Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 4 seconds
Everyone has a story. Meet Dr Michael Eades, the university researcher who helped set up, and still curates, the UK’s only festival of the humanities, Being Human (held in November). Interview by Nicola Baird
Dr Michael Eades, 36, has the longest job title yet seen by Islington Faces. He’s Public Engagement Manager & Cultural Contexts Research Fellow at the School of Advanced Study, part of the University of London, and Curator of the Being Human Festival – held every November. It’s a job which he recognises causes (mostly productive) tension between the efficiency of getting things done – running a prestigious festival – and satisfying your artistic flow.
At the moment, Michael’s research time is spent looking at the social and cultural history and ‘cultural contexts’ of Bloomsbury. Looking beyond the well-known Bloomsbury Set (a group of artistic and literary friends, including Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant and Roger Fry) he is exploring the lives and works of artists and of other residents in the Bloomsbury area today. He also recently completed a project taking a Festival in a Box outreach scheme to people living with dementia in the area.
But it is the Being Human Festival, started in 2014, which Michael spends most of his work time dealing with. The festival runs with funding from Arts & Humanities Research Council and the British Academy. “ We wanted a national platform to get academics to do fun stuff with research which they made relevant and accessible to people who were not involved in higher education,” explains Michael. “Obviously there are festivals focussing on art, literature and music, but no one had done a humanities festival before. We wanted to know is this going to catch on?” says Michael who confesses that his name’s phonetic closeness to the organiser of Britain’s biggest music festival, Glastonbury, Michael Eavis, causes both confusion and advantages…
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“There were 100 good applications,” says Michael happily. “And when the University of the Highlands and Islands ran a really cool event in Orkney with archaeologists working with local artists doing a beach combing, it made me think we’re on to something.” That project led to a film and an effigy, like the Wicker Man, of ‘The Wilder Being (linking archaeological findings with folklore) which was taken on tour as far as Easter Island.
Michael, who grew up in Manchester and later went to Nottingham University is a big fan of city living. Although he currently rents in Streatham he’s on the move. “Eighty per cent of my stuff is in Islington in my partner’s home, on Cally Road.”
It seems that Islington’s mix of history, gentrification, diaspora and deprivation has a strong appeal for Michael (see box), who gets to know the area by long runs. “Part of what I like about life is walking around and exploring,” he says. “I’m quite boring: I don’t go out in the evenings much. But I do go running across Paradise Park, St Mary’s Graveyard, Highbury Fields and Clissold Park.”
Places Michael Eades likes in Islington
Michael describes his involvement in both public engagement and research as a way of creating a “divided self”. Here are places in Islington where he finds that same tension – or soothes it away.
- “Housmans (radical bookshop at 5 Caledonian Road, N1) has kept operating during the re-generation of King’s Cross. I bought John Healey’s book, The Grass Arena (1988) there, about an alcoholic vagrant living in various areas including Islington in the 1980s. He had a fight with his publishers (Faber) and hasn’t written another. I’m sure I saw Healy recently on Cally Road.”(The prize winning memoir was turned into an award-winning BBC play, starring Mark Rylance, in 1991, then re-looked at in the 2012 documentary, Barbaric Genius, and also re-published as a Penguin Classic in 2008).
- “I also bought Alexander Baron’s Rosie Hogarth set in Chapel Market.”
- “I like the Ethiopian restaurant, Mesi’s Kitchen, on Holloway Road between the Coronet and London Met I always have ingera bread with dollops of stuff.” (see photo above for ways to learn how to cook Ethiopian).
- “I like walking the back streets around the Arsenal ground (Emirates) when it’s deserted and a bit bleak.”
- “Caledonian Road is a really interesting part of London, especially the former cattle market. The whole area – place and pub names, like The Drover, Hen & Chickens, The Lamb etc – are a legacy from when it was London’s biggest slaughterhouse. As a non-meat eater I find these echoes intriguing. I suppose that when animal slaughter is in full view at least you can see what’s going on. Around Islington now there are new meat themed restaurants popping up – like ‘chicken’ shop. The restaurants are there in quite a jolly way, but the markets and the messy end are long gone. It’s a strange disavowal.”
Islington has also hosted Being Human events. “In 2015 we did an event at the Hen & Chickens pub theatre, 109 St Paul’s Road, Highbury Corner,” says Michael. “It was organised by an inter-disciplinary team researching human and chicken interaction. You tend to think of chicken as British food, or as laying eggs. But not that much is known about them. No one knows how they got here from Asia. So the talk – and stand up, because people tend to think chickens are funny – was how did the chicken cross the globe? It was MC’d by comedian Steve Cross.”
The theme for Being Human 2017 is lost and found. Here’s hoping that it’s another successful one, enabling academics nationwide to push their work out to even more people, especially those who don’t yet know how fascinating humanities research can be.
- Being Human Festival 2017 runs from 17-25 November. Look at the website for updates and events. https://beinghumanfestival.org/
Over to you
If you’d like to nominate someone to be interviewed who grew up, lives or works in Islington, or suggest yourself, please let me know, via nicolabaird.green at gmail.com. Thank you to Ali from the University of London for this suggestion.