony! Of course, there’s a serious element of the warrior brave to this culture, but the war on terror more than dwarfs the efforts of Crazy Horse. The Embassy is very supportive – but also a bit cagey about committing money (as so often). The reasons are instructive. “In a normal year”, they say, “we’d do this at once. And I’m sure we’ll be able to manage something….. It’s just that our discretionary budgets have been really squeezed.” If the richest nation on earth is feeling the squeeze on cultural exchange, what hope for the rest of us? It’s the war, of course: Bush’s Middle Eastern lunacy is stopping any money going anywhere useful. And, of course, America doesn’t really believe in public money for culture anyway.

The Australian High Commission is an altogether easier affair. For one thing, it only takes a moment or two to get through the door. Kirsten Moore, the Cultural Advisor, knows all about Border Crossings, having studied the website in some depth, and we talk at length about Bullie’s House, about indigenous protocol, about Wesley, and about the real value of First Nations cultures for the contemporary world. By the time I leave, she’s offered us the use of Australia House for our launch event in September, and the presence of the High Commissioner or his Deputy. Plus lots of email addresses and contact for likely funding sources in Oz. I’m sure the charming Americans would have loved to offer their building too – but it’s a bit of problem doing a public event in what feels like a high security prison.

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