In the 1970s, Jubilee Arts developed working methods which were primarily responsive to the needs of local groups and issues that arose from the community itself. Theatre and play work on council estates such as Friar Park, Yew Tree, Langley or Whiteheath, led to contacts with Sandwell Tenants Liaison Committee, for whom decaying housing stock in general and damp in particular were the major issues of the day. Sandwell had some 57,000 council tenancies and high blocks that were described in the press with headline such as ‘Horror Storeys’ or ‘Not Fit For a Tramp’. For radicals and activists these community artists offered a wide range of techniques for spreading their message, through festivals, printshops, video and theatre.

So Jubilee lent their 35 mm camera to community groups, made videos with local people, created and performed shows in solidarity with campaign groups, helped make placards, banners and badges, printed posters and t-shirts with silkscreen, made flyers with a Gestetner machine. This work could involve youth people making film about ‘Dole Q Youth’, it could involve trade unionists campaigning for a safer work place, school dinner ladies producing banners and posters about job cuts and low pay; it might involve a group of moms in West Smethwick making a film about road safety or posters highlighting factory pollution – all giving voice to local issues of concern.

Despite starting out as a theatre group, Jubilee employed an array of media tools quite early on. The EIAJ-1 Sony reel to reel format from the early 1970s offered black and white video recording and playback on half inch  magnetic tape on a 7 inch diameter open reel, with portable units using smaller 5 inch diameter reels. At first, over weekends, they were able to borrow some state of the art kit like this from a friend who worked at BBC Pebble Mill.

In 1980, when this photograph was taken, we must remember that there were only two television channels, BBC One and BBC Two, alongside the ITV regional franchise network, of which ATV broadcast to the Midlands. The idea that you might put the tools of media production in the hands of ordinary people was then a radical one. Most British community artists of the time believed that by giving people access to skills and technology, that putting the means of cultural production into the hands of working people was essential for a healthy democracy, to ensure visibility and more equal representation, to combat erasure and censorship. Peter Dunn and Lorraine Leeson, of Docklands Community Poster project, put it this way: ‘The aim is not to seek consumers of radical culture/ideology but to generate producers.’ For individuals involved it was about consciousness raising, developing both confidence and abilities, leading to a critique of their environment and a desire to take action to change things. 

Of this process, graphic designer Andrew Howard, who worked for Islington Bus Company, another community arts organisation in the 1970s who operated with a mobile resource, noted: ‘Observation is not a passive act and is not the same as simply looking. It is a reflective process that demands constant questions—what I call interrogation. It begins by looking at what seems obvious and everyday and by questioning what we think we know. In turn this leads to the third element – discovery – where things are revealed or inadvertently uncovered as a result of close scrutiny.’ 


In 2018, reflecting on the history of the community arts movement, Francois Matarosso wrote:

‘The idea of taking the arts to the people was not new. It had long shaped cultural philanthropy in Britain, from the civic galleries of Victorian cities to the Shakespeare productions touring industrial towns in the 1930s. The community arts movement was innovative – and radical – in rejecting the idea of educating the poor to appreciate the culture of the rich. Instead, the movement asserted the right of working people to create their own art, rooted in their own experience and values, and their capacity to do that as well as anyone else with fair access to the resources of creative production. Where others spoke of democratising culture, community artists argued for cultural democracy.’

In terms of demystifying the mass media through learning about the processes used and in encouraging critical thought, there was a debate as to whether the community artist should play a more active role than simply be on hand as a technical adviser.

In 1986 Andrew Howard questioned these processes:

‘The mistake that (Islington) Bus Co. made, along with others, was that in trying to demystify skills, it inadvertently abolished or at least greatly devalued them. Under this liberation it became possible for anyone to do anything, in theory at least. The last people to have recognised this would have been the working class themselves who in the execution of their daily lives are very quick to recognise and value skill. Skill is the ability to manipulate a given set of material or conceptual factors. It’s something you work hard at and it takes time to acquire. Most people recognise that and know there’s nothing magical about it. Most people might expect to learn how to wire a plug but would not feel devalued or disempowered by calling in an electrician to wire a house. People are disempowered when the decisions that affect them are made without their knowledge or consent. Only when skills are mystified and used in a way that is neither open nor accountable, does oppression occur.

Ironically, this ethic was itself, at best patronising and at worst a subtle form of oppression. People were coerced into executing tasks, for their own good (sic), that they would be unlikely to be able to carry out skilfully. The word coerce is used consciously, because it was always made clear that if the ethic were not accepted then the work would simply not be done.

At the same time it must be said that there were a great many tasks that people were encouraged to take on, that they may not normally have had the opportunity to do, where they did benefit and gain satisfaction and confidence.’

As quoted here: https://arestlessart.com/2017/02/14/it-became-necessary-to-learn-because-we-made-it-so/

Here’s a video of Andrew demonstrating silk screen processes back in the 7os.

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