To Absent Friends, a people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance

Guest blogger Mark Hazelwood, CEO of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, introduces a new festival.


I’ve some great memories of my friend Helen, who I knew for 30 years and who died earlier this year.  I remember her giggle, her passion for improving the probation service and the time we did an overnight bus trip from Mysore to Bangalore.

To Absent Friends

All of us, except the very young, have memories of people who have died and who remain important to us.  For many people there comes a time when the relationships we have with those who have died outnumber those we have with the living.

People often have their own private ways of remembering people who have died, but in general in Scottish culture, public acknowledgement of the importance of the relationships we have with the dead is very limited.  The exception is Remembrance Day, but of course most people don’t die as a result of military service.

In Mexico every year in November they mark El Dia Los Muertos – Mexican day of the dead.  These two days are dedicated to remembering family and friends who have died.  Graves are tidied and decorated, special meals are prepared, and people remember, respect and celebrate those who have died.

Historically Scotland used to have equivalent traditions.  In pre-Christian times we had Samhain, a November festival during which places were laid at the meal table, to remember and honour dead ancestors.  There are elements of Samhain in the subsequent Christian festivals of All Souls and All Saints, as well as in Halloween.  But with the decline of organized religion and the explosion of hyper-commercialised trick or treating something important and valuable has surely been lost.

Our current culture of silence contributes to the isolation which many people who are recently bereaved say they experience. It is part of a wider silence about death, which can be a barrier to planning and preparing for the inevitable and a barrier to supporting each other.

So if are old ways of doing things are in decline, but there is still a deep human need to remember the dead, what is to be done?

A new festival will take place in Scotland this year from 1st -7th  November – a people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance, called To Absent Friends.  The festival will be an opportunity for people to remember dead loved ones and tell stories about people who’ve died.  It will provide an excuse to build upon the emergent creativity which can already be witnessed in phenomena such as sponsored events in memory of dead loved ones, Facebook and twitter tributes when someone dies, and the growth in personalised and individualised funerals.

To Absent Friends is unprescriptive and completely open to individual interpretation.   It is not an awareness week. It is not a fundraiser.  It is not corporately owned.  It will happen among friends, families and communities – people can mark the occasion – or not – in whatever way works for them.  Participation might be private and individual, for example lighting a candle at home.  It may be private but collective, for example attending a themed concert and thinking private memories.  It may be individual and public, for example posting on an online wall of remembrance or it might be public and collective, for example cooking together with friends and family what was granny’s favourite recipe.

Peacock Tree

The signs are that the festival has struck a chord and we are aware of numerous and varied events being enthusiastically planned.  For example, on the Isle of Lewis, over 60s groups are getting together to do artwork, sing songs, eat traditional food and tell stories of people in the community who have died over the years.  Residents, family and staff at the Peacock Nursing home in Livingston are creating a Remembrance Tree. Wigtown cake

Glasgow University is holding a “remembrance café” for their student nurses. A 20 foot Memorial Wall will be fixed on the famous town railings of the broadest town square in Scotland in Wigtown and there will be free tea and cake afterwards.

As well as grass roots activities such as these the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care has teamed up with arts organisations to deliver some bigger events which will help to raise the national profile of the festival.  The Royal Scottish National Orchestra are playing a concert in Glasgow. In Edinburgh there will be a lunchtime organ recital in the Usher Hall.

Usher Hall

Together with the Luminate Festival To Absent Friends brings an exhibition by photographer Colin Gray.  And story teller Margot Henderson will be telling tales of Absent Friends as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival.

Heaven and Hull from "The Parents" by Colin Gray www.colingray.net

Heaven and Hull from “The Parents” by Colin Gray http://www.colingray.net

It is not too late to be in right at the start of something!  Please have a look round the To Absent Friends website.    Have a look at the events, at the ideas and suggestions.  See if anything strikes a chord.  Tell us your own ideas.  www.toabsentfriends.org.uk

Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival, is back this October…

After a hugely successful year in 2013, with 400 arts and creative events taking place from the Scottish Borders to Shetland, plans are now well underway for Luminate 2014.

The festival showcases projects and events run by communities and arts organisations nationwide – including theatre, dance, music, visual arts and community projects – and offers a chance to celebrate creativity, share stories, and to explore what ageing means to all of us.

Old Skool Graffiti Projec

Old Skool Graffiti Project, Luminate 2013

The 2013 programme included a wonderfully diverse range of performances, screenings, exhibitions, workshops and events, all capturing the spirit of the festival. From an art installation at Royal Observer Corps bunkers on Shetland, to a design label created by an over-60s art group in Banchory to an intergenerational graffiti project in West Lothian.

This will be Luminate’s third festival, and, working closely with Age Scotland, the team are gearing up for another programme of exciting and inspiring events and activities that will embrace the length and breadth of the country from 1 – 31 October 2014.

As in previous years, Luminate includes an independently run programme from artists, cultural organisations and community groups, and there is still time to submit a proposal to be part of this year’s celebrations.

If you are planning arts events or creative activities anywhere in Scotland this October that are aimed at older people or have a theme relating to ageing, Luminate would love to hear from you. You can submit your proposal online where you’ll also find guidance notes and frequently asked questions to help guide you through the process.

And if you’re looking for some inspiration, the 2013 programme is still available to browse online here  or on the website at www.luminatescotland.org/events.

The 2014 programme will be available by early September.

www.luminatescotland.org

Luminate 2013: What will you do?

The 2013 programme for Luminate; Scotland’s creative ageing festival, was announced today. Luminate Director Anne Gallacher offers a preview.

