Anne Peaker Memorial Lecture

Tomorrow evening at the Young Vic Theatre in London, I will give the 10th Annual Anne Peaker Memorial lecture, on behalf of the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance. It’s an honour to be asked to do this but it’s also an opportunity to pay public tribute to Anne Peaker, a friend and mentor (though I’d not heard the word then) in the 1980s. Anne, who died much too young in 2000, was an artist and selfless advocate for the right of people on the margins of society to participate in the cultural life of the community. Above all, for her, that meant people living – often against their will – in public institutions including hospitals and prisons. She founded East Midlands Shape in 1978, and ran it for 10 years, (persuading me to apply for her job when she left).

The reason she left was to focus entirely on the work she had discovered as a part-time lecturer at HMP Pentonville in 1971: helping prisoners fulfil their potential through arts practice. It was through Anne that I first went into a prison, in 1986 or 1987, to do a week-long screen printing course. (Some of the prints made in that week illustrate this article). In 1990, working with Dr Jill Vincent at Loughborough University, Anne published Arts in Prisons: Towards a Sense of Achievement, which was truly a landmark report that changed the climate for this work in subsequent decades. It hasn’t been an easy ride, and I’ll touch on some of the reasons why tomorrow, but it is an extraordinary fact that today the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance’s membership stands at over 900 organisations and individuals. Equally encouraging is the range and quality of arts work in prisons that I’ve seen in and beyond Europe. The talk will try to explain some of the reasons why this work matters, even with (or because of) the often ignorant opposition it faces.

PS My apologies to anyone who had intended to come to the Dance Umbrella Lecture I was due to give at the NT last week; illness got the better of me, and I was very sorry to have to cancel. If there’s an opportunity to reschedule that in some other context, I’ll post the details here.

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