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Deputy Mayor’s Blog: The arts – a window into our soul

Date: 21 March 2024
Author: Councillor Fiona Sacks
Title: Deputy Mayor of Richmond upon Thames

Culture and the arts have always been vibrant in our Borough. Recently, I had the pleasure of attending several events showcasing some fabulous talent.

Art, dance, music, and theatre have a wonderful way of breaking down barriers and building bridges, bringing us closer to one another through shared experience. They can also be a window into different cultures and communities and act as a universal language.

Nowhere was this more evident than at the Ukrainian Evening of Invincibility at St Mary’s Twickenham at the end of February. The evening marked the second anniversary of the full-scale war in Ukraine. We came together in solidarity with the Ukrainian people valiantly defending not only their homeland but also our shared values of freedom, democracy, and peace. We also gathered to support the Ukrainians in our own community for whom this has been an extremely difficult time. The programme included some favourite classical pieces by Chopin and Bach as well as music by some marvellous Ukrainian classic composers like Lysenko, Barvinsky and Hulak-Artemovsky about whom I am eager to discover more.

We also had the privilege of hearing some superb soloists from the Royal Opera House’s “Songs for Ukraine” and in addition, there was a deeply moving anthology of modern Ukrainian poetry, spoken in English and Ukrainian, plus a fantastic soloist performance from the “Stefania” dance ensemble. The superbly talented musicians, opera singers, dancers and poetry readers made this a truly uplifting and inspiring event demonstrating the resilience of the Ukrainian community and the power of the arts to unite people in the face of unimaginable adversity. Look out for more arts events organised by Ukrainian Social Club.

I next found myself in the exquisite Victorian splendour of the Normansfield Theatre in Teddington, part of the Langdon Down Centre. Normansfield was originally the family home of Dr John Langdon Down and then a place where people with learning difficulties could be cared for and educated. Both John and his wife, Mary, had a great love for the dramatic arts and a passion to pass this onto future generations and so started to build the theatre in 1877. After much restoration work over the years the theatre today stages a range of different productions and events and is also home to the largest collection of fully restored Victorian scenery in the UK. It is well worth a visit.

I was lucky enough to be there to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community at the annual Pink Proms. What a celebration it turned out to be, thanks to the incredible performance and entertaining array of music, ranging from Holst to Pirates of the Caribbean and Abba, played by the London Gay Symphonic Winds Orchestra. Music has a special way of connecting people. I always think an orchestra sets an example to us all.  Its instruments are all different and are played by different individuals with their own special talents, yet they can gather to play a piece, which although made up of distinct instrumental parts, harmonises together and creates a beautiful melody.  Sadly, it has not always been that easy or particularly safe to be a member of the LGBTQ+ Community and yet their members selflessly continue to contribute to the world at large.

This year, the Pink Proms celebrated LGBTQ+ History month and the theme was Medicine – Under the Scope.  It was dedicated to LGBTQ+ people’s contributions to the field of medicine - to historic figures like trailblazer Dr Sophia Jex Blake, one of the first women to study medicine, who founded two medical schools and Dr Cecil Bellfield Clark, who developed Clark’s rule, the formula still used to calculate medicine dosage for children and more recently Margaret Stacey, a pioneer in establishing medical sociology as a field of study.  LGBTQ+ History month is also a time to highlight the healthcare inequalities and experiences the LGBTQ+ community itself can face.  Thanks to our hosts, the Richmond and Wandsworth LGBT Equality and Ally Group, this year’s Pink Proms was a wonderful example of bringing people together to honour and celebrate the history of the LGBTQ+ community. Make sure you don’t miss the Pink Proms next year – it will be their 10th anniversary.

Earlier this month I was invited by Arts Richmond to present the awards to the finalists of the Diana Armfield Drawing from Observation Prize at Patch in the heart of Twickenham. The prize, which was open to both professionals and amateurs, celebrated drawings in monochrome, pen, pencil, ink, or charcoal. All had to be done from observation/life without the use of photographs which gave them a unique feeling of immediacy.  The entries were exceptional and even Diana Armfield herself admitted she had found it difficult to choose the winners.  Diana, who is 103, created the prize in memory of her late husband, renowned artist Bernard Dunstan.  We all felt extremely privileged that she was able to join us – she really is an inspiration, and we are blessed to have such a talented artist in the Borough who continues to reach out and help aspiring artists fulfil their potential. Find out more about Diana Armfield.

The Mayor is always keen to encourage the arts and last week set the tone herself by hosting an evening of Scottish country dancing at York House in aid of her two chosen charities Age UK Richmond and SEEN. No previous experience was required and there was a caller to lead us through the various reels. It was enormous fun, and I can honestly say brought a smile to everyone’s face. In that moment it proved the old adage “there are shortcuts to happiness and dancing is one of them.”

Why not join the Mayor for two more arts related charity events. The Togetherness Concert is at 5.30pm on Sunday 7 April 2024 at St Mary’s, Twickenham, jointly hosted by the Mayor and Richmond in Europe Association. The Music of the Four Seasons Concert, featuring the Middlesex Yeomanry Concert Band is on Friday 12 April 2024 at 7.30pm in Clarendon Hall, York House.

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Updated: 26 March 2024