2 May 2014
Wendy Young went to the launch of ‘CoolTan Arts Stays Up, LATES’, a collaborative book and DVD on mental health heritage, held at The Science Museum’s Dana Centre in South Kensington. The publication is the finale of a year long HLF funded project in which CoolTan Arts Largactyl Shuffle volunteers researched and led a series of guided gallery tours at The Science Museum’s popular ‘Lates’ evening events.
It was an absolute pleasure to attend Cooltan’s launch event. The atmosphere in the ultra modern Dana Centre throbbed with enthusiasm, marking the end of the organisation’s collaboration with the Science Museum.
CEO Michelle Baharier introduced CoolTan’s work with a list of people as long her arm to thank, but chiefly, her army of volunteers who continue to pull together the unique ‘Largactyl Shuffle’ events. To satisfy my curiosity, I discovered that the spelling of Largactyl is not a play on words e.g. Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs and their Seaside Shuffle or ‘dactyl - a foot in poetic meter’ but simply because Largactil is the brand name of the oldest antipsychotic drug. One of its side effects can cause a shuffling gait, so CoolTan decided to use the name for their guided walks – and to challenge the stigma of mental health.
After introductions by Kaya Volke (Project Coordinator), some readings from the book, Robots (the fourth film on the DVD and an event that drew 4-5000 visitors) was shown. Curator, Professor Philip Loring who contacted CoolTan to collaborate said he was “overcome by the book” and that the project “helped to prove that ordinary people, not just science buffs or kids, were welcome at the Science Museum and that there was something for everyone to learn and enjoy.”
CoolTanners are really appreciated and certificates for were given to several people: Heidi, Peter, Sacha (see his intriguing Mary Shelley musings), Andrew Ogleby, Ginny and Bogdan. There was a tribute to Jean Cozens board member and important contributor to the project who sadly took her own life in December 2012 and Richard Muzira who filmed two LATES events, friend of CoolTan, who was tragically the sixth cyclist to be killed on London roads that month.
Fascinated by the name CoolTan, I asked Rachel Ball, Volunteer Coordinator about its origin ‘CoolTan has existed since 1990 and became a charity in 1997. CoolTan Arts began in 1990 taking their name from the disused CoolTan sun lotion factory where they lived in a squat. CoolTan Arts moved to the dole office in Brixton in 1993 and stayed there until 1996. From 1996 – 2002 CoolTan Arts was homeless. Then they moved to the Railway Arches in Loughborough Junction until 2006 when they moved to their current site on Walworth Road.’
Glad I asked, as it proves to be a fitting testimony to the colourful Michelle Baharier, CEO – an ex punk who certainly ‘got off her arse’ as Johnny Rotten suggested to us all back in the era. Along with the glossy A4 book and DVD, I happily accepted wedges of flyers promoting an upcoming Mad Hatters Tea Party, various classes and lots of exciting future events. May they grow stronger and walk longer.
The book contains enlightening pieces on each LATES shuffles that are easy to read e.g. creativity through Sahaja yoga (meaning spontaneous in Sanskrit) by Andrew Ogleby, and Peter Cox’s handwritten observations on ‘speed’, a down-to-earth contribution which explains how he was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome late in life. All the contributors have written mesmeric pieces that inspire further research.
When asked what she would really like to get across to the public, Michelle Baharier, CEO, expressed great concern that CoolTan is ‘desperately short on funding’ and at every angle she hits brick walls – figuratively i.e., she’s not head banging yet!
It sounds cliché to say it’s not fair in these times of austerity but CoolTan is an amazing charity, with a workforce of 75% disabled people ‘which is how it should be as it is hard for disabled people to get jobs’ and volunteers have gone on to get jobs in the similar fields.
A digital version of ‘CoolTan ARTS stays up LATES’ book, which can be downloaded at www.cooltanarts.org.uk/2014/04/cooltan-arts-stays-up-lates/
However, this hard to put down, beautifully presented publication is well worth getting in hard copy for a donation of £10 + £2.99 postage and packing (though Michelle did say a fiver if that’s what’s affordable).
Michelle particularly wanted to promote the CoolTan and Artangel launch party for ’At the Crossroads with Vincent’ an audio performance for an audience of one on Thursday 29th May. See www.cooltanarts.org.uk for details