Our 2019 Round Up

After a tumultuous year of world events, we look back on a hopeful 12 months of coming together and creating change through amazing art. A big thank you to all the artists, communities and partner organisations (not just the ones mentioned here) who have made 2019 very special indeed.

Circles Shadows Overhead

The large scale installation artwork, Circle Shadows Overhead, was created by the brilliant Cathy Cross and pupils at Lansbury Bridge School & Sports College and was launched in February. Read more about this project here

A young girl in a pink coat looks up to an installation hanging over her. The installation consists of many seemingly floating and decorated disks attached together.

 

Talking Corridors 

In April, pupils at St Cuthbert’s Catholic High School worked with Cathy Cross to create Talking Corridors, a project that used used mini projectors and provocations to transform school corridors into a new world that explored the minds of the students, The Guerrilla Ensemble!

A group of school students in school uniforms gather and talk at the end of a dimly lit school corridor. One girl uses a hand held project to project messages on the floor of the corridor.

Hunt & Darton’s Radio Local: Wirral 

Also in April, Hunt & Darton took over the radio waves, and the hearts of Liscard, Wirral. Donning their inimitable matching outfits, the performance art pair worked with us to bring Radio Local to Wirral Borough of Culture. Cue jingles and games galore, and most importantly the awesome stories of the people of Liscard, including a memorable interview with Wirral’s answer to Greta Thunberg – The Little Collector.

Two women stand in the front left of the photo, wearing television ariels attached to their heads. They were a light pink jacket with a pink collar. There is a high street scene in the background.

 

Self Care

In early May, we hosted an Open Space session facilitated by Chrissie Tiller, Sheila Ghelani and Emma Fry for socially engaged and collaborative arts practitioners to explore the idea of self-care in the context of difficult times for artists and communities.

A group of four women stand looking at some pink post its attached to a white wall

 

With For Aboout: Art & Democracy

In the last standing ‘Pilks’ club, Ravenhead Social Club in St Helens, we took on the big questions of our time with arts practitioners from across the world including Larry Achiampong, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Rick Lowe, Brian Harnetty and Jonas Staal. It was a day of coming together, sharing insights and stories of socially engaged practice and collaborative art.

A group of adults sit on grass and on chairs in the middle of a playing field. They are listening to a woman with blond hair and there is an industrial scene in the background of the picture with a chimney and a red brick building.

Hunt & Darton’s Radio Local: St Helens 

After the success of Radio Local in Liscard, Hunt and Darton were live on the air & in Church Square #StHelens for 12 hours at the end of June. A highlight of the day was the DJ Take Over by members of the media group at BuzzHub St Helens CDP. 

A group of adults sit on and around a raised stage under a white gazebo in the middle of Church Square in St Helens town centre. A couple of the adults are speaking into microphones.

Hana Madness in residence at Change Grow Live, St Helens

In August, Jakarta-based artist & activist Hana Madness worked with members of Change Grow Live St Helens to create an army of mini monsters that told stories of recovery – did you spot them in the #madove #takeoversthelens space?

New office & new brand!

In September, after 4 years in the old Beechams Building, part of St Helens College, we moved into new premises on Haydock Street. Previously the site of MASH cafe and art gallery, this space also great legacy for the Heart of Glass Ambition for Excellence programme HELEN having been the engine room for this activity and the home of Idle Women during this project. Now the Heart of Glass HQ, it’s also the home of the brilliant Citadel Arts team.

Also in September, we celebrated 5 years of Heart of Glass by rebranding in honour of this half decade milestone and to reflect the way our organisation has grown and evolved over the past five years.

Four women stand in front of a building with a red door and woodwork and a large window. They are all wearing black tshirts with the red Heart of Glass logo printed on to them. This new logo is the words heart of glass across one horizontal line without spaces.

Gemma Nash and Acorn Farm

Over the Autumn, sound artist and digital storyteller Gemma Nash worked with members of Acorn Farm in Kirkby to create digital soundscapes – stay tuned to hear these via our website very soon! 

