Sometimes you just have to get up, take a first step and make an action. I did exactly that last Friday at Battersea Arts Centre after seeing a question on social media that had been put forward by Ben Monks, Executive Director at Improbable Theatre.

What action can we take as the arts sector in response to the proroguing of parliament?

With over 100 other artists workshopping responses to that question, I was given my first introduction to Devoted and Disgruntled. I had very briefly bumped into it before via Phelim McDermot’s personal light-stream of inspired shares on Twitter - a virtual space in which I have often found it hard to hide from both cruel darkness and profound stupidity.

In an audacious attempt to cure my own brand of human idiocy, I have recently been studying Toltec Wisdom, my old druidic tree alphabet, Arnold and Amy Mindell’s Process Work and regular doses of taking dreams as seriously as being…’awake’. It’s small steps, and I still feel like a robot trying to become a fully conscious human, but, my experience at Devoted and Disgruntled definitely breathed some actual flesh and bone onto the android wireframe of my very repetitive robotic paralysis. Here was something we could actually ‘do’.

Phelim’s introduction could not have been more perfect for a newcomer. My uncertainty as to how everything would work disappeared as soon as I understood that the event was being created by ALL of us, and that we all were welcome to ask our own question to the group and hold our own session to discuss and debate it. My first thought was how wonderful it would be if such an approach to bringing forth new ideas and fusing a community could happen in the music sector. And I think it would be beneficial for more musicians to discover D & D as a result of my time at this event.

So, the question that I put into a ‘session’ was one that I have been struggling with since I began Save Soho in 2015. After launching the campaign and writing an open letter to the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, I found myself in the midst of a media blizzard David and Goliath story, with Soho Landowners as Goliath, and me, armed with a guitar and an arsenal of songs, peering out of my crooked Soho bedsit/artist garret as David. After Boris agreed to meet me to discuss a way for City Hall to protect and nurture Soho’s performing arts spaces, I thought it would be important to make the best of the opportunity, so despite his aides telling me there would be “No press Tim”, I invited several journalists, TV news networks and radio broadcasters to a specific location where I where I led Boris to. I was sending text signals from my pocket to let them all know where we were, and as we turned the corner into Old Compton Street, cameras flashing, Boris looked at me and said: “I thought no press Tim?” and I said “Well they’re here now so we best give them a good show eh?”.

Two performers improvising a mutually beneficial act which I scripted and which Save Soho benefitted from in the shape of 10,000 more subscribers within hours of Boris and I being seen on TV singing my song ‘Don’t Go Changing Soho’ together in the middle for the street.

A silly circus event that Metro dubbed ‘BoJo Meets The Soho Hobo to Discuss Madame Jojo”. But it was a Trojan Horse that sparked the beginning of a campaign that captured the hearts of many Londoners.

At 11.15am, outside the site of the original site of The 2i’s Café in Soho, I explained to Boris how British Rock n Roll was born there in 1957 and ignited the beginning of one of the biggest British exports in the last half a century. I explained that it happened in small rooms, where people had big ideas in a multi-cultural melting pot, with a diversity of income groups.

It 11.25am, with the TV cameras pointing at us, he repeated my words verbatim to the news team as if they were his words. And I could not have been more thrilled. He was so engulfed in looking like a good mayor, that he smuggled my message about the importance of London’s musical heritage onto prime time TV.

Of course at the time, I was a chaotic activist with only an instinct as to how effective it would be to play my own buffoon up against Boris’s buffoon. But effective it was and as a result, Stephen Fry agreed to be my chairman for the subsequent work we did alongside the larger Soho community, which in turn resulted in saving Madame Jojo’s and stopping TFL from demolishing Soho Square.

And ever since, I wondered if it would be possible for entire groups of activists to repeat the kind of thing I did as an ongoing strategy within the arts sector? I was guessing when i did it. Could it be managed properly by a team?

It’s not news that statesmen enjoy good publicity, but what we began to explore in this session was that it may be time to stop being quite so grateful when they pop in to your local subsidised theatre for a photo op or shake hands with your local music venue to add a worthy and noble sheen to their otherwise mostly questionable position in office. The relationship between the arts sector and politicians is quite similar to a co-dependent abusive relationship. It is hard standing up against the very organisations who both fund you and invalidate you at the same time. It’s hard to walk out of any relationship if you’re dependent in some way. But, on the other hand, in 2019, the creative community is larger than ever before and it’s time for it to stand up, knows it’s worth and start switching the roles finally. You only have to read Ken Robinson’s ‘The Element’ to peak into the future and know that economics will eventually be replaced with a new currency: creativity.

Present at this session were Paola Melli (South Social Film Festival), Julie Osman (Theatre and Opera Director) and Owen Calvert-Lyons (Ovalhouse Theatre).

Our biggest takeaways were:

1. The Arts Sector could try to be as strategic as politicians are entertaining.
2. The Arts Sector could widen the appeal of their message by allowing politicians to appropriate the message for themselves.
3. The devolution of politicians working in the arts sector will come sooner if The Arts Sector act as a secret society acts: Invisibly with the distraction of enchantment.
4. There is already a secret handshake, but of course I cannot reveal that online.

Spending the time with Paola, Julie, Owen and all the members at subsequent sessions I attended was a day of pure electricity for me, hearing people who felt the same as me but looked from different perspectives about something I have cared about for a long time. The way I write now, I write in case there may be others like me who have had glimpses of strategized, non-contentious civil disobedience in the pursuit of freedom of expression, but do not know where their tribe is.

I think I may have just found mine.

Sometimes you just have to get up, take a first step and make an action.

Thank you Phelim, Ben and Improbable for this magic.