‘Art for the People’: Monday lecture at the BMI

This month I’ve been preparing for my Monday Lecture at the Birmingham and Midland Institute (BMI) on 28 October. The BMI has been providing a Monday Lecture almost continuously since 1856, so it’s quite an honour to be invited. My grandmother remembers going to Monday lectures with friends in the 1940s, and indeed remembers being drunk on cider for the first time at one of the events. Hopefully my lecture will attract a less rowdy audience.

In my lecture I’m going to introduce some of the ideas and case studies from the book I’m writing, Art for the People. Here’s the official blurb:

In the first half of the twentieth century, a pioneering band of administrators and civil servants organised a series of schemes to extend public access to the arts. In village halls, restaurants, factories, high streets, railway stations and even a car showroom, they staged exhibitions and performances designed to ‘bring the arts into everyday life’. In this lecture, Dr Emma West uncovers some of these forgotten schemes, focusing on the Arts League of Service, whose travelling theatre bought experimental art, theatre and ballet to rural audiences from Essex to Arran.

Most of my time so far has been taking up with gathering images of murals, performances, sculptures, books, magazines and paintings to illustrate my talk. 80 images so far and counting… My cover image is taken from Eleanor Elder‘s Travelling Players, and shows an audience waiting outside a village hall to see the Arts League of Service Travelling Theatre. In the background, you can see the ALS’s van which quite remarkably ferried around not only the whole cast but also their props, backcloths and costumes. It must have been a tight fit.

Tickets for my Monday lecture can be found at the Birmingham and Midland Institute website.

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