CAS research 3rd session May 4th 2021 – Yonat Nitzan-Green
Drawings clockwise from top left: Will, Prudence Maltby, Elizabeth Hammond, Peter Driver, Yonat Nitzan- Green.
Our second session led to refine the research question from ‘Who is community?’ to ‘Who are communities in the traumatic times of Covid 19; and how might CAS affect the community/communities through their varied and rich drawing practices?’ this question can be further refined as follows. How might CAS affect communities in the traumatic times of Covid 19 through developing and implementing the method of expanded conversation? A method that builds conversations around texts and drawing.
For the third session Tom Borrup, ‘5 Ways Arts Projects Can Improve Struggling Communities’ (2009)1 was read and served as the focus for conversation.
Tom Borrup is a leader and innovator in community building based in the USA. In this article Borrup reports on five different art in community projects done during the 1990s and 2000s.
Harvard professor of public health Felton Earls found that ‘the capacity of people to act together on matters of common interest made a greater difference in the health and well-being of individuals and neighbourhoods.’ (Borrup, 2009, pp. 1-2). He coined the phrase “collective efficacy.” Collective efficacy is ‘the capacity of people to act together on matters of common interest.’ He found that the well-being of individuals and neighbourhoods correlates with the ability to come together, find common interests and act.
Borrup critiqued the managing of public spaces and places where priority was given to places for vehicles and security over places of social interaction such as parks, markets, high streets, shopping centres, theatres, museums, galleries, restaurants and pubs.
At the conversation we briefly looked at the effects and impact of COVID 19 on places of social interaction.
Economic impact: many shops shut down; businesses lose income, and in some cases, forced to close-down. People lose their employment. The Government helps.
Social and psychological impacts: loneliness, anxiety, worries for relatives and friends. Amanda commented: “Places aren’t being used.” Elizabeth: “Romsey looked like a ghost town, but since the finishing of lockdown the centre is heaving.”
Cultural channels such as cinemas, theatres, galleries and museums are closed. This leads to unfulfilled need for culture. There are on-line alternatives which help, but not sufficiently. A point to explore further: what does culture give, both, in times of crisis and in times of peace?
‘Artists are being tapped to collaborate with architects, landscape architects, engineers, and city planners in the design and creation of public spaces, buildings, roads, highways, and public transit facilities.’ (Borrup, 2009, p. 3). Including artists in community projects, as well as collaborations with professionals from other fields in projects that affect communities position the artists in a cross disciplinary engagement. One insight that Borrup emphasises is the process. ‘As important as the space, piece of art, or event is the process by which it is created.’ (Borrup, 2009, p. 3). Both, the
1Link to on-line article: 5 Ways Arts Projects Can Improve Struggling Communities (pps.org) Tom Borrup (2020), The Power of Culture in City Planning, Abingdon: Routledge.
complexity of cross-disciplinary; and the processes artists use in their projects with different communities were explored through asking:
What challenges were encountered in CAS research group participants’ own experiences? and how were they resolved, negotiated or remained un-resolved?
Peter talked about a project (’10 Days Winchester’) he organized with a team of art graduates that involved working in pairs, boarding a circular route buses in Winchester and initiating conversations with passengers. This was documented; sketches and photographs were generated culminating in a zine and matts for the Bus station cafes. People who participated agreed, verbally, to their contribution being made public. The team found that in general, older people were more enthusiastic, and happy to talk. Younger people were happy to talk, too. People who were on their way to work were less inclined to participate. The project was not funded. We, in CAS Research group, believe that artists should be paid.
I talked about my experience of artist-in-residency in schools, that involved children, families, and teachers. Alongside the sessions where participants worked with enthusiasm, curiosity and enjoyment, there were cases of being misunderstood as an artist by some teachers. The residency included mentors who functioned as mediators, which was very helpful. However, I would recommend planning a series of art workshops for teachers that will enable going through art processes, both, individually, and as a group. The aim is not to train teachers to become artists; rather, for teachers to be more familiar with art processes of thinking, as distinct from techniques or even methods.
Amanda talked about her positive experience of participating in an art-in-school project at a school where her children attend. Being a mother to children at this school made a significant difference.
The value of a one-off artist in school project was questioned. Elizabeth has a lot of experience working in schools. She values one-off projects. “I believe that the child’s encounter with an artist in an art event can leave a deep impression. Exposing children to art would lead to better understanding.” Elizabeth is interested in building a fund through links with businesses, that will support artists’ projects.
Conversation with drawings
Cameras and microphones were left open during a thirty-minute drawing session. A variety of sounds, some familiar, others less so, echoed and vibrated through the virtual-actual shared spaces created by the group.
Janice liked that microphones and cameras remained open. She picked an idea and tried to translate it into drawing, but found it very difficult. “How to do it in 30 minutes?” She remembered a drawing exercise of having 2 minutes to make an observational drawing; then moving down to 35 seconds. Observational drawing can be further discussed together with the question ‘what does culture give us?’. Like Elizabeth, Janice believes that “when a child is touched by an artist he/she will remember this like a spark.”
Similar to Janice, Amanda picked an idea from the earlier text-based conversation but wasn’t sure how to represent it. This problem led her to experiment with different media. Her drawing is about letter illuminating.
Prudence finds it hard to draw in a group, she needs to be alone. She drew boxes on a large sheet of paper while thinking about collaboration, identity, looking at a screen: a box within a box. “The box as a safety of containment.” Boxes appeared in almost all the other participants’ drawings; a synchronicity that can be found in groups working closely together. Prudence also reflected on the earlier conversation concerning education, trying to think from a teacher’s perspective. “Artists should share their contemporary knowledge of their profession.”
Elizabeth used a recycled box in her drawing. She was inspired by a talk, The Grammar of Drawing, by Anita Taylor who promoted ways to make art sustainable using provisional materials. Elizabeth was thinking about the interconnection of place-nature-environment. She sees her drawing as a beginning.
Conversation with text and drawing reveals the process of thinking with ideas, words, materials, feelings and imagination. A process that involves problem setting, experimentation and creating solutions. Pleasure and frustration, as well as stimulation of memory, imagination and feelings are all part of this process. Ideas from earlier part of the conversation hover and mix with the action of drawing, generating further ideas and insights.