I first heard of the idea of ‘Utopia’ sometime in the early 1980s when a friend invited me to a meeting of the Burnley ‘Direct Action Movement’ in a basement underneath the Wimpy Bar. They were a bunch of anarchists in flares (which seemed to matter then) who introduced me to two new worlds: one full to the brim with strikes, demonstrations and protests against the Thatcher government and one a future world characterised by (deep breath) non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian mutual aid and collectivism. In time I realised that whilst the first (the protests and whatnot) was an essential part of my education, the second (a perfect world, somewhere in the future) was partly a fiction; and that fiction was called Utopia.
As expressed in Thomas More’s now-legendary book, freedom-loving folk the world over have been on a constant search for that ideal, that place where we all live in harmony (possibly with a bottle of Coke). I soon worked out that this vision of Utopia, if it were to be given a proper sense of place in my lifetime, was somewhere that existed not in the faraway future but in the everyday acts of kindness, subversion and friendship that we encountered in our lives. Acts that we could make happen, that we could encourage. Small acts of community, of (as the Direct Action Movement put it) mutual aid.
So our project, ‘We’re Here’ tries to seize that sense of everyday community by focusing on how our cities work, here in Britain, now. How people are thrown together, sometimes in the most random fashion, and asked to live together, to work together, with very little ‘official’ guidance. How we share space and time (and our lives) with people who have very different ideas, and how we have to quickly learn to understand that sharing. How we often get it wrong, and are encouraged to fear and mistrust these people we don’t know, these ‘others’. But how, slowly and steadily, we might begin to notice those small moments of communality that are the seeds of Utopia.
What ‘We’re Here’ will do, on a Saturday in August, is throw strangers together and invite them to create and perform a choral piece of music collectively, there and then. And since we’re getting the opportunity to work in Somerset House – historically the place where the country’s statistics (its births, marriages and deaths) were stored – then we will ensure that those strangers are a statistically accurate demographic of people from right across Britain. Fifty of them, who’ve never sung together, singing a song they’ll help to write. Fifty people coming together in central London to create a brief Utopian moment. It’s a risk, it’s not a definite outcome: we don't know if it will work. That’s why it’s exciting and interesting. And that’s what Utopia is, too – not a fixed ‘in the future’ place but an unexpected, here and now, occasional burst of communality.