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The art of positive conversations by Jenny Peevers

My exploration of the world through the arts has led me into different disciplines including urban design, community development and health and wellbeing. Essentially though, the focus is that of people and places. From my experience, it is evident that the arts have a valuable role in rethinking matters related to public space, cultural diversity and social cohesion. Arts projects can bring people together and facilitate a space to think. They can create an opportunity to step out of the confines of expected attitudes and judgments and open up a space to ‘be’, individually and collectively.

An example of such a project is Bostin Chats. The Borough of Sandwell Public Health wanted to find out how to structure their services to best support and improve resident’s wellbeing. They commissioned Creative Health CIC to creatively consult with a number of groups who would be unlikely to complete the more conventional surveys. The groups (with our guidance) selected an artist who engaged with them to explore their personal thoughts and stories about their lives and the assets that they felt contributed positively to their wellbeing. The assets were then visually recorded through the illustration of an Asset Map. The quality and emotional depth of the conversations was remarkable and insightful. One group, who were newcomers, selected sound artist Justin Wiggan, who started the workshop with an immersive listening activity. The group then talked about the sounds they heard, how it made them feel and what it reminded them of. They then explored different aspects of their lives through creative writing followed by spoken word performances using voice-manipulating equipment. It seemed like the sounds created a protected space where participants felt safe, confident and energised. The stories were highly personal and emotional, revealing a rich variety of assets, including high-level professional skills, valuable knowledge and connections. The council could then make informed, strategic decisions about where best to place their limited resources to mobilise those assets. The project is also a great example of a progressive council who recognise the need to have meaningful conversations. With such an approach they can focus their resources on supporting the strengths and potential within a community rather than always focus on the problems.
For more details about the project click here Bostin Chats.

The following quote from Jeanette Winterson beautifully articulates how art projects work so powerfully:

“(Art) can waken us to truths about ourselves and our lives; truths that normally lie suffocated under the pressure of the 24-hour emergency zone called real life. Art can bring us back to consciousness, sometimes quietly, sometimes dramatically, but the responsibility to act on what we find is ours.” (Winterson, 2002)

So, art has something unique to contribute to the considerations of public space, cultural diversity and social cohesion, and to the multi-disciplinary approaches of MELA. I look forward to the rich, meaningful and positive conversations.

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