The Leeds woman making the arts more accessible to those on low incomes

Nancy Barrett.
Nancy Barrett.
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Making the arts more accessible to those on low incomes has become a passion for Nancy Barrett.

The task of encouraging people to get out of the house and experience arts performances and cultural events, is bigger than you might think.

Nancy Barrett, who was born and raised in Seacroft, wants to make ‘the arts’ more accessible to ‘normal’ people.

Following a recent inquiry by the Labour Party titled The Acting Up Report, it was found that the performing arts - whether stage, television or film - is increasingly dominated by people from well-off backgrounds.

The same can be said for those who experience the arts. Look around at the audience at the average opening night at a big theatre and it will undoubtedly be white, middle class and some might say: ‘posh folk’. Using Government Arts Council funding, the Yorkshire-born arts promoter is on a mission to “make art a part of everyday life”.

Nancy, who is passionately interested in everyone she meets and always wants to hear their story, says with a determined look: “Chances for kids to go to the theatre, museums, or experience any kind of cultural stimulation are increasingly rare. It carries on into adult life - if you are not ‘switched on’ to what’s available, you can stay ‘turned off’ for your adult life.

“That is where we come in.

“Life has changed dramatically and people are more likely to play on their tablet and watch YouTube than even watch a film or television now.”

Nancy is director of Creative

Scene, one of Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places projects. There are 21 such projects across England, in areas which have had 
a lack of previous investment and where

the residents have a low-uptake on cultural activities.

Creative Scene, whose strapline is ‘making art a part of everyday life’, covers Dewsbury, Batley and Spen and surrounding areas. It is funded by the Arts Council.

Nancy, who was born and brought up on the Seacroft estate, says: “I was a bit of an Irish dancer and took part in the usual school productions and have always enjoyed singing but I wouldn’t say I was particularly into the arts.

“I suppose travelling into school every day and navigating the big city, finding hidden corners after school, maybe it gave me some confidence from an early age, to go out and try different things. I have always loved exploring new places, their history, geography, buildings and meeting new people and finding out their stories.

“I have always wanted to find ways of telling stories and tales. I have always written. In fact my first published piece of poetry was in the Yorkshire Evening Post in the 1970s and then I got involved in producing theatre.

“Creative Scene was an ideal project for me. We are based in Dewsbury and it’s a town that I genuinely find fascinating. My cousin Dennis had a market stall there selling high-waisted trousers and 3 star T-shirts - remember them from the 1970s?

“This is a historic and really diverse part of Yorkshire. I associate it very much as the traditional ‘West Riding’; it’s full of history like the Luddite Riots, shoddy and mungo production, endless Bronte-connections and some really beautiful landscapes too, not to mention fine historic house and walled gardens and handsome town centres.

“It’s so close to Leeds and Wakefield, Bradford and Huddersfield but these suburban areas often get passed by as people whizz past on the M62. I really want to encourage people to come out and explore what’s going on here, take part in what’s fast becoming the best place to see really accessible arts in Yorkshire.

“We are creating a whole series of films about some of the hidden people and places. Our local film maker has been telling the story of the market and channel swimmer Eileen Fenton, a hidden dairy farm, where to find the best tea and cake in Dewsbury. The short films will be unveiled at a local ‘premiere’ later in the year.”

But getting people to experience a bit of culture can be tough: “There are all kinds of reasons why people don’t go out to see exhibitions, to the theatre or a show. Money - or lack of it - can be an issue for some people, but I don’t believe it’s the only or main one.

“After all, people are willing to save and commit chunks of their income to go and see a favourite pop star or to a festival. Large parts of the arts are seen as ‘not for the likes of us’ these days, that they are just the reserve of a few: the posh, the cultured. It doesn’t help that in this country, opportunities to study and take part in the arts are being driven out of the curriculum either.”

After decades of working in the arts Nancy explains: “You would think that putting on events, many of which are free would be a no brainer; but people still need encouragement to come along and join in and experience something new. People don’t like change and doing something different can be to big a step.”

“We hope other places and towns will learn from our work to explore what people respond to. What is it that gets them out of the house and along to see something different? What do theatres, art galleries and museums need to do to appeal to a 21st Century audience?”

Nancy adds: “There are some great large scale free events in cities like Leeds: Light Night on October 5 and 6 and there’s no doubt they attract large numbers, but I think that it’s the domain of the city centre worker or retired people.

“For most people, getting along to something in the city is pretty time consuming; the timing of shows and opening hours don’t work out for them if they have to get home and feed the family or care for someone and all the add-ons like transport or parking, food and drink can make it a tough task.

“We all need to think about getting people away from screens, create new communities and reaching new audiences.”

FACTFILE

Creative Scene brings professional artists from Yorkshire, the UK and around the world, to perform at events such as Batley Festival and Cleckheaton Folk Festival and one-off shows in non-traditional places such as a recent parkour performance at Dewsbury Market, featuring the top free-runners in India

Creative Scene launched ‘The Ruck’, by Kev Fegan, which tells the story of the Batley Rugby League Girls Under 16’s 2016 tour of Australia. It opened on September 15 at the Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

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