Live Music Now

Live Music Now. Photo by Rachel Keenan

Highlights of the 2013 festival include two commissions by Luminate. Live Music Now is a UK wide charity that provides performing and training opportunities to outstanding young professional musicians who take their performances to a wide range of community settings. Bill Sweeney has been commissioned to create The Luminate Suite, based on music, poems and stories remembered and shared by older people from the Western Isles. During the festival, Live Music Now musicians will premiere the new song cycle for the older people who helped create it. The charity’s performers will also tour care homes and centres throughout Scotland as part of Luminate’s Outreach programme.

Recount, the second Luminate commission, will incorporate three site-specific installations on Shetland. During the Cold War, the islands played an important role in NATO’s Early Warning System, hosting the most northerly Royal Observer Corps bunkers designed to operate as monitoring stations in the event of nuclear attack. Artists Roxane Permar and Susan Timmins will explore islanders’ recollections of Shetland’s role in the conflict to create site-specific artworks incorporating text, sound and luminescent textiles.

Other Luminate highlights around the country include Super Vivere, an exhibition by photographer Susie Rea that uses stunning portraits, audiovisual narrative and text to explore the lives of siblings who are over the age of 90. The project is a collaboration with Dr Maeve Rea of Queen’s University, Belfast and both Susie and Maeve will give a Gallery Talk at macrobert, Stirling on 1 October marking the opening of both the exhibition and Luminate. The work can be seen at macrobert from 1 – 10 October before transferring to Platform, Easterhouse from 22 October.

One of the major performances of the festival is Theatre Ad Infinitum’s award-winning Translunar Paradise, which is also part of Dance Live at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen and tours to Eden Court, Inverness, The Beacon, Greenock and Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. This exquisite piece of mask and movement theatre, featuring live accordion accompaniment, tells the story of William, who escapes to a paradise of memories after his wife’s death but ultimately must learn to let her go.

A must-see at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre on 2 October is the Curtain Raiser on Dark Road with Ian Rankin when the author will discuss the inspiration for his first play with Jackie McGlone. Also in Edinburgh on 25 October, 24 Carat Gold, a choreographic group made up of members of Dance Base’s over 60s group, Golden, will take on a group of young dancers for a high energy performance at Dance Base.

One of Scotland’s treasures Jackie Kay will be at the Lochgelly Centre, Fife on 23 October, reading extracts, stories and poems from her latest book Reality Reality. Other performances of her work will also take place during Luminate. macrobert, Stirling will host a reading of the play Mind Away as part of their Exploring Arts and Dementia day on 25 October and her hilarious and heartbreaking new musical comedy, The Maw Broon Monologues, starring Terry Neason and Suzanne Bonnar opens on 29 October at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow as part of the Glasgay! festival.

The 2013 Luminate film tour highlights the increasing influence of older cinemagoers and older artists in this often youth-orientated business. Both the films selected – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and This is Martin Bonner – have something to say to all of us about dealing with age and the ageing process.

In addition to the public programme, Luminate includes Outreach activities and performances that take the festival into care homes, sheltered housing communities and local groups across the country throughout October. This year’s Outreach programme includes a screening from the Luminate Film Tour at Viewpoint Housing in Edinburgh, selected by residents to share with their family and friends, and performances of Puppet State Theatre’s acclaimed production The Man Who Planted Trees in care settings across Tayside.

The Luminate 2013 programme is available online at www.luminatescotland.org and hard copies can be requested by emailing the Luminate team or calling 0131 668 8066.

Luminate announces festival programme for October

Actors Libby McArthur & Johnny Beattie launch new Scottish Festival to celebrate creativity as we age.

Actors Libby McArthur and Johnny Beattie launch Scotland’s first festival to celebrate creativity as we age. © Drew Farrell

Today Luminate: Scotland’s creative ageing festival announced a nationwide programme of arts activities celebrating our creative lives as we age.

Age Scotland is one of the festival’s partners, along with Creative Scotland and the Baring Foundation, and we are very excited about what’s in store.

Throughout October, Scotland’s newest festival will throw a spotlight on over 200 inspirational arts activities – many of them free – with, and for older people, as well as events for audiences and participants across the generations.

The arts festival includes dance, drama and music performances; film screenings, literary events and exhibitions.  Many events are free or discounted, and opportunities are offered for people to become involved as participants as well as audience members.

At a glance, a section of festival highlights includes:

  • a six strong 70+ Finnish ladies rock band at Howden Park Centre in Livingston
  • actor Edith MacArthur’s star turn in a reading of Sylvia’s Dow’s poignant radio drama It’s Only Words at Perth Theatre
  • an afternoon in Brechin where children, parents and grandparents are brought together to share stories and memories over tea and cake
  • a new piece for twelve male dancers by choreographer Andy Howitt in which he explores what the ageing body brings to dance
  • a pop up Craft Café in a local  Age Scotland shop
  • and Libby McArthur’s take on turning 50 in the premiere of The F Word at Eastwood Park Theatre, Giffnock.

Festival participants range from nine years old to 90, and feature professional and non-professional artists alike.  Debates and discussions will explore current thinking on issues surrounding the role of creativity in our lives as we age.

Creative activities with people being cared for in residential homes and in their local community forms another strand of the festival programme and creative projects will take place in care homes from Edinburgh to Shetland. 

Needless to say, there’s a lot of events packed into the month of October, and we’ve only highlighted a selection in this post! You can read a very in-depth review of what’s happening on the Creative Scotland website.

Full Luminate programme listings will be available at http://www.luminatescotland.org from Monday 13th August and the printed festival brochure will be distributed across Scotland from Wednesday 5th September.

If you’re interested in keeping up to date with all the festival’s happenings, visit the website and sign up for the e-newsletter.