Graphic Grey

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Art for Society

An interesting week this week. On Wednesday I was invited to attend a morning of workshops run by The Travelling Pantry at the RSAW. The Travelling Pantry (great name by the way, but where were the tins of beans...?) is an action research project designed to test whether giving ideas, methods and tools to small groups of people can encourage them to start new community projects. The purpose of the workshop was to stimulate and help new project development. The specific pupose of our day was to look at our area and identify the resources we already have which we could utilise in community and social projects.

I've had a thread of creative community projects running alongside my painting practice for a number of years. Something I've noticed is that the communities with the greatest need for projects (and therefore the ones that receive the most funding) are often the ones least likely to get involved (so therefore the funding is under utilised - I won't say wasted as some good always comes out of projects, but this good should go a lot further). So why is this?

I have noticed a chronic lack of aspiration*(see below), and this hasn't been helped in the past by creative social projects that have come to the area with the aim of helping the residents produce creative work (be it visual art, poetry, dance or whatever). People give up their time and put in 100% effort to create something they are truly proud of, only to find that exhibition of their work is confined to a 'local' setting such as the community centre or church hall. This says, "yeah, your work is great, but not great enough to put it where others can see it." I'm not surprised aspirations are crushed, and that after a string of experiences like this, communities become blase and feel they have better things to do with their time.

So how can this be solved? I guess the obvious answer is to enable communities themselves to create and self- direct their projects so they can be involved in something they truly want and feel is worthwhile.

If we can identify individuals and places that link people together then these trusted hubs can be utilised to get communities involved right from the start.

But how to do this? The Travelling Pantry showed us a great way... mapping. By drawing a giant map and adding in places and people that we felt were hubs we identified so many resources (Brains Brewery was the first... not sure what that says about priorities in the room...). And that's just us... what if community representatives and figureheads were invited to do a similar exercise? I think the potential is limitless and very exciting.

*This lack of aspiration is something I've looked at in the past with my Moving Scenes Project. I used posters displayed in community hubs such as the post office to invite people from my locality of Butetown, a deprived area of Cardiff, to have their portrait painted. The resulting paintings were displayed in St David's Hall, an international venue in the centre of Cardiff, thus giving visibility and status to the people who had been involved. Butetown residents were invited to the opening party, and I was delighted to see many of them in attendance, especially when they were spotted in front of their own portraits! The interest and support I received was amazing and the new partnerships opened many doors...

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