Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Defending the imagination

Anne Born brought with her a personal statement by the Director Bernard Samuels: Extract from STRATEGIC PLAN for the Pylmouth Arts Centre, 1994 - 98. In it he stresses very much the meaning of a word like the 'imagination'. In a most telling poem published in her collection 'Planting Light' (1999), Anne Born recalls how she started to learn 'after language began'. The time when things set in and are recalled by the mind differs from the epistemological reflections philosophers ponder about when observing how meanings of certain words and concepts change over time.


Say it in spondees, snow, drop,

two monosyllables

joined as a nursery word

you learned after language began


so it gradually lost two meanings,

became one, first flower of the year,

sent faint and sweet as air,

a kiss of life. Words meet


and change till the old pattern fades.

You suddenly hear the old meanings

of a frail yellow flower that has nothing

to do with a cow or a slip


far less than the drop of snow simile.

But a proper name capitalised

is a different part of speech,

the mineral stuff of naming


that rings like a glass when spoken

and calls up presence in absence,

the dent in a cushion, a footstep

or the echo of a voice.

    - Anne Born, from collection 'Planting Light', West Kirby: Headland, 1999, p. 42


Extract from the STRATEGIC PLAN for the PYLMOUTH ARTS Centre - a personal statement by director Bernard Samuels:

'Defending the Imagination' is a new mission statement which has been adopted by our Centre as the theme for our work over the next few years. It is simple and I hope very clear. The arts are heavily under attack. The government is short of money. Local authorities are under all kind of threat. The general economic situation is, to put it mildly, not encouraging.

At the moment it is almost impossible to turn up at an arts event without being greeted by an appeal to prevent the demise of the compary or the venue. What worries me even more than the difficulties faced by professional bodies is the threat to the magnificant achieveme3nts of the past thirty years in developing the arts in our schools as central to the concept of education. All the excellent work in schools which has flowed from the 1944 Education Act has helped towards our producing world class artists and performers, as well as several generations of people who have been brought to the enjoyment of the arts as audience or participants.

So where exactly does Plymouth Arts Centre see itself placed? Firstly it is vital that we are clear about the cultural and moral state of the country and it has to be said that the general picture is not good. There is a sense of malaise and people are worried. For many we are just talking aobut physical survival. For the wider mass of people who are in employment and have a tolerable standard of living there is a sense of general uncertainty. OUr cultural and social goals are very unclear. There is no lead coming from an identifiable source. A return to some brand ordinaries is not a call that will energize society.

Plymouth Arts Centre is not proposing to take on the problem single handed. However we do believe strongly in humanity in the widest sense. Within living memory there have been periods when people have thoughts that it was our chief aim to provide the best for everyone, that the notion of equal opportunity of education for everyone was a goal to be striven for. It is vital that we are all willing to work towards articulating new positive aims. We know this is not an easy thing to do because we have seen so much in the modern world fail. But there is no alternative to constructive thinkingf which takes on board an analysis at where and why things have gone wrong.

There is a great temptation at a time like this to accept the status quo and devote oneself to fighting for money. This task we take for granted. However it seems to me we have to go back to rexamine very thoroughly the source of the energy which fuels the work of the arts. Implically in the period of most fruitful development of government funding for the arts, during the 60's and 70's, the most fashonable subject and despair. Though despair may be part of our nature, it is on the other hand y no means the whole story. Though the mood in society may change, the arts remains a vital ingredient for generating a sense of hope.

My approach is simple and straightforward, at least so it seems to me. OUr work in recent time has tended to become increasingly structured around particular topics. We have explored the work of particular artists approaching them in a multi-disciplinary way, coming at things through a variety of media. The plan now is to continue with this principle but to devote time to a major central topic which relates to everything we do.

For some time I have been asking myself the question what do we mean by imagination. You can't pick up a piece of writing about the arts without very soon coming across the word. Usually I think I know what the world means. However at times I begin to wonder and doubt in certain instances whether I am completely clear what the person using the word means. Sometimes I think that people just think it a handy word to bandy around.

Whatever - I have recently set myself the task of trying to map out the range of meanings applied to the word imagination. As well as reading a wide range of books written specifically on the subject - people have been cogitating and writing aobut the subject, certainly since Plato and Aristotle and maybe long before that within non-European civilizations - I am amassing cuttings from current newspapers and arts magazines where the word occurs in the hope that clear strands of meaning will start to emerge.

I think there is a need for the questio to be asked at this particular point in time. I hope the idea does not seem self-indulgent. At a time when there are few agreed certainties, it seems to be natural to take a step back for a moment to ask a fundamental question such as 'What is the imagination'. In fact as a partner to our new motto 'Defending the Imagination', the words 'Defining the Imagination' are going to appear frequently in writing aobut our events to focus minds on an underlying object in our work.

In some poeple this may sound a little dry. I hope this is not generally the case. I have already spoken to quite a number of people about it and I seem to be getting the kind of response I would like i.e. 'Yes, it sounds very interesting'. Inf act one woman I have talked to about this new project rang me the other day at supper time to let me know her latest thoughts on the subject because she had become so fired by the idea. Which is just the kind of Arts Centre phone call I am pleased to receive in my sitting room!

I will be pleased to hear from anyone with the collecting ha bit and anonye interested in pinning down the meaning of words. I hope in fact that as the project continues many ideas and suggestions will come from many people. I would be very pleased if a regular discussion group were to start up. But as well as all this thinking and indexing of meanings. I very much plan to generation many e vents for all to come to which will aim to stimulate reaction to the ideas that surface. I hope this process will feed back into life in Plymouth, so that at the end of the day we will be able to say we are creating a positive climate for facing up to our cultural problems in the widest sense today.

We must fight back."


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