Joan Ozanne was recently awarded the British Empire Medal for her work with the community and arts in Guernsey. Guest blogger Jamie Bourgourd and Community Arts Assistant Antonia Ramsey went to speak to Joan about how the arts have evolved.
When we arrived at Joan Ozanne’s home we were welcomed into her comfortable lounge. The walls were adorned with inspirational paintings and photographs, Congratulations cards lined the mantelpiece. She made us feel like old friends rather than guests. Community Arts Assistant, Antonia from the Guernsey Arts Commission sat beside Joan and I sat opposite. The first thing we did was congratulate her for her recently being awarded the British Embassy Medal for her support of The Arts in Guernsey.
When she started her work in the Guernsey arts in about 1970, she said “I wasn’t alone in the feeling The Arts were low key, but I shouted loudest.” To her recollection, the arts in Guernsey were almost exclusively painting before the Second World War. There was less media, TV, radio and exhibition space when she started work in the island. Later on she sat on the Arts Council and became a Trustee for the Guernsey Arts Commission. She said the “Guernsey Arts Commission was the realization of a dream.” To this day she attends parish meetings because she feels understanding parish affairs makes a difference in the island.
The first exhibition she organised was for artist Eric Snell when he was a student. Eric Snell is currently a commissioner on the Guernsey Arts Commission and founder of the Art and Islands Foundation. Joan is passionate about supporting local artists particularly students who are off island as she thinks it is important for the island to see what they are creating.
In her time with exhibitions she worked with many other aspiring artists. She pointed to a painting on the wall and said that was in an exhibition in the 90s, she then pointed to a photograph on the wall and said she received it from a friend in the last month. The room has more recently hosted gatherings of poets who share their hobby. Over the years, she has tried many different types of art. Having that background has boosted her ability to administrate.
I told Joan that I had studied creative writing. She said she too had written creatively as a poet. (Read it here http://guernseypoets.blogspot.com/2013/03/sark-revisited-joan-m-ozanne.html)
She has also written a book, Stitch by Stitch: The Millennium Tapestry. In 1996 she was on the board that decided to create the Millennium Tapestry. In the book, she tells the story of how her committee gathered support and talent for the creation of the Millennium Tapestry. This beautiful tapestry that now hangs in St James Hall covers 1000 years of Guernsey history.
(Find out more here http://www.guernseytapestry.org.gg)
Joan noticed that art has never had the same audience as sport has on the island. Many more people go to football matches than art events. She thinks this is due to the nature of art not being a spectator sport and recognises that sport needs to be supported as much as The Arts. She did recognise that it is sometimes difficult to say art is a priority compared to health and education; however art can benefit people in the care of both these departments.
The Arts in Guernsey have faced much adversity in the past especially when searching for a building. Joan has had to relocate activities and operations from one leaky building to the next, even during the work on the millennium tapestry. It was often renovation that displaced the arts but kindness and ingenuity that saved the day.
She told us fondly about an event she organised, the open weekend. The reason for the pride of this event is the way in which a variety of media could gather under one roof and be exhibited together. There were rooms for photography, video, dance, tapestry, pottery, art for kids, and a giant sheet of paper stuck to a wall for painting. Not only is Joan passionate about the visual arts but she has also loved and supported performing arts. She expressed her hopes for a place where visual and performing arts could be cross-fertilised as this would enable greater experimentation and larger projects. She does say that art is doing better that it did when she started, no doubt a great factor of The Arts being more prevalent is partly down to her initiatives and support which is resulting in more talents being realised.
We asked her about what it would be like to have arts in a central area like town. She remembered back fondly to a production of Jesus Christ Super Star in 1973 in Town Church, St Peter Port. The atmosphere lent itself to the musical production and it drew a lot of people to the church. Many people gained an opportunity to express themselves including the band “Ponder’s End.” This was a time when people walked down from the pub, cigarettes in hand and loudly gathering outside. Once inside, they became quiet and watched the production intently. At the end they left loudly and happily. Joan cleaned up knowing it was all worth while.
Antonia discussed current projects of the Arts Commission. Particularly the Artsmobile Outreach and the Arts in Health Programme. I asked Joan what purpose the arts served and why should we invest in them. Joan took a moment to think how to phrase her answer; she said that art “provides a new dimension on life.”
We discussed how The Arts are doing today. She was impressed by the mix of disciplines on Arts Sunday. She said “the year before was pretty good – this year was fantastic – lovely atmosphere.”
Joan’s enthusiasm for children in the arts invigorated Antonia, particularly when we discussed children in the arts. Joan believes that the work in schools is excellent; it just needs to be encouraged further. The Eisteddfod is a wonderful example of that. It’s exciting to see what the schools produce. Antonia told Joan about the Artsmobile, it is a way to make art accessible to everybody. The opportunity whets the appetite and creates awareness. Joan said it is great to see and hear about young artists growing in Guernsey.
Amongst her hopes for the future, Joan said she would love to see an arts centre which would include lots of different disciplines working together.
In her modesty, Joan mentioned more than once, “it is the other people who do the clever bits.” She acknowledged all the people who came together to help over the years. If circumstances had been better in the beginning, she felt that she “would have loved the opportunity to work for an arts organisation like GAC, not on my own like I had to.”
When we were leaving, Joan told us that she was happy to hear how the arts were progressing. She hopes that projects will continue to receive support so that children can use art as a form of expression and see The Arts as leading to a career and then bring art back to Guernsey creating a more creative society for us all.
By Jamie Bourgourd