Stef Portersmith is the artist behind Caged Birds. She has 30 years experience of creating, stage performing, workshop leading and working with the community.
She specialises in delivering participatory arts projects and combines her skills of singing, choir leading, creative writing and performance, among other things, in her work.
She has a degree from LIPA in Community Arts with Music and a masters in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. She is also the director of non-profit company Well Arty who use creativity for wellbeing.
Why Caged Birds specifically…what is it, what inspired it, what do you hope people will take away from it, how was the creative process?
Caged Birds is my name for the commission. It was inspired by a desire to make something happen for Ribble Rousers choir during the time we couldn’t meet and practice. I was struck by the silence of lockdown that augmented the Spring birdsong and I thought of the choir as birds unable to sing, stuck inside as if in a cage, hence Caged Birds.
The lyrics for the song, Breathe, were informed by a series of questions I compiled asking choir members to give their personal impressions of lockdown and their hopes for the time of emergence.
I hope the choir will take away feelings of pride and achievement in contributing to the Living City project, and an enhanced sense of community and belonging. It has added to their skills because they now know how to record their voices.
The creative process was enhanced by the guitar playing of my partner, Lenny, who also contributed to the recording. Writing the song was a tonic for me as an artist. I rarely get to write original material outside of my duo and it was great to write for choir. I am delighted to have got the commission and proud to have contributed to the Living City project.
What affect, if any, has the lockdown had on your creativity?
More time to make my own work has been great. I can be creative in any circumstances if I put my mind to it – all life occurrences are interesting. Having this commission has really focused my mind on creating.
What role do you think art can play in making a city a great place to live, work and play?
Art is as essential to society as breathing. For a city it can present a collective identity that enhances the self-esteem and wellbeing of the city’s population – provided there is scope for local participation, ensuring there are many resident stakeholders. A place that is bursting with culture is attractive to new residents and visitors.
What have you lost or missed in lockdown?
I have missed my choirs and my projects with people hugely. I am desperate to get back to it. I wish there was a way to do live group singing online but it seems the tech is limited.
I miss hugs very much.
What have you found, or rediscovered in lockdown?
The utter joy of silent roads, birdsong, and clean skies.
What are your hopes and fears resulting from lockdown personally and for the arts sector?
I don’t know how soon group singing will be allowed to resume but I hope it will be before the furlough scheme ends. I have Zoomed with my choirs to try and keep us all going. I worry there might be attendance drop off when we do start again.
On the other hand, I wonder if there might be a surge in membership as people start living again. It is, of course, an excellent activity to enhance lung health for those recovering from the virus. And the sheer joy of group singing is always a celebration.
I think in some ways, crises are opportunities. We can learn better ways to live, better ways to engage with each other. I wonder if we might start thinking how we could have traffic-free days, how we can work at home much more, how we can rethink and rejuvenate our social spaces. I believe now, more than ever, the arts are crucial in helping us to emerge. Participatory arts are known to be beneficial for both physical and mental health in so many ways. What is needed more than some celebratory creative therapy?
You can view Stef Portersmith’s Caged Birds commission here.
Ribble Rousers Choir meet at Lostock Hall Library, Watkin Lane, Preston PR5 5TU on Mondays 7 – 8.30pm (Starting back in September all being well)
Stef Portersmith would like to give big thank you to Jamie from Soundskills for tech assistance.
The Living City project is produced by They Eat Culture, & supported by the Community Lottery Fund & Arts Council England.