An evening of anything but standard progress

Young Progress Makers is an afternoon of talks, workshops and performances at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm for Londoners aged between 18 and 25. It is organised by the Evening Standard and brings together inspirational speakers from across the capital to stimulate and inform people from all backgrounds who want to find solutions to the challenges facing young people in the city. King’s sent Masters student, Ottilie Thornhill, along to see what it was all about.

There is a general rule that I am bound by when I write for this blog, that I must not mention the thing that happened in June last year, or the thing that happened in January this year — I suppose because everybody else does and it makes the King’s blog site something of a safe haven for the politically burnt-out. That said, I am now in a difficult position because I really don’t know how write about the Evening Standard Young Progress Makers (ESYPM) event and not talk about them.

Hosted at the Roundhouse in January, the inaugural conference drew together the great and the good from politics, business and the arts to explore how to give the young people of London a better future.

Evening Standard Editor, Sarah Sands, opens the evening

Evening Standard Editor, Sarah Sands, opens the evening

Unfortunately for this piece, in hearing some incredibly inspiring stories and finding out what can be improved, at least half the speakers in the six hour event mentioned the things that must not be mentioned, in conjunction with youth unemployment, unaffordable housing, the never ending cycle of internships, low wages, the NHS crisis, the growing vocalism of intolerance and all the other ills that come with being documented as the ‘best educated, worst off generation ever’.

As an over-educated, underemployed young woman who now doesn’t want to cross the Atlantic without the contraceptive implant, what I had hoped for out of the ESYPM – indeed what I hope for in general – is for someone to find the solutions. In the moments when I’m not panicking about really identifying with the characters of the TV series Girls, I do see that there probably isn’t one magic cure and that nobody is going to lay everything out whilst making it seem like it was my idea. With this in mind the focus on creating opportunities was intriguing even if it came from an unexpected angle.

The overwhelming message of the day was that the young should look to entrepreneurship, and that London should look to the young. Brent Hoberman shared his story of founding lastminute.com with Baroness Lane Fox. Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman and Fabien Riggall of Secret Cinema both launched new initiatives to help the young. The Office Group announced a plan to provide office  space to businesses started by young entrepreneurs and Secret Cinema are mobilizing to do more community outreach with younger people.

Sometimes, when facing the crippling fear that post-2016 life can induce in the young, it is important to listen to something better. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, reaffirmed his vision for London as a place where hard work and a boost can help you get where you want to be, again taking his journey from council estate to City Hall as an example. Actress and activist Lily Cole stressed the importance of sustainability and discussed her online community Impossible People and technologist Alex Klein spoke of the power available in understanding how the technology around us is built and functions.

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan speaks to the Evening Standard Young Progress Makers

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan speaks to the Evening Standard Young Progress Makers

Intercut with more than twenty other talks were blindingly good and all-too-brief offerings from poets including Young Laureate, Caleb Femi.

ESYMP1 Anita Barton-Williams

Anita Barton-Williams, poet and resident artist at the Roundhouse, wows the audience

Undeniably, the game has changed and for many, either we didn’t see it coming or weren’t in a position to act. However, bearing in mind the wider ills listed above, the stories of two women who have overcome mental illness and disadvantage with support from The Prince’s Trust to go on and found a digital business and a bakery were the first in what I hope will be a long line of small victories for the new generation. Celebrating them definitely deserves more space in print than Brexit or Trump.

Words: Ottilie Thornhill
Pictures: Ottilie Thornhill

Behind the scenes: preparing By me William Shakespeare

About the author: Sophie Cornell is a project producer for King’s new exhibition, By Me William Shakespeare, presented at King’s College London in partnership with The National Archives. More information on the exhibition can be found here.

BMWS digi poster

When I first heard that King’s College London and The National Archives were planning to mount an exhibition showcasing Shakespeare’s will in the year marking 400 years since his death, I was excited. Having always had a soft spot for the beauty of Shakespeare’s writing, the idea of learning more about the man himself was very appealing.

