John Simmons in conversation with
Marc Boothe heads up B3Media, a creative arts network that supports BAME emerging artists, filmmakers and digital storytellers. John Simmons is a writer and co-founder of 26. John and Marc have known each other as occasional collaborators and constant friends for 15 years.
Reflections: 26 weeks
The pandemic changed so much and it gives us an opportunity to change things for the better. We could now perceive, with greater clarity, things that had been wrong for years. We had institutionalised acts of charity, such as food banks, into established government policy. Obvious inequalities had become acceptable: bad air quality, work/life imbalance, factory farming. Let’s now recognise them as unacceptable.
But will we do anything about them? Time will tell. People developed both greater urgency and patience. I admired the stoicism of my 26Weeks partner, Marc, because it did not involve a surrender to the established order. Challenge has become normal, along with the realisation that balance is necessary. The president across the Atlantic provides an everyday warning of what it means when balance is lost. Let’s not go there; step back, hold fast to what’s important, stories of random acts of kindness. Best reserve to yourself the right to resist, to realise that those in power cannot continue if they lose trust and respect.
We’re more aware of everyday inequality. We discovered a joy in communal experiences, in clapping NHS heroes on our doorsteps, driven by a feeling that they were (as in the first world war) heroes led by donkeys. Between the Covid cracks in society other inequalities surfaced: the education crisis affecting the future of our future, questioned in Michael Morpurgo’s words as ‘the tyranny of the exam system’. Above all perhaps the tragic events that brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the foreground. There is terrible injustice in our society, made sharper by the pandemic.
We are all connected. We must understand the connections better.
What emerges? Hope. From the bankruptcy of the second world war emerged the NHS which has been our mainstay. Is there an equivalent beacon of hope that will still shine in 70 years from now? Is it wishful thinking that people might embrace a green revolution to save the planet?
There are shoots of hope, perhaps reflected in the projects initiated this year by 26. Even though we didn’t embark on these as a clear-eyed plan, we have addressed issues of universal relevance.
- Our need to reconnect with nature, shown through the 26Wild project to draw attention to the plight of species heading towards extinction. But insisting: nature’s recovery is possible.
- Our longing for community, a need marginalised by social and economic changes, that can be recovered partly by the connection of memory and imagination, as in Eye:Spy for Bloomsbury Festival.
- The power of artistic collaboration, the sheer joy of creative exploration, as in our Common Place project with Eames Gallery.
All these projects had creativity at their heart, taking encouragement from one of lockdown’s great optimists, Grayson Perry: “Art is a powerful tool for expressing what is going on in the world and identifying what really matters.”
In particular 26Weeks has given me a series of conversations with Marc Boothe to enrich my life and offer fresh perspective. So I’ll close with the last words in the series, from which I take enormous sustenance: “Each day’s a gift, what are you going to do with it?”