In the front right of the picture, a smiling woman sits in front of a keyboard and just behind her, a man looks at a laptop. In the top left hand corner of the picture a woman is sat smiling wearing a tshirt with a rainbow flag on it.

Bringing Madlove to St Helens

In October, we welcomed the artist and mental health activist the vacuum cleaner (a.k.a James Leadbitter) to St Helens to begin to transform the old Argos store on Church Street into a space for art, conversation and care – The Madlove Take Over Space. James worked with designer and producer Sascha Gilmour, Mary Osborn (Artsadmin) and a team of volunteers to transform the space.

James also spent lots of time meeting people across St Helens and spreading the word about Madlove. Here’s Rob who leads the arts club at Change Grow Live St Helens in front of a mural he painted during his own recovery process.

A man wearing glasses stands in front of a painted mural which features writing and white lotus flowers against a blue background. The man is holding a piece of cork on which reads 'MADLOVE'.

 

A Madlove Take Over 2019

On November 1st, we launched A Madlove Take Over, a month long arts festival for mental health, in the old Argos store on Church Street St Helens. A Madlove Take Over was curated and produced by Heart of Glass, the vacuum cleaner and Mary Osborn (Artsadmin) with the support and collaboration of individuals, organisations and communities across St Helens. Find out more about A Madlove Take Over here.

Throughout the month, the space was home to care, conversations, art and LOTS of tea – we reckon over 1200 cups of tea were enjoyed by members of the St Helens community, all specially blended by the Time for Tea group from Clockface.

Over this very special time, the theatre within the Madlove Space hosted a number of different events including the opening night solo show by Jess Thom, a.k.a Touretteshero; a film screening and Q&A with Johnny Benjamin and Angela Samata; a performance and talk by artist Rory Pilgrim and collaborators; a creative and collective discussion around how we can do mental health care better in St Helens facilitated by the vacuum cleaner; and a performance night, cake baking and tea party with the wonderful Kitty O’ Shea!

A group of people in various fancy dress outfits stand behind a framing device made of inflatable pink picture frames against a background of a pink tinsel curtain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A group of people sit around a long wooden table that is decorated with pink crockery, cake stands and tea pots. Foliage hangs from the ceiling in the front of the picture and in the background a lady dressed all in pink and wearing a pink wig serves tea.

 

Thanks for joining us on this whistle stop tour of 2019 and for being part of another wonderful year of creating change through art. Stay tuned to hear what’s coming up in 2020, there’s plenty!

A Madlove Take Over – is back!

A Madlove Take Over may be over but after an overwhelming response from visitors we’ll be opening up the space for a final pre-Christmas get together with chats, care and free Brickie Brews on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th December. You can find out more information about A Madlove Take Over, an arts festival for mental health, here

Artist, mental health activist and co-curator of A Madlove Take Over, James Leadbitter (aka. the vacuum cleaner) will be hosting some activities, see below for more info.

Join us between 11am – 6pm on Friday 13th and Saturday 14th in the Madlove Take Over Space, which is the old Argos store, Unit 2, The Hardshaw Centre, Church Street, St Helens, WA10 1EB.

#madlove #takeoversthelens 

Friday 13th December

Join us in the Madlove Take Over Space from 11am-6pm for: 

All day – Time For Tea brews at the Together Table 

All day – Crafting and chatting in the Care Cafe

12pm/ 2pm – Chronicle One screenings, more info here. 

12pm – 4:30pm –  Chats and reflections around the Together Table 

4:30 – 5:30pm – Help us take down some of the art work (we need to return some of the work to the artists, we’ll be filling the space with work created by the St Helens community during November) 

6pm – Close

 

Saturday 14th

Join us in The Madlove Take Over Space from 11am-6pm for:

All day – Time For Tea brews at the Together Table   

12 – 4:30pm – Help us to prepare and install art works made during A Madlove Take Over to present in the windows.  

12 – 4:30pm – Chats and reflections around the Together Table. 

