I hope the dam bursts

I have written before about creative blocks, particularly that internal experience of fear and trepidation when confronted with a blank canvas and the prospect of our own infinite creativity. But at the moment the obstacle I’m facing is an external block – and it’s really frustrating.

A group of us here in Sheffield have got together to develop an idea we’re calling the Soul of Sheffield. Here is the plan:


“We are a group of Sheffield artists interested in exploring the stories of the city, how places hold meaning for us. How our lives are shaped by the places we live and work and how they in turn are shaped by us. 

For a few months during the autumn 2011 we will be using an open space in the city centre, possibly an empty shop, where we will be building a model city based on the plan of Sheffield.

Artists, local businesses, schools, community groups and passers by will all be invited to contribute – to build the model city in as concrete or imaginative way as they wish. The exhibit will evolve and grow over time just as the city has done and will be a celebration of the history, the stories, the joys and sorrows of all who make the city a living and vibrant thing.”

In the light of what has been happening in this country over the last week this seems quite timely – we need to build relationships across communities, to celebrate the stories and explore the identities of our towns and cities.

There is a great creative energy in our group (I so love it when creative people get together – it feels like anything is possible) and yet at the moment all of that energy is being held back behind a dam as we try to find a suitable venue in the city centre for the project to happen. We are following various avenues to find a space but they seem to be reaching bureaucratic bottle necks.

I can imagine the relevant email asking for the permission to use a certain empty shop in someone’s inbox, they’re busy, working hard, and a request from a bunch of strange creative types is probably very low on their agenda to consider. But when the dam bursts and those with the power say ‘yes’ then so much creative energy will be released.

This feeling of being blocked is uncomfortable. It’s different to the internal blocks that have the feel of a barren desert, directionless and empty. This feels like we are welling up to explode, like a pregnant woman really ready for life to burst out, but being told that the time isn’t right just yet.

I was going to wait until we had this all sorted out and the project had the go ahead before I started writing about it. But I’ve decided now I want to tell the story properly, honestly, right from the start. It may not work; we may face dead ends wherever we look. But I have faith that when we begin to take creative risks then the Universe/God/Love/Beauty* responds. Time will tell if it is true in this case.

I will let you know what happens and will, I hope, in the end get the chance to tell the story of the Soul of Sheffield.

(*Take your pick – they all lead to living life to the full)

This little island

I have been working on a couple of projects over the last few months that aren’t quite ready to see the light of day yet – but one of them involves producing a series of images for the Methodist Church. Here is one that didn’t make the final selection:


It feels apt to reflect on it in the light of the events of the last few days here in the UK. The riots across parts of London and the rest of the country have been shocking to see – for those of you reading this in other parts of the world this  is what has been going on here on our little island.

I’m unsettled by this image. I’ve never really understood national pride, why be proud of something that is just a total accident of birth? I’m not really sure what it means to be British, or indeed why national identities should matter at all, let alone why I should be proud of it. In the last few days and weeks as I’ve watched the riots on TV, and closer to home, talked to asylum seekers at risk of being deported (and treated shockingly by the Border Agency) my feeling is of shame at my country rather than pride. I feel it when I walk easily through passport control back into Britain whilst others queue up for the immigration officials; It’s wrong that the accident of my place of birth gives me the right to walk unimpeded over a manmade boundary whilst others are excluded.

And now this incoherent chaos as people destroy their own neighbourhoods, a simmering rage suddenly erupting. A tragedy for the communities involved.

In my work as an art therapist I have been alongside seriously damaged young people, some of them have done terrible things. But there always seems to be hope when an individual is able to step back and reflect on their actions, notice their feelings – become aware of who they are and the impact they have on the world. There have only been a couple of occaisions when I came across people who were so damaged by their experiences that they seemed incapable of such reflection (or I wasn’t able to help them to do it). Meeting such people is terrifying, not least because it gives me an insight into that part of my own soul that wants to rage and burn, unimpeded by consequence. When individuals are unable, or unwilling to understand the consequences of their actions, and particularly the negative impact they can have on others, then we see the results in the riots on our streets. Add to that the power of the group as it grows through social networks and the like, then the mob becomes an untameable organism with a life of its own.

But there is another group in the news at the moment who seem incapable of reflecting on the consequences of their actions. Those who gambled on the financial future of people and nations on the testosterone fuelled trading floors across the world. Like the teenager smashing the shop window to steal a HD TV they sought only for themselves without regard for how it affected others and now we seem set to spiral into a second financial crisis. I wonder who’s behaviour is more destructive, I also wonder why we send out the police for the one and let the other carry on with impunity.

So, sadness today. My heart going out to the people and communities whose lives have been so affected.

No pride in my country.

But hope.

Hope that when, lying in their bed in the dark, staring at the ceiling those responsible on the streets or the trading floors have the capacity to comprehend the consequences of their actions, and then find the spaces and relationships they need to be able to work through what that means for them. Hope too because, whilst we see the worst of humanity here, we are also beginning to see the best as communities pull together to say ‘no’ and as people gather to repair the damage done.

Human beings are wonderful and terrifying creatures. We are capable of total destruction and infinite beauty. I live in faith and hope that the beauty will always find a way.

Peace be with you.