How this Festival came to be
Welcome to the Social Arts Festival 2018. Let me tell you something about it by first telling you a story.
In the generation that grew up during Soviet times in Poland there was girl called Joanna Puchala who could not be still.
She had boundless energy and had two great ambitions: to dance and to enjoy the freedom that was denied her parents: the freedom to travel and explore the world.
She travelled not as a tourist, there was no bucket list. Her approach was to wander with her tent, camping in beautiful, wild places far from the tourist trails.
After many adventures her travels took her to Cambodia where she had an experience that touched her deeply.
She came across local women whose lives were wretched, trapped into a life of prostitution and slavery.
Their stories were terrible. Joanna wanted to help, but what could she do.
It is easy to become emotional and ask why this kind of thing happens and how to fix it, but the answers are seldom simple. The reasons why people end up these situations are rooted in social, cultural and political conflicts that seem bewildering and complex and far beyond what one person can do to help.
Joanna knew that helping people in this kind of plight is a job for those who are close to the problem and know how to deal with it. It requires special skills and experience, which she did not have. But she could do what she can.
Joanna was a dancer. Her skills were dance and performing. She certainly knew how to choreograph a show that carries a message. So from then on, she dedicated her performances to raising awareness of human rights abuses.
She choreographed and performed in a number of dance pieces at the Edinburgh Festival with her LCP Dance Theatre company, year after year. Each one had a serious message. They were well received, were nominated and won awards.
Raising awareness through culture keeps the issue alive and in the public mind. When the plight of the victims is in the public consciousness, politicians take note and put it on the agenda at their international meetings. This is how a dancer or musician might help by doing what they do best.
Joanna decided that there was a place for another festival. Not simply a celebration of the Arts, but one dedicated to exploring social issues. London is an ideal city for this because it is clearly a World city, a cross roads and there are communities from many different countries meet. It also has communities that are based around cultural and social enterprises.
Joanna is a dancer and choreographer, but, like many artistes, she makes a living by teaching. She has taught yoga for many years and so has become a part of the community of therapists that specialise in helping people find health and wellbeing.
Then the penny dropped! Why not create an event that brings together the therapeutic community with with artistes from the performing arts to raise awareness and conciousness of human rights violations?
That idea brought us here tonight in this wonderful Lodge space that is dedicated to the Mind, Body and Soul. In this space the Festival will bring together artists, actors and musicians to create performances that are quite unique in that they feature aerial dance using these superb facilities. This is not a theatre, but let us see what we can do!
Some of the performers are yoga professionals associated with the.Lodge.Space. Some are contemporary dancers. Some, like Joanna have their feet in both communities. But it is not intended to be all about movement. Our performers are dancers, singers, musicians, actors, audio visual artists and comedians. Some have been trained in south east London and the Laban dance school and Trinity music school at Greenwich University. Others come from much further afield to share in the cultural life of London.
The nature of the work you will see tonight will deal with deeply personal questions of identity, questions about relationships and as well as the big social questions
This is entirely consistent because while the causes of conflict may be in large scale rivalries between nations and economies and concern huge cultural and ideological clashes. Those who bear the consequences of these conflicts do so on deeply personal level. Where they may ask fundamental questions about their identity and how they relate to others.
While some are experienced, others are at the beginning of their artistic careers.
Each piece encourages us to think deeply about life and they pose questions by stimulating our senses, our intellect and our emotions.
There is also another community involved in this festival that helps us to keep our feet on the ground and really bring it back in a full circle. For many years, in a small way, I have supported a charity known as Room to Heal. This is an organisation that is in the frontline of therapy for refugees and victims of torture. Their approach uses group and community based therapy and they have many years of experience doing this with refugees from many troubled parts of the world. They help them get their lives back on track and find fellowship in the company of others who have suffered in the same way. The Festival will raise funds for Room to Heal to continue their valuable work with Refugees and Asylum seekers.
So welcome to the Festival and we hope you enjoy this evenings entertainment.