Tuesday 26th July 2011
ARTS projects often resemble Christmas cuisine: a known recipe; approved funding; pouring off excess fat; pulling crackers when the roast reaches the table. Photographer friend Ben and I were party to a venture which could have produced a dog’s dinner, but what the artists served up was as full-flavoured and wholesome a spread as any I have tasted.
It started with me saying no:
“Not enough time. Not worth my while. Too many cooks.”
But our BBC contact persevered, revised the proposal, persuaded the Arts Council we could be trusted, and sat us down over a cup of tea. She wanted to know how we’d manage to get two dozen participants, preferably not the usual suspects.
Ben quietly insisted that everyone had a story to tell:
“I’m sure that if we stopped every seventh person in the street…”
Thus we came up with a plan: to seek out ordinary folk. And the best places to find large numbers of them relaxing – and therefore approachable – would be annual gatherings across the county: at fêtes and fayres, at the Woolsack Races and Tall Ships Festival.
A little uncomfortable in matching T-shirts – the tight fit revealing contours best concealed: Tweedledum and sibling, forty years on – Ben and I ascended Cooper’s Hill for what was to be the final year of free-for-all admission to witness the free-for-all, free-falling endeavours of those pursuing a rolling Double Gloucester.
There, we went out live by phone on local radio, stretched sinews to avoid slipping and becoming involuntary cheese-chasers, gazed upon a panoramic view of great beauty, chatted to fellow spectators, and signed up our first participant.
Art from the Heart was to be a celebration, in words and images, of places meaningful to people across Gloucestershire. Where better to start our quest than on a Cotswold hillside, with ordinary folk watching other ordinary folk doing something quite extraordinary?
Ben shouldered his camera. I thrust notepad into pocket. We walked down the hill, excited to be up and running.