Shakespeare’s will is so precious that it can only be publicly displayed for a relatively short time, meaning I’ll probably be able to take my grandchildren to its next outing (and I don’t yet have children…). What sets this exhibition apart is that, rather than focusing on Shakespeare’s writings, we’re looking at the facts of his life, tracking him through court appearances and legal documents, as he flits across seventeenth century London.

Chased by swans

The National Archives are guarded by a flock of swans

 

First things first; what are we exhibiting? Cue a trip to The National Archives in Kew. Despite the swans chasing us into the building, the excitement was tangible. No white gloves (just clean hands), and very soon I was close enough to smell the Shakespeare-related scrolls, books, parchments that were laid out on a long table in front of us. Over 400 years ago, Shakespeare was reading this same document and preparing to write the signature I’ve now seen so many times.

documents being selected at the national archives

400-year old documents being viewed at The National Archives

Back to reality, and a team of around 20 people are assembled around a big white table a few weeks later. We’ve come together to look at the curatorial vision for the show and ultimately make the decision about which documents should be put on display. There are over 120 to choose from, but we’ve already whittled these down to about 15. We choose nine, carefully considering the stories behind each one and how they link into the Bard’s paper trail through London.

Over the next few months, with expert direction from our Designer, the content of the exhibition rooms slowly takes shape. Interpretive text is starting to be written, and proofs are landing in inboxes daily. It’s three months until opening and there are now over fifty people working directly on the exhibition. If you add in the contractors, it’s over 100.

It’s January, and there are four weeks until the exhibition opens, but just two weeks until we start installing. We sign off on the majority of the texts for the walls, and they are sent to the printers where each letter will be individually cut from vinyl. The poster and flyer designs were completed before Christmas and there’s excitement when boxes of flyers arrive at the gallery, and we start to spot advertising posters on the tube. It all seems suddenly very real.

Fast forward to Friday, four days before the exhibition opens. It’s 8.30am and the courier from the National Library of Scotland has landed safely at City Airport, despite some terrible Scottish weather threatening our well-made plans. It’s the end of our second week of installing, and I’ve been in the gallery for over 50 hours already this week. A photographer and film crew are due in a few hours, and we’re half-way through focusing the lighting.

men at work on the exhibition

Installing the map as part of the 59 Productions digital installation

the cabinets with sensor equipment

Preparing for the installation of a document and a painting within the gallery

The exhibition is already looking beautiful, and despite the weary faces, it’s obvious our team are immensely proud. As am I. So far, I think to myself, everything has pretty much gone to plan. My four page installation schedule taped to the wall is covered in scribbles and amendments, but almost everything is ticked off. At 4pm the team gathers to watch the final test of the digital installation by 59 Productions, when I get a call – our fine art courier is behind schedule and stuck in traffic. Delivery is delayed by over three hours. Our art technicians have other jobs to go to this evening, and the mount-maker will have left. A few minutes later it becomes apparent that there are issues being detected with the required environmental conditions for the documents. The next few hours race past. Many frantic phone calls later and we have solutions to both problems. Come 9.30pm we leave the gallery, to return before 9am on Saturday for a long day of problem-solving with help drafted in from a Yorkshire-based company (they set off at 3am!). I book a taxi home that evening, and it’s worth every penny.

gordon and journos

Professor Gordon McMullan, Director, London Shakespeare Centre at King’s speaks to a group of journalists from across the world at the exhibition press view event.

Deborah presenting at private view

Deborah Bull, Assistant Principal, King’s College London opens the exhibition on the evening of 2 February at a busy private view.

