PASCO: animating communities through the creative industries (future possibilities)

 The PASCO (Performing Arts Scene in Obrenovac) project has had significant effects on the cultural infrastructure in the Obrenovac municipality since the project started in 2009. Due to generous support both locally, Buskerud County in Norway and the KS funding programme of the Norwegian government, PASCO has had demonstrable economic, cultural and social impact on the region. The Aspire Trust, together with its Serbian and Norwegian partners had a critical role to play and this post discusses what could be provided in the short term in order to maintain the project momentum and continue to build cultural capacity.

There are three important processes we believe could be undertaken to embed the work of PASCO in Obrenovac and further afield:

* Accrediting practitioners as qualified community artists – a process which will give them credibility and visibility nationally and internationally;

* The provision of professional development programmes (both accredited and unaccredited) for teachers who are looking to develop their own skills in the field;

* The development of enterprise and small business start up skills in the region, particularly focused on the development of the cultural sector and creative industries.

Details of these proposals are as follows.

Accredited Courses: Foundation Degree in Community Arts (FDCA)

The FDCA places a significant emphasis on developing collaborative skills in interdisciplinary arts practice through drawing on, extending and focusing professional arts skills and applying them in a range of community contexts.

Designed by Aspire and accredited by the University of Chester in the UK, the course provides the knowledge, understanding and work-related skills required to play active and proactive roles in the community arts industry. Students reflect on their work and develop the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills required to work as arts practitioners and team members.

Modules are offered at either Level 4 within the UK Higher Education Qualification framework and can be offered at two levels (Level A for beginners Level B for those with more experience.)

Module titles at Level 4A include:

Workshop Skills                  Workshops form the foundation of all community arts practice. Gaining an understanding of the different approaches to running workshops, the theories that underpin the workshop process and how they can be applied in different contexts is essential to the work of the community artist.

Creative Process                  Successful community arts projects rely on a finding a concept which can be developed and realised through the integration of a number of art forms. At the core of this process is a creativity that permeates the progress of the project enabling a variety of practitioners and participants to make their contributions.

Research Skills                                    Gaining as detailed a picture of the landscape and environment as possible, both past and present, will provide a firm foundation for community arts projects. Developing and interest in finding out and the skills with which to do it form a significant part of the community arts process.

Project Development                  Like any other activity community arts projects require good management and administration. Clearly defined aims and objectives need to be planned, budgets and timetables identified and information communicated to all those involved in the safe delivery of a programme.

Module titles at Level 4B include:

Workshop Leader                  Practical experience of running workshops for as many different kinds of groups and in as many different situations as possible is the best way to learn how to become a workshop leader. Starting with the aims and objectives of community groups, working to a plan, improvising if circumstances arise, being able to recognise and correct errors are all part of the process.

The Creative Practitioner                  The work of the creative practitioner in the community is to respond to the aims and objectives of that community. Responses could be based on a single art form, but community arts projects that are based on a combination of art forms have more chance of attracting a range of people to participate, and therefore have a greater likelihood of being inclusive.

The Researcher                   Community Arts work is being practiced by individuals and organisations locally, regionally and nationally. A starting point for both finding employment and creating work has to be a sound knowledge and understanding of what work has happened recently and is happening at the moment.

Further details are available upon request.

The MPPACT Programme: Methodology for Pupil and Performing Arts Centred Teaching 

The involvement of teachers from Obrenovac in PASCO has been another essential element in the project’s success: we would suggest that should other municipalities develop their own PASCO type programme, that accredited CPD programmes for teachers could be established early on in the process.

Aspire  together with a number of other European partners have designed and delivered  the MPPACT project: the Methodology for Pupil and Performing Arts Centred Teaching  Project.   MPPACT was designed and developed by a range of experienced educational partners from around Europe and co-ordinated in the UK by the University of Winchester.  Other project partners were: VIA University College, Viborg, Denmark:  the European Performers House, Silkeborg, Denmark; the Hellenic Theatre / Drama & Education Network, Athens, Greece; the Directorate Of Secondary Education Of Eastern Attica, Greece; the University Of Peloponnese, Greece and  the University of Cyprus.

The purpose of the programme is to foster new teaching practices that engages with contemporary social realities and their reflection in the classroom, and recognises a new broader role for the teacher as pedagogue and works from pupils own creativity, imaginations and criticality.

It does this through the application of arts based disciplines which can develop new means of learning for children and adults, can provide new forms of knowledge and can be instrumental in catalysing personal and social transformation. The emphasis of the programme is on the creativity, imagination, resourcefulness and inspiration that teachers bring to their classrooms and how this can be enhanced, developed and celebrated.

MPPACT’s objectives are:

1. To evolve an integrated arts-based approach to teaching through the sharing of disciplines;

2. To foster educators abilities to revive pupil’s motivation to learn, using participatory performing arts practices and exploring young people’s own creativity and criticality;

3. To develop new practices that foster a ‘co-intentional’ synergy between pupil and teacher;

4. To develop a training course offering an alternative classroom strategy for achieving a critical understanding of relevant social issues;

5. To support and document the process and publish its outputs through web, DVD and printed media.

Further details are available upon request.

