Hi, I’m Katie, I’m 15 and in Year 10 at St Christopher’s CE High School. I have been doing a work experience placement here at Mid Pennine Arts for two weeks. I didn’t know very much about the organisation before I arrived, so this is all very new to me. MPA is in the middle of compiling a digital archive, to celebrate their 50 year anniversary and I am very pleased that I have been involved in this process. Whilst looking through images, brochures, leaflets and posters I found some things that I found particularly interesting and wanted to investigate further. Throughout my time here, I have been doing just that and I would like to share some of my findings with you here on this blog.
I’ve been dancing and performing since I was three, so naturally many of the projects and events that stood out for me were about dance and theatre. I’ve tried to pick a few projects from each decade, so that you can get a sense of how MPA has developed but also because I wanted to explore the early years of the company.
In the 1970’s The Mid Pennine Association for the Arts set up a travelling theatre company called TheatreMobile. The company travelled around the Mid Pennine area performing shows, plays and pantomimes in a range of venues for all different age groups. One thing that struck me about the performances was how little it cost to go and see them – I think the most expensive that I found was only 60p! Today you struggle to buy anything for that price and to see a performance of the same nature would be far more expensive. I decided to do some research about prices in the 70’s and I’ve discovered it cost only five pence for a pint of milk and nine pence for a loaf of bread; 20 cigarettes would only set you back 30p and you could buy a Mini for only £600! Something else I have discovered from an old newspaper article is that the early shows were done with five actors, no lights and a £50 budget, which again is quite amazing. I came across another press cutting, talking about how actors from TheatreMobile had been to visit and entertain children who had to spend Christmas in hospital; MPA is all about bringing people and communities together and I think this really shows that the ethos has always been this way.
Also when looking through projects from the 70’s, I discovered the Northern Dance Theatre, who were the only regional ballet company. They toured around the area performing their latest ballet each season, the earliest documentation I can find of this is in September 1970. What really stood out to me was their photos and how exquisite they looked in them, and as I do ballet myself I can truly appreciate how hard they must have worked. It seems that the Mid Pennine area loved them too, because they made numerous appearances throughout the 1970’s.
In the 1980’s, a dance company called the Lynx Dance Company came to visit the Mid Pennine area, they were a contemporary company, who focused heavily on getting dance into schools. I found this interesting because today there still isn’t much dance in schools and I think it’s a really important and valuable thing to have.
Accidentally, I stumbled upon an exhibition of dance photographs by a man named John Austin called ‘Out of the Limelight’. I found myself fascinated by this because John said he wanted to photograph dancers because when he takes a photo, he is looking for perfection and he thought this was true of dancers also. Everyone in the dance community strives for perfection, however small the performance and even just in rehearsals, but not many people get to see this side of it all. John’s photographs not only show the pretty costumes and outstanding performance but the blood, sweat, tears and hard-work that goes on behind the scenes to create the picture that the outside world gets to see.
When setting up the MPA50 exhibition at Radio Lancashire, I discovered an extraordinary and beautiful project from the 1990’s. This was the Mughal Tent or the Shamiana – groups of local women joined together to create a banner, along with lots of other groups from around the UK, and the finished banners were put together in a tent at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. The finished product is exquisite and the level of hard work and attention to detail is obvious. In May 1996, there was a performance from the Abasindi Dancers and Drummers, they performed songs and dances from East, South and West Africa. From searching through the archive, I get the impression that the 90’s was a real decade of world culture for Mid Pennine Arts as it is the first time I can see events from around the globe and from people from different backgrounds and cultures.
In the 2000’s MPA launched its largest project to date – Panopticons. Before, I arrived at the start of this two weeks, this project was the one I knew most about, as I have visited three of them on numerous occasions but still I decided to do a bit more research on them. The project got its name from the word ‘Panopticon’ which means structure, space or device providing a comprehensive or panoramic view, all of the four Panopticons are placed high up, and the aim was to get people out into the countryside so that they could see the stunning views. Throughout the building of these, MPA managed to keep the community spirit alive by involving local people, schools and organisations as well as creating jobs and supporting businesses. One thing that definitely shines through in all the projects is the community ethos of the company.
The Singing Ringing Tree is made from pipes of steel stacked in layers to make the shape of a tree in the wind; the wind blows across these tuned pipes to create a low, almost humming like song.
The Atom is located in historic Wycoller which can be dated back to 1000BC, the structure is constructed of Ferro-cement with a coating of metal-based paint. It can provide shelter but the circular cut outs also make great viewing spots for the surrounding scenery.
The Halo is a steel lattice structure suspended five metres above the ground on a steel tripod. It is situated above Haslingden on an old quarry and former landfill site. The Halo is lit at night and glows a dark blue colour, this makes it appear to be hovering over Lancashire and is clearly visible for miles around.
Colourfields is the only Panopticon that I have not visited, so I wanted to find out some more about this one. It is a transformation of the cannon battery that was installed for the park’s opening in 1857 to house two Russian cannons captured during the Crimean War. Colourfields was built here to incorporate this piece of history, rather than it being dismantled and lost forever. It adds new dimensions of shape, height and colour to Blackburn’s Corporation Park and has fantastic views over to Lytham, Southport and Fleetwood.
Before I arrived I was given some publications to read, one of which was about a project in 2014 called Truce. After reading about it, I was keen to find out more; Truce was all about commemorating the First World War, a topic I know quite a lot about through History and English. The project included: a performance about the Christmas Day truce from a local man’s perspective, a choir, made up of local volunteers, who sang songs just like the soldiers did on Christmas Day, a textile piece made up of poppies made by local people and a young people’s football tournament- to commemorate the football game in No-Man’s Land. Again, this project involves all kinds of people and really brought people together to celebrate something that happened 100 years ago.
Completely by chance, I found out that MPA was involved with the redevelopment of the Coppice in Accrington; I’ve lived in Accrington virtually all my life and never knew who and what had actually gone on. There were talks and workshops in the allotments for the public and local primary school; a chance to think and put forward ideas for the further development of the area in the future and the Avenue Parade entrance to the park was completely restored by artist Michael Scheuermann along with the steps leading up to the monument at the top.
Projects are constantly going on, sometimes right underneath our noses that we don’t know about or get involved in. I think this should be a lesson learnt to everyone that you should find out what’s happening and get involved in some fun activities and projects in your local area!