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It’s 5am on Saturday a crowd of artists, film-makers, musicians and poets are gathered opposite London’s Whitechapel gallery, waiting to board a coach to Scarborough for the Art Party Conference. It is cold and extremely early so my heart is warmed by the lively figure of artist Bobby Baker handing out ‘packed breakfasts’ to all us passengers.
If I was looking forward to tasty home cooking I should have known better, because the breakfasts are a piece of participative conceptual art and the food – a couple of slices of white bread, some currants, marge and sachets of jam, ketchup and vinegar – came with instructions: Use the food to make a portrait of Education Secretary Michael Gove, photograph it, tweet it and then eat it. By eating it you are going some way to understanding what it is like to be Michael Gove and therefore you are that much closer to being able to change him.
The artists are concerned about potential changes to UK education that they see as undermining the arts and free expression in the UK.
Michael Gove’s reforms which downgrade arts education at GSCE are the trigger for the Art Party conference and on the coach on the way up, Bob and Roberta Smith (founder and force behind the whole project) led us in our chant – “Where are we going?” “Scarborough” “What do we want?” “To better advocate the arts to government” was a bit of a mouthful. But that is the heart of artist Bob and Roberta Smith’s argument – how can something that is so vital and fundamental to human existence and has the power to transform, inspire and regenerate be swept aside.
Everything was filmed, the coach trip and the whole day of events, discussions and provocations at the Spa Complex in Scarborough, and the footage will be over-laid by the story of an imaginary figure called “Michael Grove MP” who attends the conference and has a life-changing epiphany about the power and importance of art. It will be released in August next year and will be a central part of The Art Party campaign in the lead up to the 2015 elections.
Like everything in the conference, the film will be a combination of serious message and playfulness; to get to a moving discussion featuring Sam West, Maureen Duffy, Haroon Mirza and Geoff McMillan on “Why is art important”, you passed an Aunt Sally side show where conference delegates were busting porcelain busts of Michael Gove.
Bob and Roberta Smith’s letter to Michael Gove, painted on two pieces of eight by four took centre stage at the Spa ends with a rallying cry. “You will be opposed by all people interested in art, design, free speech, freedom and democracy and probably also by a few bankers and investors interested in British products and exports who are concerned about the colour of their money…Education is about sowing seeds not setting standards for the shape of bananas.”