4:30 – 6pm – Join us for more chats, hopefully some dancing and lots of cake! 

6pm –  Close 

Photo credit: Stephen King

 

Lifelines

Samaritans: 116123 A safe place for you to talk anytime (24h, free).

Papyrus: 0800 068 41 41 Prevention of Young Suicide (free & confidential).

AMPARO: 0330 088 9255 Support for anyone affected by suspected or actual suicide.

Shout: text 85258 The UK’s first text support for anyone in crises, anywhere, anytime.

Apps 

Suicide Prevention Available on Google Play and Apple App Store now.

Stay Alive App Packed full of useful information and tools to help you stay safe in a crisis.

Calm Harm App Tasks, information & support to help you resist the urge to self-harm.

 

 

Volunteer at A Madlove Take Over

We’re looking for a team of wonderful volunteers to support us during A Madlove Take Over during November 2019. Read on for more information and you’ll find an application form at the bottom of the page.

What is A Madlove Take Over?

Take Over is our annual festival that reimagines public spaces through art projects made with, for and about people in St Helens. This year we’ve invited artist and mental health activist the vacuum cleaner (aka James Leadbitter) to take over a vast empty shop and create a space for art, conversation and care, titled A Madlove Take Over.  The festival venue is Unit 2, Hardshaw Centre, St Helens (the old Argos store) and will be open Tuesday – Saturday, 11am-6pm throughout the month of November. Read more about A Madlove Take Over here

Why volunteer at A Madlove Take Over?

There are lots of benefits to volunteering with Heart of Glass! Here are a few of the big ones: 

  • Have loads of fun and feel part of a team
  • Meet and chat to all kinds of new people
  • Give something back to your local area
  • Meet artists and learn about different pieces of artwork
  • Get training in your role
  • Gain experience and confidence in arts industry work
  • A contribution towards your travel expenses

What can I do as a volunteer at this event?

We’re looking for people to support us in three different volunteer roles. 

We want you to get the most out of your volunteer experience and so please let us know if there’s something else you’d like to try!

Hosting

  • Welcoming people into the space
  • Offering and making cups of tea 
  • Introducing the space and what is available to experience that day 
  • Sharing information about upcoming events 
  • Having conversations and generally making people feel welcome
  • Signposting toilets, seating, access support 

Caretaking

  • Maintaining the Madlove Take Over Space 
  • Looking after the plants 
  • Auditing the artworks – checking if there are any issues, making sure everything is working and looking good, reporting anything noted to the Lead Hosts
  • Topping up materials, printing workshop sheets, making the space tidy and ready to receive guests 

Facilitating

  • Getting to know the space and the artworks in more detail
  • Assisting on tours 
  • Assisting with workshop sessions and events 
  • Assisting guest groups and individuals with the set-up of their community open sessions 

When? There will be 2 volunteer shifts per day, 11am-2.30pm and 2.30pm-6pm. We are flexible on how many shifts you would like to do over the month. 

We will only ask you to help when you can and we’ll never ask you to do something you don’t want to do. 

How do I apply to volunteer at A Madlove Take Over?

  • Attend an optional volunteer information session at 10am on Thursday 17th October at our office. Reserve your free place here.
  • Apply by completing this form.
  • You’ll receive an acceptance email from us. 
  • Attend a volunteer training session, dates TBC. 
  • Enjoy volunteering with us. 
  • Thank you party! Join us for a celebration on Saturday 30th November, details TBC.

Apply now! You can find the application form here.

Any questions? Please contact info@heartofglass.org.uk with any questions or queries.

 

Image: Stephen King

What is A Madlove Take Over?

Take Over is our annual festival that reimagines public spaces through art projects made with, for and about people in St Helens. This year we’ve invited artist and mental health activist the vacuum cleaner (aka James Leadbitter) to take over a vast empty shop and create a space for art, conversation and care. 

