Dominic Campbell (DC): So at the moment I am umm an Atlantic Fellow for Equity and Brain Health at the Global Brain Health Institute which means I’m a fellow in a university in Trinity in Dublin on a project which runs between Trinity and Dublin but which is part of the bigger global initiative looking at inequity in all sorts of forms around the world.

Arti Prashar (AP): So so you sort of packed your bags and ran away with the circus and and have ended up in a very particular part of the arts I would suggest and… how would you describe it?

DC: Umm I’m not I think they’re just getting round to our way of thinking

(Both AP and DC laugh)
DC: It just took people a while umm I… I think well the first thing is that I think when I was in my 20s and 30s and probably in my 40s and maybe in my 50s uhh I really wasn’t that articulate. I would just do things and I might think about them afterwards but I I I’m primarily a maker of stuff. So I make stuff as a process of thinking and then I will reflect on it and afterwards and then I’d begun to learn how to write about it and quite often you find that you’re making something, whatever that might be, and you’re having to make a case for it so I got very used to doing that all the way from the beginning really.

AP: You are and have been for a little while now around the arts and aging movement.

DC: In 2005 I was living in Dublin uhh I uhh met somebody who said “there’s a job going in my charity to run this festival that we do called Bealtaine” and at the time Iw as running Saint Patrick’s Day in Dublin which was enormous it was, it’s the national festival. It’s got umm one quarter of the national population go to the live event. 25 million people watch it on telly. It’s ginormous and I got to the point where I was thinking “if I run ginormous events like that all the time I’m gonna end up working in rock and roll or working for Harvey Goldstein or something, I don’t really want to do that. It’s not why I started this. I’m interested in social issues and and balance and all sorts of stuff, so maybe I’ll have a look at this.” So I took a look at it and I realised that actually the changing demographic globally meant that uhh something really really significant was already happening but wasn’t really articulated and so I got really interested in “what’s the power shift as the as a population changes” and all those things that at the time I was thinking were sort of bipolar arguments. You know engaged work and mainstream gallery work, signature work and group work. Actually what I thought then was uhh if you’re in the latter stages of your life, if you’re an older person. Maybe they’re not bipolar anymore, maybe you don’t care, maybe you’re just out to have a good time and make some nice stuff and maybe there’s a window of opportunity working with the changing demographic that’s changing at scale making a massive change in the way that that society works. Maybe there’s a window of opportunity to work with that wave of change to do something really interesting that will leave a better legacy for people that come afterwards.

AP: I’d be interested if you could just kind of talk a little bit more about umm the points of friction, in, for you

DC: So,

AP: where are they?

DC: so one of the things happening with older peoples’ work mirrors what happened with the growth of youth arts in about 1986 or 7. People would go out in a kind of colonial way and work with them young people there instead of working with young people and calling out whatever you you now wanted to be made and something similar is hap- happens with older peoples’ work so the more that it becomes, professionalised isn’t the right word, the more it becomes more sort of standardised the more it becomes everywhere what tends to happen is people see the brand and not the content and so they do work which they think is the work that umm and and you… there’s some really simple sort of ways of spotting this. If you ever see a a video of some piece of work and its got a solo piano just bin that work. Forget it because it’s got that low key “lalalalala” miserable thing going on. If it’s only got people’s hands in it then it hasn’t really got people in it, it’s not really people making it. So you see these little tropes and memes. Umm and and you see them in the video that advertise the work or promote the work but you also see it in the work itself and we we’re trying to make work, some of us are trying to make work which is about the process of the global planet aging or people living longer which they’ve never done before which is a miracle. It’s incredible that we can live to 90 or to 80 something on a regular basis. So that’s territory that we’ve never been in and so it’s a story we’ve never told so, so we need to tell that story differently. We need different tools, it might look different, it might be told by different people, it might take place in different platforms or different venues and if it looks like the stuff that came before then it’s not actually doing the work that it needs to do and the artists are not doing the work that they really should be doing they need to step up. I don’t think I work from a kind of utopic vision. This is were it’ll all be perfect. Partly because I think things break and things age and things die. That’s normal. So we have to learn to live with that so if there’s a vision it’s about how do we learn to live with our own frailty, as individuals and as collective groups? As a collective group how do we, how do we give support but more critically at the moment how do we allow ourselves to become the person in need of care? Umm and those for me are the questions and I tend to work with, it tends to be question driven rather than like “this is where we’re going”

AP: What language does Spare Tyre speak?

DC: They think about the unspoken languages that go on between any group of people that’s the environment that Spare Tyre works in. It’s it’s about listening but also listening and listening.

AP: If Spare Tyre wasn’t around what would participatory arts be missing?

DC: A worry that I have which we talked a little bit about occasionally which is where does the next set of us come from? And uhh when I look at the long lineage of you know the the people that I learned from umm I wonder where the people that might learn from (laughs) I don’t know if they could learn anything from us come from. Given the current economy I don’t know who’s going to start a company and the thing about companies is that they’re like they’re like long term boats and so on a on a on a boat people get on to a- if they’re working for the marine, the the merchant navy people get on to a boat and they become best mates. They live out of each other’s pockets for the tour of duty and then they get off the boat and they go their separate ways but maybe a few stay and another few join and the boat carries on but without the boat that connection between those people never exists and so I think what Spare Tyre is become one of those boats. It’s incredibly important that those stay there because the conversations that happen on those boats keep wherever, they inspire and they motivate and they sustain people to go off and do whatever they do however they do it wherever they travel to next

Dominic is the co-founder and director of Creative Aging International and an Atlantic Fellow for Equity and Brain Health at the Global Brain Health Institute. We worked with Dominic during the Connected Culture project, an initiative we set up to facilitate conversations around participatory arts practice. 

Dominic spoke with us about the importance of arts in an increasingly ageing population.