My work with communities is mainly in places where local people feel they are not part of the decisions being made about their neighbourhoods, they feel excluded and without an individual or collective voice. I recognise the value of working with artists who engage with people as a part of their practice, as they spend time thoughtfully listening to a group of people, and then helping them weave often their stories into something that reveals forgotten, hidden or even actively silenced histories and experiences.
So what is the value of this way of working? This post does not claim to comprehensively examine this question – but begins to unpick the threads of the interesting discussions held between the five Waymarking Freelancers and myself last year.
Key values of this way of working that began to emerge were:
- The importance of being responsive to who comes along to a ‘community conversation’ – starting from where they’re at
- How listening and sharing community stories, and finding commonalities are key to challenging assumptions
- Alternatives to verbal conversation, using fabric to make textiles, or collage to make a zine should be explored especially when deep-seated, contentious or traumatic issues are being discussed
- How small actions in a workshop can sometimes be enough to engage
- How playfulness often gets a message across successfully
- Undertaking research as a group can be a good way to learn together
- How time spent together and what happens in a workshop or conversation (whether face to face or online) should be honoured and valued
Image credit: Sarah Spanton, image from a Made In Manningham Rising Stars workshop 2020