125 years of Southend arts celebrated

December 7, 2017 by Ray Morgan

125 years of Southend arts celebrated

Last week, the great and the good of Southend's arts scene descended upon Twenty One, the lovely art gallery based on Pier Approach, a cockle's throw from the Three Shells, nascently poised in the echoes of the Never Never Land of our 1980s past.

It was a celebration of 125 years of Southend Borough, and 40 local artists, practitioners, writers, crafters, musicians and creatives were invited to perform 3-minute presentations (an 'abridged' Pecha Kucha, look it up, it's brilliant). This, combined with a 5 minute introduction from hosts Metal Culture, added up to 125 minutes of all-things-Southend - a minute per year of its being as a borough. Neat, eh?

I was one of the artists invited to perform, along with my partner Jo as we run Sundown Arts together, which has been curating arts events in the town for over 14 years now. 3 minutes! I thought. Simple! Couldn't be easier! Just 3 little minutes, technically 1 and a half each for me and Jo!

Fast-forward to the morning before, sitting in pyjamas with a cup of tea having left our homework til the last minute, furiously planning out what we were going to say. We don't usually roll like this: we'd sent our 3 minute Powerpoint pres in plenty of time complete with music cues... all that was left was to decide what to actually say. If all else failed, at least people could dance to Primal Scream's 'Loaded' and look at the pretty pictures: 14 years of event photos condensed into a 3 minute slideshow.

Nerves aside, the night was absolutely inspiring. From performance artists to craft projects, choirs and authors, one by one the 40 performers took to the stage to talk about what they do.

Everyone who got up was brimming with passion. It didn't matter whether people were talking about screenprinting, presenting a radio show about film, tap dancing, censoring movies for overseas audiences or their new book deal - everyone was passionate about what they did. It couldn't help but feel infectious.

And everything had a slice of Southend on the side. Even for performers who aren't from here originally, there was still a deep thread of our seaside town running through it.

It felt amazing to be part of such a love-letter to Southend, and when the bar stayed open afterwards, among the tickertape and balloons leftover from a particularly riotous piece of performance art involving a stick-on felt vagina, a microscooter and Le Tigre's Deceptacon playing on full volume (you had to be there), we all said how proud we felt to be part of it.

And despite the nerves, Jo and I decided rather than learning a powerpoint off by heart, we'd simply interview each other instead, asking things like "what's your favourite Sundown Arts memory?" and "who has been your favourite performer?" - and it felt great that loads of people in the audience could spot themselves in the rapid-fire photo slideshow of our 14 year history. The 3 minutes whizzed by. What a great moment to share with the audience.

For everyone who thinks this place is just TOWIE, tans and tottering heels: this is the Essex I know and love. Art, creativity, inspiration - and a total hippy feeling of togetherness. Peace out...

You can follow the hashtag #PK125 on Twitter for the night's action, and see the Sundown Arts slideshow posted at www.facebook.com/sundownarts


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