Friday, 1 February 2013

Imagining Possibilities: participatory arts and media and the creation of community wellbeing

(Odd Numbers, Milton: Photo: NADFLY/

Creative Futures Institute, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley Campus, High Street, Paisley PA1 2BE

Friday 1st March 2013

9.30am – 5.00pm

A conference exploring the findings of Remaking Society, an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Connected Communities ‘Pilot Demonstrator’ project.

Participation in cultural activity is an essential ingredient in making healthy communities. The Remaking Society project explores how neighbourhoods experiencing multiple deprivation, in particular, might harness engagement in creative activity to build capacity for social change. The project takes a broad view of wellbeing as a social construct: that is, more than an individual’s state of physical and mental health connected with income and wealth, and with life satisfaction, wellbeing is “related to our sense of social connectedness, inclusion and participation, existential security and safety, political citizenship, self-development and actualization, and opportunities for education, recreation and creative expression.” [1]

The Remaking Society project is made up an interdisciplinary team of researchers, partnering with experienced community arts organisations, working in four contrasting contexts of deprivation, alongside the arts and health programme of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Cadispa Trust, and

 It aims to:
  • Demonstrate how participation in cultural production in locations where people are  experiencing increasing economic hardship can catalyse the creation of community and wellbeing.
  • Explore the ways in which, through creative engagement with arts and media processes, participants can re-vision collective futures
  • Compare the different working principles and theories of community arts practice in the demonstration site organisations
  • Test methodologies for evaluating cultural practice as an integral component of socioeconomic regeneration.
  • Provide a set of narrative insights, through cultural production, into the lived experience of poverty and social exclusion; broadening the range of evidence contributing to the UK national Poverty and Social Exclusion (PSE) Study (

This conference will explore those aspects of the project which complexify current understandings of the ‘social impacts’ of the arts:

  • providing a grounded analysis of histories of practice and specific creative processes
  • exploring different ways of activating arts and cultural practices as community assets (i.e. arts not simply ‘brought in’ from outside to impact communities
  • showing arts working within multi-agency arrangements;
  • exploring conflicts over the rationales for arts project design and evaluation by different organisations (government, NGO, corporate, commissioning, funding, etc.
  • questioning key concepts of power, participation, representation and agency in participatory arts and media practices
Although cultural policy debates are entrenched, the situation on the ground is dynamic, and tends to be driven by urgent pragmatism rather than ideological purism. Moving beyond a reliance on arguments about ‘instrumental’ versus ‘intrinsic’ benefits of arts participation, the project explores the role of creative participation in acting as a catalyst for social change, exploring the proposition that  “there is a fundamental connection to be explored between creativity and health as a pathologically optimistic expression of survival.[2]” Whilst concepts of ‘community’ and ‘participation’ with arts and media practice remain contingent, contested and partial, under some circumstances they may also retain the potential to articulate alternative values and visions to the dominant socio-economic order.  

Connected Communities is a RCUK cross-Council programme designed to help us understand the changing nature of communities in their historical and cultural contexts and the role of communities in sustaining and enhancing our quality of life. The programme seeks not only to connect research on communities, but to connect communities with research, bringing together community-engaged research across a number of core themes, including community health and wellbeing, community creativity, prosperity and regeneration, community values and participation, sustainable community environments, places and spaces, and community cultures, diversity, cohesion, exclusion, and conflict.
What will participants in the conference gain? 
  • learning from examples of interesting work elsewhere
  • heightened awareness of the key issues and challenges facing the field of participatory arts
  • access to resources/expertise/networks
  • broadening perspectives on the histories, values and politics of participatory arts and media practices
  • some ways to think beyond entrenched positions, views, and criticisms of participatory/community arts practices

Programme Outline

Sharing findings - with examples from each of the projects:

·      Theatre Modo working in Fraserburgh: the Maelstrom Project
·      Odd Numbers project (NADFLY/Baxendale/Love Milton) in Milton, North Glasgow
·      Bradford Community Broadcasting, Bradford
·      Swingbridge Media, North Tyneside

Keynote Speakers

Rahila Gupta, Southall Black Sisters: Imagining 'Communities'
François Matarasso: Community arts: histories, values, futures


Learning/training/mentoring/skills exchange for the field (Creative Scotland/Paul Hamlyn Foundation 'Artworks' project/Mary Dowson/Graham Jeffery)
2   The value of this work to individuals and communities (Tom Wakeford/BCB)
      Cultural participation and relationship to health and wellbeing (Kerrie Schaefer/Theatre Modo/NHSGGC)
      Myth, magic and regeneration (Neill Patton and Nicola Atkinson)
      Relationships to policy (Graham Jeffery)
      Creation of alternatives (Tom Wakeford/Kerrie Schaefer)

Who should attend?

Researchers, practitioners, policymakers, commissioners, evaluators, activists, curators, artists, citizens – people with an interest in the roles of the arts and media in community development and regeneration.

We welcome proposals for additional workshops, relevant to the conference theme, of 1 hour 15 minutes. Please email with details of your proposal, no later than Friday 15th February.

Registration details

An online system for registering for the conference will shortly be available. In the meantime please email to reserve a place. The cost of the day, which includes lunch/refreshments, is £50 (£40 for voluntary sector/students/unwaged participants).

The Remaking Society research team is made up of

Nicola Atkinson       NADFLY/Love Milton
Martin Danziger       Theatre Modo
Mary Dowson           Bradford Community Broadcasting
Lee Ivett                    Baxendale/Love Milton
Graham Jeffery        Reader in Music and Performance, University of the West of Scotland
Hugh Kelly               Swingbridge Media, North Tyneside
Neill Patton              Fieldworker and Researcher, The Cadispa Trust
Kerrie Schaefer       Senior Lecturer in Drama, University of Exeter
Tom Wakeford         Senior Research Fellow, School of Health in Social Science University of Edinburgh

[1] Mulligan, Humphery, James, Scanlon, Smith and Welch (2006: 22): Creating Community. Celebrations, Arts and Wellbeing Within and Across Local Communities, The Globalism Institute; Vic Health.

[2] White, M. (2009: 9): Arts Development in Community Health: A Social Tonic. Radcliffe Publishing.


Post a Comment