From 1-30 November, the vacuum cleaner is inviting us to be part of a Madlove’ Take Over. Together , we’re bringing 13 local, national and international artists and communities together to make exhibitions, films and new performances for this pop-up space in central St Helens – all aimed at supporting people’s mental health. You can find out more about this pop-up space here

Many of the artists and groups involved have struggled with their own mental health and now create amazing projects that try to help us care for ourselves and each other. Joining us for the Madlove Take Over will be:

– Acclaimed Indonesian artist and activist, Hana Madness, who will cover the town in colourful bipolar monsters

– Perrier Award-winning comedian, Kim Noble, will present his attempts to end his loneliness. 

– Local artist Hwa Young Jung is having conversations across the town to create a map of all the places in St Helens where you can experience care – from the friendly person working at the chippy to formal mental health support services. 

– Writer, artist and part-time superhero Jess Thom, aka touretteshero, whose comedy show  Stand Up, Sit Down, Roll Over proves it is possible to be both the most persistent heckler as well as the main act, and will open the festival on Friday November 1st 2019. 

About Take Over
Take Over is our annual festival that reimagines the potential for public spaces through art projects made with, for and about people in St Helens. This year we’re building on Heart of Glass’ long-term programme of work which critically examines the structures which frame, inform and produce our experiences of mental distress. This programme includes major collaborative commission The Suicide Chronicles, led by artist Mark Storor, the first part of which features in this year’s festival. We are excited and honoured to be working with James, along with all of the artists, community groups and organisations in the creation of something very special for a Madlove Take Over.

A Madlove Take Over is curated and produced by Heart of Glass, the vacuum cleaner and Mary Osborn (Artsadmin) with the support and collaboration of individuals, organisations and communities across St Helens. The Madlove environment is designed and produced by Sascha Gilmour and the vacuum cleaner’s team. 

About Madlove

“It ain’t no bad thing to need a safe place to go mad. The problem is that a lot of mental health hospitals are more punishment than love… they need some Madlove”

Is it possible to go mad in a positive way? How would you create a safe place in which to do so? If you designed your own asylum, what would it be like? Madlove is artist the vacuum cleaner’s ongoing project about creating positive spaces to experience mental distress… and enlightenment. The project is bringing together people with and without mental health experiences, mental health professionals and academics, artists and designers – and everyone else on the spectrum. 

Lifelines

Samaritans: 116123 A safe place for you to talk anytime (24h, free).

Papyrus: 0800 068 41 41 Prevention of Young Suicide (free & confidential).

AMPARO: 0330 088 9255 Support for anyone affected by suspected or actual suicide.

Shout: text 85258 The UK’s first text support for anyone in crises, anywhere, anytime.

Apps 

Suicide Prevention Available on Google Play and Apple App Store now.

Stay Alive App Packed full of useful information and tools to help you stay safe in a crisis.

Calm Harm App Tasks, information & support to help you resist the urge to self-harm.

 

We’ve moved! Heart of Glass has a new home in St Helens

We’re excited to announce that Heart of Glass has a new home in St Helens! 

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been busy moving into our new office space at 9-11 Haydock Street. It’s a location that means a lot to us and the arts in St Helens; it was previously the site of MASH cafe and art gallery, and is a great legacy for the Heart of Glass Ambition for Excellence programme HELEN having been the engine room for this activity and the home of Idle Women during this project. 

Now it’s going to be the Heart of Glass HQ and also the home of the brilliant Citadel Arts team; we couldn’t ask for better neighbours and can’t wait to feel all that creative energy under one roof! 

As you may be aware the Beechams Building is being sold. We’ve really enjoyed our time in this iconic building, it’s the end of an era for us, but as we move into our fifth year (happy birthday to us!) we’re embracing the change and all the amazing opportunities it will bring. 

We’re excited to be moving to a busy corner of St Helens that’s full of of well-established independent businesses like Cultivate, Bentos Lunchbox, Ba’Bursi Indian Restaurant and Bar, and Sabroso Tex Mex – it’s closer to the station, too.

Our new central, accessible and street level location will bring us even closer to all the communities that we work with, do feel free to pop in and say hello if you’re passing!

