Chris and the newly arrived Gabriel at the opening of Not Forgotten, September 2010. Photo by Janet Barton.
Everyone at MPA was shocked and deeply saddened in late April when the news came through about the sudden, unexpected death of our good friend and colleague Chris May. In the weeks since, we have witnessed a huge, collective outpouring of love, affection and respect for this very charismatic man – powerful testament to the effect he had on the lives of very many people, and the big hole he leaves in our cultural lives.
Chris was Chief Executive of Curious Minds, based near us in Burnley. Curious Minds, if you are not familiar with their work, was the independent organisation that emerged in Pennine Lancashire from the introduction here of the government’s national flagship scheme for creative work in schools, Creative Partnerships. Our team members David and Steph have been heavily involved in Creative Partnerships, and Curious Minds has commissioned a lot of work from our organisation.
Before that, Chris had worked at Action Factory, the participatory arts group based in Blackburn, and then at the Arts Council, where as Social Inclusion Officer he was for a while MPA’s main contact.
I first came across Chris before that though, when he had set up the rather quixotic enterprise of a cafe/bookshop/lounge in Sabden antiques centre. A crazy idea, and it bit the dust soon after, but that blend of ambition, optimism and energy with a touch of the plain daft was a recurring characteristic of this lovely man.
When the very big deal of Creative Partnerships came to Pennine Lancashire, with the prospect of investment on an unprecedented scale, nobody was so well equipped to direct it as Chris, and to make of it such an enduring, outstanding success. It was no surprise, then, in the recent Arts Council funding round, when Curious Minds secured the big prize of the regional role for the North West, as one of the national cluster of ‘bridge organisations’ for young people. A triumph for Chris and his team.
This triumph was in stark contrast to our own disastrous result for MPA from the Arts Council, but I was really looking forward to seeing Chris again very soon. His combination of insider knowledge, gusto and irreverent, wicked wit meant he could be relied upon to be wonderfully, scatologically rude about the Arts Council. Where will I get that kind of therapy now?
Chris was so very full of life, and just lately, very obviously had so much to live for. He had recently set up a new home with new partner Kate, and Gabriel had arrived last summer to seal the deal. All our thoughts are with Kate and Gabriel, and Chris’s wider family. For the rest of us, he has simply left an enormous, Chris-shaped hole in our cultural life. We are really going to miss him.