Work with Communities

How can creativity connect and empower us?

For me, being a participatory artist working with people in communities comes with a responsibility to create the conditions for equal participation as much as I can.

When I’m doing this work, I think of the fact that culture and creativity are human rights – that all of us regardless of who we are, or where in the world we live have the right ‘freely to participate in the cultural life of the community’  (Article 27, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

This means that those of us working in the arts have a responsibility to try to make them as democratic and inclusive as possible for people to participate.

This involves asking lots of questions along the way, of ourselves and others about how we are working. It entails considering how power, choices and equality operate in what we are doing, and being open to making changes based on what the people you are working with need and want.

Working in a people-centred way means supporting  and trying to empower people at the point of where they are at; listening and to be led by them and what they want to do. It also means continually being reflective, and thinking critically and honestly about what we do alongside the people we are working with, to do it together, with as much equality as possible.

This is often not easy to navigate, particularly within hierarchical and unequal systems, infrastructures and culture that the arts exist in – but it is the bread and butter of the work,  and it offers so much opportunity for learning and connection, as well as so much joy.

Post script: (If you’re interested in finding out more about a rights-based approach to arts participation, then Francois Matarasso’s ‘A Restless Art’ a book  describing the history, theory and practice of community art, is highly recommended – it is available to download free here

Watch a short film about the early days of Wur Bradford a grassroots community arts space I set up in 2015

Read a reflection I wrote about my involvement in Bradford’s National Museum, an action research project exploring how the National Science and Media Museum can become locally-rooted and more open, engaged and collaborative.