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Down To Earth 1 - 1978

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Down To Earth was originally created as a way of providing the basis for debate and creative activities for the Second Merseyside Gathering of Community Artists February 1978.  It was staged as a day-long game and took place in an empty 3-storey warehouse in the centre of Liverpool.  Sixty people played, all either actively involved in or inquisitive about community arts activity on Merseyside.

The problems (both ecological and cultural) looked at in Down to Earth 1978 were explored in depth in a restaged version Down To Earth 1984 at the Blackie as a mulit media event over a 5 day period.

The Idea

The earth’s natural resource of soil, exposed to exploitative agricultural practices, is being ruined.  People’s natural gift of creativity, exposed to the stresses and inadequacies of urban life, can be ruined too.  Down To Earth was a game that explored cultural deprivations through parallels in farming practices, and then offered examples of existing agricultural remedies, and suggested analogous cultural remedies.

Dave Rickus and Sally Morris signing people in to Down To Earth

Above Dave Rickus and Sally Morris signing people in to the event.

How It Worked

Research

The starting point was to research the multitude of ways in which farming and other human activity (forestry, water extraction, etc) impacted negatively upon the soil. Followed by looking at solutions which were known to have worked.

Armed with that knowledge it was then possible to consider parallel  situations in community arts practice.

The Exhibitions

Players began by viewing the ‘problems exhibition’: photographs, displayed against a brown background, of the devastation of severe soil erosion around the world, caused by agricultural mismanagement, mining; and other forms of soil exploitation. 

Soil erosion causing dust stormsPeople in a dust storm caused by soil erosion

A man surrounded by an arid landscape

Above people in dust storms and arid landscapes caused by soil erosion.

One of the solutionsBelow each photograph was a ‘solution card’ which offered two solutions.  The first, soil conservation: the course of action a farmer could take to use the land profitably, at the same time as preserving and enriching the soil. 

The second, an analogous course of action that a community artist might take to develop creative potential in a community, at the same time preserving and developing that community’s own cultural Identity. Above one of the solution photographs.

From the perspective of 2015 it is worthy of note that many of  the environmental problems explored  within the Down To Earth are still relevant to-day. In terms of community arts practice these were responses made in 1978 - that is  over 30 years ago - so it is an interesting exercise  to consider what would be to-days solutions and how much they have or have not changed.  Click if you would like to read the full list of problems and solutions which made up the basis of the game. 

Once they had viewed the Exhibition each player selected three solutions that most interested them, and then moved to the next part of the game – the ‘solutions exhibition’.  This was also photographic, mounted this time on a more positively-coloured green background, and presenting actual instances, from a range of countries, of the agricultural solutions offered previously.

The Weavings

The rest of the event asked players to visualise their most preferred solution to agricultural exploitation by using the skills of weaving

The loom, winding along the walls of the warehouse was 60ft long and 7ft wide. It was divided into different sections representing a range of farming environments: Mountain Land, Hilly Land, Range/Prairie Land, and Valley Bottom Land.

The loom weaving its way round the room

Above the loom weaving its way around the room

In a corner of the room was a ‘shop’ which supplied players with The shop in operation being run by Vi Caffreyweaving materials: string, cloth, paper, twigs, straw, wool, cellophane…etc.  Two experienced weavers acted as shopkeepers to ‘sell’ players their chosen materials for the ‘price’ of ideas as to how to weave one of their 3 solutions. Right the 'shop' in operation.

If players weren’t sure as to how to go about weaving their chosen solution onto the loom, they discussed possibilities with the weavers.

Vi Caffrey holding discussions on weaving

Vi Caffrey offering advice

Above discussing the weavings with the weavers.

Much of the  work on the loom was planned by making drawings  or using cut up pieces of paper before starting the actual weaving.   A ‘soil conservation officer’ directed people to the appropriate part of the loom, depending on their chosen solution.  Below discussing and planning the weaving. 

Discussing how to do the weaving

People planning the weavingPlanning the weaving

The aim was to produce a giant weaving of a diverse, well-farmed landscape.  Players were invited to work together, with others in their section, to make a weaving of their chosen solution, helped by the experienced weavers, and by the soil conservation expert assigned to that section.

Starting the weavingThe weaving being worked on  Part of the weavings being worked on

Above the weaving being worked on. Below sections of the finished weaving.

The mountainous area in the weavingPart of the finished weavingPart of the finished weavingPart of the finished weaving

The Debates

At the end of the day, players and staff sat down to discuss the reasons why individual players had chosen their particular solutions – both in terms of farming and of community arts.  They examined how their individual farming solution fitted into the overall picture and the weaving; and they looked at how their individual community arts solutions fitted in - or would fit in if put into practice - with the overall picture of community arts on Merseyside.

Dave Ward leading a discussion

Ed Murphy and others in discussion

Holding the debate

 

 

Above top Dave Ward leading a discussion; above Edward Murphy leading a discussion,  and left a discussion group.

 

 

The Booklet 

Published after the event the Booklet contains the writings and thoughts which both arose from and informed the event. 

It starts with a quote from the Arts Council of Great Britain Annual 1977

"Community arts is the activity of artists in various art forms working in a particular  community, and involving the participation of members of that community.

The next page has two quotes which sum up the basis of Down To Earth 1978

"The work of a farmer is to cultivate the productivity of the land they live on to its fullest potential."

"The work of a community artist is to cultivate the creativity of the community they live in to its fullest potential"

If you want to read the full Booklet click here

It was also intended to publish, the script and a final edited version exists, but It doesn't seem to have been actually published

The Team

Down To Earth - The Game was devised by Duncan Curtis, Kevin McBride, Penny McPhillips, Sally Morris,  Dave Rickus, and Dave Ward.

 

 

 

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