I’m at the top of the Nottingham Wheel in a gently swaying gondola. It’s drizzling outside, my Creative Quarter colleagues are happily immersed in a life drawing class and I peer through the gap in the gondola’s windows. A few doors down there’s a clump of puppeteers waving at the passing birds; further ahead a clump of readers studiously survey all around them and continue with their reading of other writers work; and at the foot of the wheel, in what seems a long way down the wrong end of a telescope, the rattle and shake of some Asian Dhol drummers continues to reverberate through the damp morning air and up to the top of the wheel where we are all precariously perched, gently rocking in the rain, waiting for our next move.
It’s the time for Nottingham’s contribution to the BBC Get Creative national campaign and over 150 artists of various shapes and sizes have turned out to support Auntie in a large scale show of solidarity up on the slowly revolving Nottingham Wheel.
It’s a long way down and suddenly there’s a gush of wind heralding a temporary and terrible typhoon which wrecks this peaceful Thursday morning vista. There’s carnage; wrecked metallic structures, artists hanging off the huge metallic spokes held on by nothing more than their braces or bra straps, screeching ambulances, apocalyptic police helicopters and trams sliding to a smooth halt like they always do. Whatever happens in Nottingham City Centre, it seems the trams are destined to run and stop smoothly cleanly and efficiently for ever and ever. With a perpetual self satisfied grin on their shiny faces.
But happily, there was no sudden gush of wind and our gondola remained calm until we were all brought back to earth. We politely stepped off and walked back up through Hockley to work. It was all a figment of my imagination and we could all get on with our day, safe for another few hours at least from the wildest imaginings of a deranged blogger.
Elsewhere on the wheel, other alternative worlds were being plotted or enacted. Have you ever been on a large circus wheel surrounded by over 150 artists of all shapes and sizes? It’s an odd experience in as much you might see a group of actors below enacting out a small horror scene from a recent play: but you can’t help wondering whether they are actors, or whether they’re really a normal Nottingham family out for a morning as part of their half term break.
On another spoke of the wheel, there’s a group of yarn bombers decking the walls of their gondola with wool, crocheted stockings and knitted tea cosies. Pretty soon the gondola has assumed the size and texture of a gigantic woolly sheep. As it slowly floats into the sky you wonder whether this is what it’s meant to indicate: or whether it’s speaking to us of something else entirely different. The dangers of genetic engineering? The benefits of a vegetarian life style? We shall never know unless of course we ask the yarn bombers.
But the main benefit of this morning was not just about promoting the value of the arts to politicians and the wider public just before an election. It highlighted the real power of the arts: the power, however temporary, to see the world through a different set of eyes; to walk in someone else’s footsteps and to gently remind ourselves that there are other ways of seeing, doing and being which add to the quality of our existence.
This is little to do with the arts being good for your health and the country’s wealth; not much to do with the impact of arts on our children’s exam results or a generation’s missing job opportunities and absolutely nothing to do with protecting society from Civil War or saving the NHS (although they may inadvertently contribute to all these things.)
No, the purpose of the arts – if they are to have a purpose – is that they bring us up abruptly on our expectations and assumptions. They make us rethink, react and resonate with the world in which we live.
As it happens, none of these functions can be measured by league tables, changes in crime rates or increases in GDP, although many of us fervently wish they did. The cost of this morning’s event could probably worked out in terms of hours at work lost, the price of lost income from the Nottingham Wheel and maybe even the cost of the petrol it took to get the drummers up from Birmingham.
These are all important things in their own little worlds, but the value of this event – and the beauty and value of the art experience, whether participating, watching, learning or leading – is the reminder that we are not alone in the world. That, as MasterCard used to say, is priceless.
You can learn more about the BBC Get Creative work at Pecha Kucha on Friday 27 February hosted at the Malt Cross, Nottingham.