I came to the end of my course in community arts practise, with Impact Arts last week and it seems like a perfect opportunity to reflect on my learnings over the last 6 months.
Everything I’ve learned comes under the umbrella of “be flexible.” We each got a mentor on the course and her biggest tip was, make a plan, see how things go but have a plan B. For my individual project I wanted to get young people to come and engage with Orkidstudio’s EMPOWERMENT exhibition at the Lighthouse Glasgow. I did everything I could think of to get them along, promoting it to youth groups and local schools. But for a mix of reasons, I didn’t get a single teenager along. I was however able to engage with visitors to the exhibition, asking them to participate in building the collaborative cardboard city. This ended up being a wonderful way to do it. Although I didn’t get many teenagers I did get a mix of age groups from children to adults.
With this also comes the need to think about the final result and the impact of the project. Sometimes the client wants a particular thing to display but other times they are more focused on the participation. This was the case with our group project at Darnley Primary School, we let the children decide what they wanted for the project at the start. Starting with a sound and drawing workshop encouraged them to get some ideas going and some themes started to emerge. We realised that a lot of the sounds reminded them of animals and this led to coming up with the idea of making a totem pole.
One of the most interesting things about participation is learning to work with a mix of people. From the organisation, to the client group to working with other practitioners. You never know what people will ask you or what mood they will be in that day. I did my placement withe Creative Pathways, Paisley. It was a fascinating opportunity to see the group of young people from the interview stage to the middle of the project. They started as a lovely group of young people willing to engage with but new additions created more disruptive group dynamics and it was a learning experience to see how the facilitator dealt with it.
Engaging with people is a mixed bag. You never know how they will react to your proposal. I found this at the cardboard city workshops. The people who would join in would often be the ones I wasn’t expecting to take part. It is about creating relationships and one of the simplest ways I’ve discovered is to learn names.
Additionally everyone comes with their own abilities, interests and perspectives. Abilities vary so trying to keep a level playing field whilst making it stimulating for as many as possible is important. With Darnley Primary, the sound and painting workshop worked brilliantly but it was more difficult when we used mud rock. Surprisingly when we got feedback from the kids they loved that it was challenging.
Be prepared to wear a lot of hats. Successful participation involves pre planning, monitoring the finances, communication, e.t.c not just working with people. You might even end up working in things you know nothing about. You have to shake your fears of failure or the unknown, especially if your asking others to do so too.
Finally record the process, this is one of the hardest bits especially if you are working alone, but photographs tell the story so much more. They are a great way to build your reputation and show others what you’ve done. Additionally give people something to take with them. It makes them feel so much more connected and is something I learned from the kids feedback at Darnley. I then used it in the cardboard city so each participant got a Polaroid photo to take with them.
For me the best part is seeing people grow more confident in their creative skills own creativity. From the teachers at Darnley Primary who by the end of the workshops were making things in their own spare time, to seeing people who said they were bad at art building a cardboard building and being proud of what they’d made. I realised that even if you can get only one person to engage it can be incredibly rewarding.!