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NEWS: Transition arts handbook finds its literary roots in the Calder Valley

What is our story? How do we make stories and how do they make us? What are the myths of progress we live by and and what new ones can we forge that will sustain us and life on earth?

Playing for Time, a handbook on Transition and collaborative arts practice, begins its first chapter at Lumb Bank in Yorkshire in early March. 12 artists, 2 tutors ((Gilly Adams and Sarah Woods) 2 guest speakers, the project's author (Lucy Neal) and editor (Charlotte Du Cann), are gathering on this literary stage from all parts of the UK to share and showcase their work.

At the core of the book is a convergence of dynamic creative practices from several artists in different fields. It is these innovative community-based projects and practices that the group plan to capture on the page during the upcoming 'write-in' at Lumb Bank. The house is one of three Arvon Foundation centres which host creative writing courses, providing individual writers with the space and time and guidance to hone their practice as poets, playwrights or storytellers. As a collaboratively produced non-fiction work, this is a new venture for Arvon (as well as for us!) and we hope to explore this unknown territory together in the week-long intensive in the heart of the Calder Valley.

We have invited catalysers and facilitators from all branches of the arts: from creative directors like Ruth Ben-Tovim (Totnes) who organised the High Street Process at this year's Transition Conference, A Little Patch of Ground and the Tooting Transition Shop, to writers and activists such as James Marriot (London) presently touring his book, The Oil Road, to community artists, like Anne-Marie Culhane (Lostwithiel), who originated the influential Grow Sheffield and The Diary Keepers project in the Tamar Valley. We will be listening to each other's stories, as well as mapping the territory and finding common threads that will bring the people and their practices together to form a coherent and vibrant work.

The book will include the essentials of transitonal arts practice, from storytelling to dance, rites of passage, skills, mapping, walking, food growing and activism. During the week we will consider how we can pass on our ideas and methods as the often invisible organisers of street festivals, museum events or craft workshops; how we can present 'vernacular' activities, such as creating community gardens or reconnection with nature initiatives, that would not appear to be traditional 'high' art forms, within a new cultural frame.

Playing for Time - the background

The arts have a tradition of ‘speaking differently’ and nurturing and sparking cultural change. They tap into the intrinsic values of connection, memory, place and meaning and create space for new ideas, engaging people at an imaginative level.

Playing For Time looks squarely at the planetary challenges we face – the end of cheap oil, economic contraction and climate change – and at the role the arts can play in re-inventing and re-imagining our world at a time of systemic social change. At present we are without a script for the future we face. How can we write a new narrative together? How can we unlock our creativity, share our gifts and develop new ways of collaboration?

The book will showcase the new creative skills that help us to address these challenges and gives a host of practical approaches being tested by artists and pioneering communities in the UK. Inspired by historic and contemporary examples of art-making, the book joins the dots between philosophical ideas about art and methodologies now emerging.

The essence of Playing For Time is about the power of the imagination on the collective level, how we go about engaging communities in the changes required to shift to a low carbon world with practical actions and a positive vision of the future.  At home in kitchens and workshops as much as in studios and libraries, it is an inspiring manual for the head, heart and hands, divided into three sections:

The Frame: global context; the challenges we face; energy, environment, economy; the nature of time; overview of human creativity and the imagination; the importance of the values we hold and the nature of time

The Projects: transitional arts practice in action; 30 great projects and the people who have taken part in them

The Method: practical examples and how to manifest

who are we writing for?

Everyone is an artist (Joseph Beuys)

The book is for anyone interested in harnessing creative skills for intentional change in the world. It's for professionals working in the arts and cultural sector who wish to apply principles of transition to their arts practice or organisation, to gain a better understanding of peak oil and climate change, or to know what re-localisation of the arts would look like. It's for those involved in local community, looking for a better understanding of play, creativity and the role of the arts in our lives. It's for those involved in the sustainability sector calling for a ‘cultural shift’ to take place in the areas of climate science, energy, economy, food, transport, sustainable homes and well-being. Everyone and anyone, in fact, who is interested in art, culture, ecology and social change.

The arts help us make models of the world, the pictures we paint, the stories that we tell. With text, images and ‘how-to’ illustrations, the book will draw out methods we can use and show how our imaginations and creative skills can re-imagine a world in which life on earth is sustained.

The aim behind the whole project is to show that art is in us all, and that a community practice is emerging that embraces ecological responsibilities and intentional change. It helps us bridge the gaps between where we are (at present) and where we need to be (in the future), preparing the ground for a zero-carbon way of life.

And, perhaps most of all, it celebrates the beauty and genius of the pioneers and bridgewalkers who make it happen.

Charlotte Du Cann and Lucy Neal

Playing for Time is supported by the Arts Council UK

Images: exhibit from The Diary Keepers (directed Anne-Marie Culhane - photo by Bob Levene ); Lumb Bank, Heptonstall; cover of The Oil Road by James Marriott: Trashcatchers Carnival Tooting, London 2010 (artist in residence: Fabio Santos); group process, Transition Conference, 2012, BAC, London (directed by Ruth Ben Tovim)

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