What I heard.

When the Islamic Centre (not a mosque) was burnt to the ground on Wednesday 5th June 2013 in Muswell Hill, North London, it was stated on the news report that the area is “Middle-class and polite” inferring that terrorist attacks are not possible in non-deprived areas. Then there was an arson attack on a Muslim Girls’ School in some place off the tube line? The report showed young men stating, with reference to terrorist attacks, that no-one expected such stuff in a salubrious neighbourhood .

Yesterday I refused to allow my mouth to engage in a falsely-smiling polite argument when someone next to me said, “People from a council estate wouldn’t get this art”.2013-06-11 11.13.55

Okay, the Islamic Centre as was in Muswell Hill was on the border with Friern Barnet on a road which separates privately owned houses from a once notorious Muswell Hill council estate. Coldfall  Estate is hardly middle-class being  peopled invisibly by elderly white residents whose families of thirteen and better moved away in the seventies. Some of those aged seniors are the parents of gangsters. Some are the parents of university graduates. As people die and the law refuses that their children can become tenants automatically then other families are housed and some are affiliated to Islamic Centres.

The council houses sell for a quarter of a million because they have a Muswell Hill post-code and are in the Fortismere School’s catchment area. I have never met anything but politeness from the residents on the estate who remember when the house-owners of the private houses in the opposite Friern Barnet roads tried to stop the estate people walking down their hallowed roads (to get to the main bus routes to work!)

Rather than say people from a council estate wouldn’t understand or appreciate the art in Whitechapel Art Gallery, go outside and ask why the Bangladeshis milling in their old London roads aren’t cramming into the doors of the once library building.2013-06-11 10.59.44Whitechapel Art Gallery’s  neighbour.

The point is not that council tenants wouldn’t get it but what are you, bicycled, trouser-clipped woman gonna do about it?

Whitechapel Gallery and The William Morris Gallery in E17  secure community engagement funding to haul in the masses. They enlist volunteers, give unpaid positions as interns to local youth, overload on publicity and wait.

The Birkbeck University dishes out art appreciation foundation courses to the poor and unlearned and arranges bursaries for them. Benevolent? Seemingly so. It keeps the institution going.  You might think that free workshops at galleries and through universities would attract all kinds of people. People unused to going into galleries and museums have to go through firstly the door.

‘ “At the entrance to the exhibition is a door on which [the artists] have collaborated. Framing the exhibition and marking the transition from the exterior to interior space, this door invites viewers to walk through to the other side,”

Or as we mere mortals call it… A Door. ‘ (credit to IanVisits for quote.)

If the staff are miserable-looking and if the clientele think like Ms Prejudiced- against -council- tenants, then engagement just ain’t  gonna happen. By experience I can predict the make-up of any group I join to any art gallery.

Art appreciation language is a genre of its own. Most people I know can’t be asked to know that language so switch off. In that group are long-term immigrants to the UK who are  house-owners through manual working all their lives, are pensioners ready to discover venues across town, are retirees from council estates who will defend fiercely their living habits, are Muslim widows ready to enjoy post-husband freedom.2013-06-11 12.16.43Looking into Whitechapel from the top of The Whitechapel Gallery, Tower Hamlets, east London

Up Your Street reaches out to one and all and introduces seniors to venues they thought they’d never enter let alone get a look in e.g   Theatre  Royal Stratford east, Birkbeck University, Hackney Empire, Hackney Museum, Geffrye Museum and etc.

“Always remember whose party it is”, I heard.


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