It was thirty years ago…
In November 2014 Cartwheel Arts in Rochdale celebrated thirty years of its existence as a community arts organisation. Cartwheel Community Arts (as it was then) was set up in 1984 through a collaborative partnership between Councillors and officers in Rochdale Council and Liz Mayne the Community Arts Officer at North West Arts. For many years Cartwheel operated from the basement of the Arts and Libraries building in central Rochdale, moving to Hamer County Primary School (where M6 Theatre in Education were also based) and later moving to Heywood which is part of the borough of Rochdale. The association of the borough was important and at the event Rick invited me to sketch out the close connection between the different parts of Rochdale and the name Cartwheel: C stood for Castleton, R for Rochdale, W for Wardle and (upsidedown) for Middleton and Milnrow, H was for Heywood and L for Littleborough.
At the event Rick Walker, who now runs Cartwheel, introduced me as one of the original workers along with Dave Chadwick who couldn’t make the event. Gerri Moriarty, Cilla Baynes and Mick Smith were all there because they had played an important part in getting the company off the ground – Gerri as a free-lance community artist and Mick and Cilla as arts workers and mentors from Community Arts Workshop (now Community Arts North West).
Alongside Cartwheel, PRESCAP in Preston, The Wholeworks in Crewe, Action Factory in Blackburn, High Peak Community Arts in New Mills, Lancaster Community Arts all worked throughout the 1980s on a huge range of community arts projects using many art forms and working with all kinds of groups. Along with Community Arts Workshop there was a sense of being art of a network and arts workers would often gather to share ideas and develop good practice.
In the 1980s we did a lot of work with children and young people focusing on creative play, often working on performances that involved dance, drama and poetry with vivid sets and costumes. Much of the work was classed as ‘celebratory’ and involved processions, fireshows, gigantic puppets and other outdoor events. The work that Cartwheel is currently involved in focuses a great deal on creative writing and publication. They also do a lot of work around health and wellbeing. I was especially pleased to see that the festival work continues and they work closely with Darnhill Festival association on their events. In 2010 I interviewed Rick to see what some of the differences might be between the work we did then and what Cartwheel does now. This was written up into an academic article called `The Rough Edges: community, art and history’ for Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance 15: 1, February 2010 (p. 29-37). In the interview I asked Rick what might characterise Cartwheel’s work now and he responded
Principally festivals and stories I would say. It’s about stories and how you render the story, whether it’s performed or written, or whether there’s a thread that runs under or through your festival. There’s always a narrative and we’re constantly asking people to imagine stories or to tell us their stories; our role is, I suppose, to interpret their stories and bring them to life as a publication or performance.
In many ways that conversation formed part of the beginnings of the research that we are now doing on community arts in the 1970s and early 1980s. You can see more about Cartwheel’s work on their website http://www.cartwheelarts.org.uk/
Here’s a link to a case study on Cartwheel by the Cultural Commissioning Programme (ACE + NCVO) which has just been circulated today.
Watch this space for developments about the community arts research.