 

Our new address is: 

11 Haydock Street, 

St Helens, 

WA10 1DD

 

Our new phone number is: 01744 453163 

We’ve got a new look!

Heart of Glass is 5! 

In honour of this half decade milestone and to reflect the way our organisation has grown and evolved over the past five years, we are rebranding! It’s been a journey. Lots of people (maybe you!) have helped us distill who we are and what we stand for into our new brand, watch the video

Visually, we’ve got a beautiful new logo, typeface and this cool framing device – keep your eyes peeled for it on our Take Over festival brochure – available from next week.

We’ve kept the name. Which was a difficult decision because it’s a name that already belongs to a very famous song. But all of the alternatives we tried just didn’t stick. In fact they made us all fall in love with Heart of Glass more. 

Of course Heart of Glass is so much more than our name. It’s you: our partners, artists, collaborators. And the amazing art projects we make together. We really hope you like our new look and feel as much as we do. A big thank you to Claire, Vic, Cally and Steve at our agency partners True North for their amazing work. 

You’ll notice our website is staying the same for now. It will change to reflect the new brand in the coming months. We’ve had a few technical issues with it too that are now fixed, but if you’re having problems getting information please email lauren@heartofglass.org.uk

Gallery: Radio Local St Helens LIVE by Hunt & Darton

On Saturday 29th June 2019, dynamic and deadpan artist duo Hunt & Darton broadcast their new hyper-local radio show -#RadioLocal – LIVE from Church Square and WA12 Radio for 12 hours! They were joined by a whole host of St Helens local legends over the day and we enjoyed DJ slots from BuzzHub’s Media Group and guest artists. See our local legend and guest artist hall of fame here and a behind the scenes gallery of BuzzHub’s takeover prep here. Thanks for tuning in!

Photo credits: Stephen King.

 

Lunchtime on Radio Local and local legend Gary Conley samples pie and chips provided by Lily’s Victorian Tea Room as part of the Radio Local lunch review.
Local legend Gary Conley samples pie and chips provided by Lily’s Victorian Tea Room as part of the Radio Local lunch review.
Live artists Cade & Macaskill prepare for their guest DJ slot on Radio Local: the Barry & Barry show.

 

Cade of live artist duo Cade & Macaskill presents the Barry & Barry show live on Radio Local.

 

Macaskill of live artist duo Cade & Macaskill presents the Barry & Barry Show as part of Radio Local.

 

Live artists Cade & Macaskill present their guest DJ slot on Radio Local: the Barry & Barry show.

 

Hunt (R) & Darton (L) model their Radio Local headwear – full points for those who spot that these are actually TV aerials!

 

Hunt & Radio take some time in the Radio Local (very) green room!

 

The Radio Local (very) green room!

 

The roving Barry & Barry show.

 

The roving Barry & Barry show on Radio Local.

 

Garth Musk of WA12 Radio, which streamed the live Radio Local show from 8am-8pm, chats to hosts Hunt & Darton.

 

Pillar of the St Helens art community and close friend of Heart of Glass, Mike Lindley, takes to the mic for his local legend guest slot on Radio Local.

 

Mike Lindley introduces his Desert Island Discs selection during his local legend guest slot on Radio Local.

 

Mike Lindley introduces his Desert Island Discs selection during his local legend guest slot on Radio Local.

 

Special guest Mollie helps Bridget and Bernadette to present the B.A.F.T.As – aka. the Brilliant And Fabulous Town Awards.

 

Mollie helps Bridget and Bernadette present the B.A.F.T.As – the Brilliant And Fabulous Town Awards.

 

Plant swap time! Hunt tries to find somebody to swap this plant for their plant!

 

Plant swap – no luck just yet!

 

Members of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group take to the mic for their 30 minute take over.

 

Members of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group take to the mic for their 30 minute take over.

 

Helen takes to the mic as part of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group’s 30 minute Radio Local take over.

 

Cheryl takes to the mic as part of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group’s 30 minute Radio Local take over.

