He arrives unannounced and unexpected, carrying a slim leather case, sits down at the piano stool and starts to play Erik Satie. Tuesday lunch time at Meet Me at the Albany and the soft lyrical phrases of the music drift out and over the jacket potatoes with tuna toppings; fracturing time into a delicate symmetry of the beautiful and the ordinary. Somewhere in the room is a visiting Norwegian physiotherapist; last week there was a philosopher and members of a local government care planning team. Meet Me at the Albany is becoming a place that people are drawn to, a place to meet people, to talk and reflect and wonder.
The 2015 Warwick Report on the future of cultural value proposes that cultural centres that are in receipt of public funding should be expected to provide shared gathering spaces for their local communities. Of course this should be so. Surely that is one of the tasks that culture does best: converting spaces into places: conjuring from ‘airy nothing’, as Shakespeare said, a ‘local habitation and a place’. Nothing new under the sun –the 400 year old anniversary boy- articulated the place-making thing in the 1590s and he placed art (the imagination) at the centre of making it happen.
Places, writes Rebecca Solnit in The Faraway Nearby: ‘give us continuity, something to return to, and offer a familiarity that allows some portion of our lives to remain connected and coherent’
Here, at Meet Me, this connected and coherent place enables us to build tiny particles of community; particles of belonging.
“What is the nature of the intervention?” asks the new and valuable Public Health England Arts Evaluation Tool kit. Today in this room the ‘intervention’ is with Satie and the potatoes as we continue the constant business of gently moving into unknown territory, of getting,or admitting to being, lost and then in the company of others, collectively finding ourselves; putting ourselves back on the map again.
“Nearly always everyone one here has the same story to tell” explains Meet Me member Pauline Hale, “of being lonely and getting lost and couldn’t get out of it; couldn’t find their way back out…but I’m back. I’ve found ‘me’ again.”
“Don’t ‘be’ yourself, ‘become’ yourself said the voice of the Brazilian artist on my radio last week. And that is what is happening every week at Meet Me. This continual process of arriving and returning; the constant process of becoming: of growing into new possibilities of ourselves.