Interview: Dean Stalham, Art Saves Lives

deanstalham.jpg Dean Stalham is a Londoner, artist and playwright. He is founder of Art Saves Lives, a community interest company that gives marginalised artists a voice and a platform. This year he’ll be opening a 100 seater community theatre in the heart of New Cross. It will present eight new plays a year by eight new writers, an under 12s and under 19s drama club plus guitar lessons for all held by Billy Bragg’s jail guitar doors and dance and art therapy courses. So who is the man who’s making all this good stuff happen? 

Let’s have your London credentials: where are you from, which bit do you call home and what do you do?
I was born into North West Londons hardest council estate – Burnt Oak – where style guru Robert Elms comes from. I moved to and was raised in Cricklewood, home to the Crown Pub, a beacon and a haven to London’s Irish Community. It apparently features in a rough guide to London in Ireland: The place to head for! A landmark! And of course made famous by the Goodie Goodie Yum Yums – The Goodies! Cricklewood will always be my home.

What is Art Saves Lives all about? ASL is a lifeline to artists, writers and musicians who are, for whatever reason, marginalised by society. We find space and a platform. We get voices out and heard. We get art out to the people. Real art for real people by real people. Art saves lives: it might save yours!

You recently did a gig in Wandsworth Prison – how was that?
We held an arts awareness day for 20 inmates who had no interest in art whatsoever. We helped them to realise its potential as a means to rehabilitation… if you let art into your life your life will be a better place.

Art Saves Lives has put on events in Stoke Newington, the City and New Cross – you put a shout out for other platforms to get involved – what sort of response did you have?
The response was excellent! We are now working with Leicester Square Theatre, Tristan Bates Actors Centre, The Hen and Chickens, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, the ICA and Novas Gallery in Liverpool to put on 6 events to raise awareness of our artists’ extraordinary talents.

Is this what 12 Good Eggs is all about?
Yes, six events at the recognised london venues above and six new plays at six homeless and youth centres. 12 Good Eggs!

Where do you find the best eggs in London?
The Natural History Museum of course!

Brilliant news – you’ve just announced HOT TOP…. what is it and what’s the plan?
HOT TAP is a new theatre, a new vibe, in New Cross. We start work in two weeks time and hope to open in 9 weeks with a big opening night and a brand new play by me, directed by the great Pam Brighton, ‘God Don’t Live On A Council Estate’.

Anything is possible – where would you most like to showcase Art Saves Lives’ work in London?
On the fourth plinth!

We loved your triple bill at Camden Fringe ‘Shit Hot Shorts’ – two of which were particularly Londony (the east end boozer and homeless on Christmas eve) – the darker side of London clearly inspires you….
I was invited to talk to the student union at Goldsmiths back 2006, which is where I met Will Self. I asked his advice on writing and he said “write from the heart and you wont go far wrong” That’s all I do, write about what I know and from the heart and so far I havent gone far wrong.

Have you ever been sick on the tube?
On a daily basis… panic attacks! And I pulled the emergency chord once when i was trying to slide my arm around a new girlfriend’s shoulders!

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