 

Finn takes to the mic as part of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group’s 30 minute Radio Local take over.

 

Members of BuzzHub St Helens CDP Media Group take to the mic for their 30 minute take over.

 

Local legend Cllr Bisi Osundeko, Labour Councillor for Parr in St Helens, joins Hunt & Darton on air for her guest slot.

 

Local legend Cllr Bisi Osundeko, Labour Councillor for Parr in St Helens, joins Hunt & Darton on air for her guest slot.

 

Did you add a line or two to the Radio Local Soap Opera? Or catch it being read on air at the end of the day?

 

Hunt chats to guest Mollie in the Radio Local (very) green room!

 

Radio Local production manager, Rachael, delivers her news.

 

Weather report time with Hunt!

 

Local legend and Chief Executive of the Citadel Arts Centre, Fay Lamb, takes to the mic for her guest slot.

 

 

Gallery: Radio Local St Helens Workshops with St BuzzHub CDP

Members of the media group at BuzzHub St Helens Coalition of Disabled People collaborated with Jenny Hunt of Hunt & Darton to prepare for their guest take over slot during Radio Local St Helens.

Many of the group are already seasoned radio DJs – catch them on Halton Community Radio – and so the two sessions were spent refreshing skills in introducing songs, creating on-air games and perfecting the art of banter! 

Photo credits: Stephen King.

A lady in a pink top and dark trousers explains a task to a group of men wearing blue, green and black tops and who are sat around a table.

A young man in a grey hoodie and blue jeans is stood up and using a camera to photograph some sheets of paper on the floor.

Three pieces of white paper arranged in a vertical line detail the order of a radio segment, they include a jingle, an introduction and banter.

A young man in a green hoodie reads a sheet of white paper that details his introduction to a radio show.

A wide shot of a mixed group of young adults working at round tables and looking at sheets on paper.

A group of three men sit opposite each other round a table with a radio microphone on each side. A man in a white t-shirt is adjusting a microphone.

A young man in a green hoodie reads from a sheet of white paper into a radio mic.

Two men, one wearing a green t-shirt and the other wearing a black T-shirt sit facing a women wearing a pink t-shirt on a table. They have a radio mic in front of them.

A woman in a pink top and dark trousers hands a microphone to a man in a white top. He has a radio microphone in front of him.

Four young men sit facing each other around a table with microphones either side. A man in a white t-shirt speaks into the radio microphone, smiling.

A lady in a pink t-shirt speaks to a group of 3 young men who are sat around a table.

A man wearing a hearing aid speaks into a radio microphone. He is sat at a table.

A woman with brown hair wearing a grey hoodie speaks into a radio microphone. There is a young man in the background.

A young man in a black hoodie and wearing a navy blue cap speaks into a radio microphone. There are black wires and a pair of headphones on the table in front of him.

How to nurture a social arts ecosystem

“Maintaining these delicate ecosystems is no easy task”: artist, programmer and writer Harvey Dimond reflects on their experience of our recent series of Artist Professional Development workshops for socially engaged practitioners, facilitated by Mark Devereux Projects and guests. Find out more about this series here

Imagining socially engaged practice as an ecosystem is a useful way of understanding the checks and balances, the pressures and strains of working within this field. There is a fine and precarious relationship between each element within this ecosystem, and each must be cared for, nourished and sustained to ensure the sensitivities of all participating are championed. 

The Artist Professional Development workshop series at Heart of Glass became an important part of this ecosystem, a means of establishing contact, acknowledgment and sharing, as well as giving attendees crucial access to professionals and experts in the field of socially engaged practice. The creation of this space, where anxieties and concerns could be worked through in a holistic and encouraging way, is sadly still very much lacking within the UK. Maintaining these delicate ecosystems is no easy task, and guidance, support and affirmation should be a frequent and important part of the career of every socially engaged practitioner – regardless of what context they are working in. 

