All my adult life, the task has been to find a gap in the system, a place which the system hasn’t got to yet, or, for a moment, disappeared from, a place where the hegemony is weak. This has been true for housing and work. If you’re not playing the promotional, career game, if you’re not mainstream because of political belief or artistic inclination, then that’s the way to survive. (Unless of course, there’s been an earthquake creating quite a lot of gaps.)
For a few years in the early seventies there was a considerable gap: the National Film Unit was an organisation that had lost its original purpose so was open to something different, television hadn’t settled into commercial mode and was still exploring a citizenship role, the mainstream theatre was uncertain so experimental theatre flourished, rents were cheap and jobs readily available. But then the gap began to close: television became commercially driven, the Film Unit dissolved and the mainstream theatre got its act together. The economy worsened and things tightened.
But there was a feature film industry that had to invent itself – that was a gap that needed to be filled. Hollywood eventually invaded.
There was a marginal community in Holloway Road which provided free housing and the chance to explore political system, bicultural theatre and community.
Market forces eventually arrived in ‘the gully’ and community based art, community development and Petone provided the next gap, a gap that widened as neo liberalism tore society apart. That gap in turn closed as the government and the corporates tidied up the mess and introduced a philanthropic model of control.
Blackball on the West Coast then provided a space – irrelevant, nostalgic, but cheap housing and a new praxis could occur. Now, that gap is closing as market forces in housing arrive and the visitor industry impacts. With the past becoming a branding exercise funded via government schemes. I become aware of how much local government and the NGO sector bonds itself opportunistically to government programmes. Covid has taken this to the level of a command economy with capitalism as the pretence. The old USSR used to have communism as the pretence.
Where is the next gap? The graveyard could of course suffice, but meanwhile, there is a redundant and irrelevant heritage site bearing the story of a revolutionary teacher who activated the most unlikely of communities.
Interestingly, the model of working has become the co-operative. In the past the theatre group has been dominant, which is, I suppose, a sort of co-op. I’m stepping aside from the charitable trust model. I think we all should. It is broken.
As I write this I wonder how many people actually have a similar experience of survival.