Response from Liz Kemp to my blog about ArtsWorkScotland Conference
I like your question about “where are the changes in peoples’ lives?” because, more often than not, I think they are not apparent after the fact of the social art project or engagement. This claim of impending transformation is regularly cited in support of participative art work (I use it myself) but in the general absence of proper post-project monitoring and time-based (3 months/6 months/2 years) outcome and impact evaluations of these “changes” how can any of us really assess the transformative value of our involvement – if indeed, we ARE offering “change” along with the art?
Of course, there will always be a place for the wonderful magic of the one-time only creative experience but the original driver of community arts work all those years ago, WAS to create something lasting in the lives of others and, when watching some of the fascinating Pecha Kucha presentations, I certainly found myself asking what happened, or will happen, afterwards. What will underpin any “changes”? And what constitutes “change” anyway? Is it a construct of the participating artist or is it a concrete movement of a community, a group or an individual towards a new (and preferably sustainable) reality that is seen to be a positive one? And who by?
In this regard, I am reminded of the long ago gable end mural project in various communities in Glasgow where the then Scottish Arts Council funded a series of “transformative” artworks on gable ends in the city. One still exists in Garnethill. I can’t remember the community that was due this treatment but the scaffolding duly went up and the scene was set for the artists to work the metamorphosis. Brushes at the ready, overalls and toories on, rollies in the pocket, they were greeted by a formidable group of arm-folded local women who told them in no uncertain terms to take themselves off the premises as they were “not a deprived community and didnae want wan o’ thae murials.” A great example of non-negotiated community arts practice and unwanted “change.”
On the other hand, however, I do not doubt that contact with a creative experience can contain the possibility of transformation and change – it happens to me all the time – but I question whether this is an offer we can always properly follow through on as artists working in community/participatory settings. Should it be on the agenda at all? The aim is laudable but not practical, for after all, artists are not community/care/social workers and often we are simply not in place long enough for a community to be “classified” by them or for people to have the chance to see your contribution in a meaningful-to-them context.
In my own work nowadays I don’t know whether I am proud or slightly embarrassed to say that I find myself thrilled when someone attends a drawing workshop of mine and, on opening a box of utterly beguiling and beautiful chalk pastels for the next drawing, says on departure – “I’m off to buy a box of those!” That is the kind of change I aspire to engender these days if I’m honest – it seems do-able to me – for anyone – and it is the idea of people being at the heart of an art experience that still spurs me on to pursue modest goals of creative engagement – change will and should take care of itself.
On another point altogether I wanted to ask whether any actively teaching staff of our art colleges and other creative institutions attended the conference? In the absence of a participant’s list, it didn’t appear to be the case so do I have to wonder if these fundamental influencers of current and future arts development still need to be convinced that a participatory arts practice has value and offers a creditable career for graduate artists? Apologies if some of you were there and were just quiet.
Note for Artworks Scotland: re a participant’s list, will one be forthcoming? Details of who and where from/what they do etc would be worthwhile.
In Response to my e-mail to Liz
Good morning Alan and thanks for your email. I’m happy for you to re-post and am fine with it as it is – though if you want you can leave out the very last paragraph re the colleges etc if you feel it goes off in a new direction a bit.
House of Lords special debate on the arts
Article from Clive Parkinson, Director of Arts for Health
at Manchester Metropolitan University from his blog
Arts: Contribution to Education, Health and Emotional Well-being
Culture, Health and Wellbeing
Critically, to me at least, she suggests that the arts and festivals offer, ‘places of ideas, opinions and cultural exchange’ and concluded her case to the Government on celebration, insight, empathy and intellectual exchange:
‘The arts lead us to see into the life of things. They deserve a higher place in the school curriculum than at present. As we know, dance scarcely figures and music is neglected. We want our children to see into the life of things.’
Lord Sawyer used the emblem of Billy Elliot to talk about aspiration and the arts. How a miner’s son became a ballet dancer. Describing the film’s success, he suggested that this illustration of ‘the transforming power of art—in this case, dance—and its ability to bring joy and happiness, which have the power to actually change lives,’ is at the heart of the debate. Billy Elliott, he suggests, tells us about the power of community, of solidarity and art as activism. Stressing the importance of arts being at the heart of our communities, he warned, ‘If we slam the doors, we slam them not just on aspiration but also on knowledge, confidence, communication and language—and we are just not prepared to see those doors slammed. We are going to keep them open, and we shall have to fight to do that. That is our job, no matter what the funding issues are, no matter what the trials and tribulations of the Government of the day are. It is incumbent on all of us who care about future generations to keep those doors open and to keep fighting for our arts. We should work to protect the space, and we need to work hard to help people understand the benefits that they bring to all, and to our nation’s education, health and well-being.’
Lord Storey added some pertinent reminded us that, ‘the great and the good can go to the opera, visit art galleries and hear symphony orchestras, but how do we make sure that children living in abject poverty on council estates also have the joy and benefits of the arts?’
Again, she stressed the ongoing advocacy work of the National Alliance for Arts Health and Wellbeing and the recognition that Public Health England is looking closely at well-being, recognising ‘that arts activities can promote that well-being.’
This was a highly encouraging debate and I urge those of you interested in the arts and health agenda to take time to read or listen to this contribution to our expanding field and our growing movement.
Clive Parkinson is a passionate advocate for culture and the arts. He is currently working to further understand the impact of the arts on public health and works in partnership with Arts Council England and the Department of Health amongst others. He is currently the chair of the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing.
He is currently looking to develop core elements of the work the department undertakes with specific focus on taught modules at under and post graduate level, bridging the space between research and the taught curriculum. He is currently developing an MA unit in Arts, Public Health and Wellbeing which will begin in autumn 2013 in the School of Art.
Working with colleagues in Finland, Estonia and Spain he is developing multi-professional approaches to arts and health teaching with a specific emphasis on collaboration between social work and the arts in relationship to children and young people at risk.
Between 2013 – 2016 he is working on an interdisciplinary AHRC funded Connected Communities research project, exploring the relationship between the visual arts and dementia friendly communities.