Now, many of these artists may not even see themselves as socially engaged creatives. The field is so expansive that it’s often difficult to put a finger on what a socially engaged practitioner actually looks like. The workshops helped to unpick some of the ideologies, philosophies and contemporary developments in the field, giving greater clarity to what a successful socially engaged practitioner  could look like. This included providing clarity and guidance on more technical concerns, such as funding and contracts; both vital aspects of working in this field, but also some of the most daunting tasks due to the lack of access to expert advice.

The lack of infrastructure and support in the UK means that these issues are usually faced by socially engaged artists only when they’re right there, staring them in the face.They have to think on their feet, often with nobody to turn to within their own organisations or networks who has that experience and expertise. This is especially true given the unique and complex needs and desires of each individual and each community that a socially engaged artist engages with. Having these professional and shared knowledges will certainly prepare the participants for when these challenges become apparent, and they will be able to confront them with agency and confidence. 

The current political climate in the UK is also spawning new pressures on socially engaged practitioners. As austerity continues to drain public and social services, the role that socially engaged artists are needing to fill is expanding and becoming more and more challenging, especially in locations where political rhetoric has sewn division. Although the loss of permanent, government-funded community spaces can never be replaced, the creation of temporary spaces can provide a refreshing and radical fluidity for communities to collectively re-organise and re-imagine – and socially engaged artists play a key part in this work.

The aforementioned pressures have meant that artists working with communities are now having to be at once activists, advocators, curators, educators and fundraisers – and this is not always conducive to the success of community-based projects. This role can become too fluid and too expansive, something which Stephen Pritchard warns of in his 2018 text Caught Doing Social Work (presented for Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Italy). This becomes the case especially when artists become instrumentalised by corporations, who sometimes push artists to go above and beyond their duty. The final workshop with artist Shaun C. Badham addressed this issue. While it’s important to recognise your own strengths, it’s also crucial to be self-aware, and to understand when you need to step back and pass responsibility on to others with more expertise and experience.

 

The scope of the workshops was certainly UK-wide (as was evident in the array of participants, who travelled from across the UK), but by focusing on the arts in the North-West, the workshops became a refreshing antidote to the usual focus on London. The workshops certainly highlighted the versatility and strength of the arts in the North-West, and the array of artistic activity here is an excellent model for areas of the UK which experience under-investment and a low level of engagement with the arts. The workshops had the ability and the space to appeal to artists working in an array of contexts and geographies, whether urban or rural, solo or collective, funded or voluntary.

A key commonality between all the participants was a recognition that these forums for discussion are really crucial, but still all too rare. 

Although workshops and forums for socially engaged practitioners do exist in the UK, they are few and far between, and are often one-off events with a limited ability to create a legacy or a support network. The Socially Engaged Art Salon (SEAS) in Brighton has created a space for such conversations to happen, as well as an inclusive programme that focuses on the desires of the local community. In the North-West, The University of Salford’s MA in Socially Engaged Arts Practice (with Community Experience) is an exciting development in the field, providing an academic rigour and the opportunity to provide much needed resources in the region. 

Unfortunately, socially engaged practice as a methodology is still barely visible in British arts education, let alone encouraged. When it is, art students are taught to privilege their own outcomes and trajectories as more important than of the desires and needs of the communities they collaborate or work with. Curriculums in British art education are devoid of concerns around ethics, power dynamics and exclusion, discouraging capable students from undertaking socially engaged work. It is perhaps then not surprising then that such little infrastructure exists for socially engaged practitioners. Arts institutions and elite universities themselves are renowned for being shockingly distant from their local communities – this was very apparent in the aftermath of the 2018 fire at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA), where the local community were left in the dark for weeks with no dialogue from GSA.

Taking part in the workshops, I felt the most interesting conversations revolved around the philosophies and ideologies behind socially engaged practice – particularly around the role of the artist, and how to remove the hierarchies that can dominate socially engaged projects. The term facilitator is becoming increasingly prevalent as a way of democratising practice, as it suggests that an artist is drawing on pre-existing strengths within a community to facilitate change, rather than being the sole, original creator. By becoming participants themselves, the hierarchy that seeps into so many of these projects can be disrupted and dismantled. This ideology was very much at the core of community arts projects in 1970’s Britain, such as Jubilee Arts who were based in and around Birmingham.