Monday, 24 hours until the press view. We spend eight hours training a team of over 40 invigilators and box office staff. The BBC arrive and film a piece for the 6 O’clock news and then sit in their van outside to edit and send to the news room just before their deadline. By 10pm I’m standing in a silent and completed exhibition. In 10 hours we’ll have 60 reporters, photographers and film crews bustling to get their interview or soundbite. In 20 hours we’ll be starting our Private View event and welcoming the first audience to the exhibition whilst glasses are clinked and a string quartet serenades the guests. In 36 hours we will open the doors to our first eager visitors (some of whom waited for 40 minutes to be the first people over the threshold). But for now I take one last look around, tidy away a rogue spirit level, and head home. By me William Shakespeare opens tomorrow.

 

By me William Shakespeare: A life in writing is open Tues – Sun, 10.00 – 18.00 (until 20.00 Thursdays), until 29 May in the Inigo Rooms, Somerset House East Wing, King’s College London.  The exhibition is free for King’s staff and students. Tickets: bymewilliamshakespeare.org.

On evidence and anecdotes

Maria Ryan joined Culture at King’s College London in May 2014 and completed her MMus at King’s in September 2015. In August 2015 she will begin a PhD in Musicology at the University of Pennsylvania. Here she reflects on how her time at Culture at King’s has radically altered the way she thinks about arts participation.

8518732270_c3559cc936_z

The cast of Turandot © ROH/Tristram Kenton, 2013

When I was 14 I participated in a week-long course run jointly by King’s College London’s Arts & Humanities faculty and the Royal Opera House. The course, for year-10 students at comprehensive schools in Hammersmith and Fulham, was an immersive introduction to opera and studying the humanities, culminating in us twelve participants watching Turandot from the orchestra stalls – the first time any of us had seen an opera. For me, the course was transformative. The opera house seemed to be a jewelled box, full of hundreds of people –musicians, dramaturges, librarians, dancers, pattern cutters, archivists– an army of workers all dedicated to the same beautiful and mysterious aim. This unbelievably real place was just a few miles from our schools and yet was another world. And yet, it was real, and to prove it here were real people telling us about opera, and that we were free not only to attend performances, but could also make a career in the arts, and attempt to understand dramatic forms through study. I cannot speak for the other participants, but for me, this course marked the beginning of a life-long love of, and fascination with, opera.

10 years and two music degrees later, I found myself back at King’s, working as Executive Assistant to Deborah Bull, who had been Creative Director at the Royal Opera House during the time my 14-year-old self visited and was so amazed. Although it would be tempting to construct a grand narrative around these incidences and coincidences in order to evangelise about the transformative effects of the arts, my work here at King’s has taught me to resist extrapolating from my own experiences, and instead to seek out evidence. This isn’t always easy; there is something essentially un-romantic about evidence. Data anonymises, figures lack subtlety, and reports can be reductive, whereas personal stories have vitality and hold their own truths.  However, at a time when economic and social barriers to arts and culture are growing, it is vital that we go beyond an intrinsic belief based on personal experience – that access to arts and culture is somehow ‘good’ – towards a fully evidenced explanation of their benefits.

The evidence will not always be easy reading and will require even the most ardent culture lover to question their assumptions. We must explore the relationship between access to classical music and class, find out whether free museum access really does encourage new audiences, and confront the huge lack of diversity in the arts sector. However, armed with evidence, it will be possible to work towards a society in which access to the arts and culture is the norm for all, rather than a chance encounter or optional extra.

I now realise that the week I had encountering opera and the humanities ten years ago would not have been possible without the support of King’s, the Royal Opera House, the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and our schools and parents. Today, there is increasing pressure on local authorities and arts organisations to do more with less. My week at King’s and the Royal Opera House will always be an important and formative memory to me. However, in order for future generations to enjoy similar experiences my anecdote must be transformed into evidence that organisations can use to justify their widening engagement projects. A move towards evidence doesn’t devalue people’s personal relationships with culture, nor does it remove the simple intrinsic enjoyment of an artistic encounter. We must see evidence as a necessary enabler, through which we can create a new normal, where creativity is nurtured and people of all backgrounds, not a select few, have the opportunity to create their own relationship with art and culture.