 The legacy of collectives such as Jubilee Arts can be seen in the work of design collective Assemble who became known for their work with the Granby Four Streets neighbourhood in Liverpool. Their 2016 Turner Prize win was a pivotal moment for socially engaged practice in the UK, giving these community-based practices visibility and agency. Despite the different contexts in which Jubilee Arts and Assemble worked, there is a shared acknowledgment and drive to work as an ally to communities, and a desire to push back against potential instrumentation by corporations. The ambiguity of the artists within Assemble, and their role as facilitators and co-producers allowed them to eliminate hierarchies and distance surrounding artist and participant.

Harvey Dimond (b.1997) is a British-Barbadian artist, programmer and writer based in Glasgow, UK. Their work seeks to imagine Black queer futures in Scotland through a studio based practice, exhibition making and community projects.

All image credits: Stephen King.

 

 

 

 

With For About: Art & Democracy – an illustrated round up!

Last month (on European Parliament election day), artists, practitioners, educators, researchers and arts producers from across Europe and the USA, joined us at Ravenhead Social Club (the last Pilkington Social Club) in St Helens for our fourth annual With For About conference: Art & Democracy.

If you joined us, thank you for being part of a very special day. As one attendee reflected “It made me think about what we do and why”, while another told us “it felt like we were creating a vision for humanity”!

Here’s a short film (made by our partners and friends Axisweb) with interviews from some of our speakers and attendees. We were also very lucky to have Lancashire based illustrator Emmeline Pidgen live documenting the event. Here’s an illustrated round up of the sessions with thoughts from writer and attendee Natalie Hughes….

Session 1: Artist as Political Actor

Chair: Ailbhe Murphy

Contributors: Jonas Staal, Larry Achiampong, and Heather Peak Morison.

Jonas Staal stood before a hundred people to deliver a speech about the future of democracy. Explaining how he assisted in creating a model parliament for Rojava, part of the Kurdistani autonomous region of Syria, Staal said that within art were the mechanisms of emancipatory politics. Following on from Jonas, Larry Achiampong, delivered a powerful presentation that asked us to consider the effects of what we produce: ‘You don’t just get to make stuff and then walk away!’ he said. Achiampong explained that the artist has the privilege of being able to ‘move between spaces and situations without being labelled as ‘crazy’’.

Session 2: Art & Disability Justice

Chair: Dr Janet Price

Contributors: Gemma Nash and Lani Parker

“The disability rights activist Lani Parker called for us to dismantle power structures by building ‘real solidarity across hierarchies’ – and to actually mean it rather than spouting its rhetoric for performance only. Parker reminded us of art’s responsibility to recognise and give up power rather than create a system of consumption, and the importance of asking ‘who is the art for?’, ‘what is the political reaction you want?, ‘who gets the recognition?’.”

Session 3: Public Realm – Erosion of the Public Sphere

Chair: Susanne Bosch

Contributors: Prerana Reddy (A Blade of Grass), Brian Harnetty, Rick Lowe,  Jeanne van Heeswijk, Deidre Figuerido and Amy Twigger Holroyd.

“Splitting up into six groups we were led through activities in listening and discussion by either Rick Lowe, Jeanne van Heeswijk, Brian Harnetty, Prerana Reddy, Amy Twigger-Holroyd, or Deirdre Figueiredo. In these smaller gatherings we examined the erosion of our public sphere, the effects of this, and how to turn this around.”

 “I followed Jeanne van Heeswijk out onto the social club’s playing field to sit in the sunshine and discuss the question: ‘What does it mean to become a collective at the end of time?’. The answer: we must engage within the social practice of ‘Commoning’: i) act, ii) take care of one another, iii) recognise that we are together, iv) cultivate a shared understanding that fosters collective ownership.”