Informal Courses

We recognise that full time or long programmes may not be suitable for some artists or teachers so would also recommend providing short, focussed interventions for practitioners as follows:

The Creative Entrepreneur:                  A week long course will provide participants with the skills to become a provider of websites, photographic services, corporate and community video, and graphic design. It will provide the learner with the essential skills they need to successfully create websites for online businesses and develop their abilities as an all round producer of media. During the project, participants will create their own online portfolio for their own website which they can then use to promote themselves and their services. The course consists of the following modules: WordPress and e-commerce; Photoshop Essentials for Graphic Design; Making promotional videos; Photography: product, portraits, websites; Creative Writing.

 Visual Artists in Early Years:                   a 2 day programme which introduces Early Years practitioners to working with visual arts skills in order to develop creative practice of both practitioners and very young children between 3 and 5 years old.

 Rhythm and Things:                   a 2 day programme of training and skills development in singing, musical composition and percussion for Early  Years practitioners; and a parallel 2 day programme of skills and knowledge development for  musicians who wish to work in the Early Years sector, taught by Early Years practitioners.

 Creative Writing in Schools:                   a 4 day programme which develops teacher’s creative writing skills in order for them to develop their own pupils writing abilities.

 Film in a Day:                    a day long programme which introduces learners to the skills of film-making, both in front of and behind the camera.  Each learner ends up with their own copy of their own film at the end of the day!

Cultural Leadership and Enterprise Programme (CLEP)

CLEP would aim to provide knowledge, skills and expertise to new business developers who are working in the field of culture and the creative industries in Obrenovac and the surrounding municipalities in the fields of creative  and cultural leadership and enterprise.

CLEP would provide leaders in the fields of creative industries and culture a programme of activity which will contribute to developing a sustainable cultural and creative sector in the region.  This will include the fields of film, media, theatre, dance, music, visual arts, web design, graphic design etc.

CLEP will be structured around the following programme:

Business Start-Up Weekends – for those who are interested in starting up their businesses but have yet to take the first step

Entrepreneurship Bootcamps – for entrepreneurs who need additional focused advice and guidance on specific entrepreneurial issues

Enterprise Learning Programs – a suite of activities which provide specific skills to business developers who are interested in specific areas of expertise e.g. fund raising, Intellectual property, project management etc

Enterprise Clubs – social events in which members of the PEP network are able to share experiences, expertise, advice and contacts

Mentoring – Building A mentoring Network – for all leaders who want to learn at their own rate and in their own time, e.g. through on-line mentoring services

Sectoral Start-Up – workshops which focus on specific sectors e.g. film, graphic design, theatre

Business Networking & Other Events – opportunities to meet other business leaders from other sectors and other countries to share knowledge, contacts and expertise.

Future posts suggest long term strategies and possibilities.

PASCO: animating communities through the creative industries (the Aspire role)

The PASCO (Performing Arts Scene in Obrenovac) project has had significant effects on the cultural infrastructure in the Obrenovac municipality since the project started in 2009. Due to generous support both locally, Buskerud County in Norway and the KS funding programme of the Norwegian government, PASCO has had demonstrable economic, cultural and social impact on the region. The Aspire Trust, together with its Serbian and Norwegian partners had a critical role to play and this post discusses how that role was played out and what specific approaches were taken to achieve that success.

The Aspire Trust: a brief introduction

Aspire is dedicated to touching lives through creativity. Whether 3 or 93 years old, we offer a range of stimulating, innovative and challenging arts based programmes which will help people tell new stories, create new opportunities and learn new skills.

We were founded in 2002 as an Education Action Zone (EAZ) in the Wirral, UK  to help students in schools in deprived communities increase their educational attainment, attendance in school and attitudes to learning. It was so successful that when the EAZ funding ended in 2004, the Trust continued as an independent social enterprise and registered charity.  From its local beginnings in Wallasey, the Aspire Trust has grown into a truly international enterprise with links in India, the Middle East, Nigeria, and across Europe: most notably in Serbia, the Balkans and South East Europe.

What does  Aspire do?

The methodology informing our core activities is based on community arts based practice: a form which has been proven over many decades, in many different cultural contexts to have significant economic, social and cultural effects on local communities and economies across the world.  Whilst visible in the UK, the USA, Australia and many other countries across the world, it is also frequently prevalent in many parts of the world although its adherents and practitioners would not necessarily name it ‘community arts’ as such.

Its identification is made more difficult as its practice is hard to pin down and determine with any degree of clarity; it is  a concept which many people find hard to understand, sometimes equating it with amateur arts, arts activism or arts therapy.

However, we are quite clear about what we mean by ‘community arts’: it is arts practice which has a social purpose, uses high quality participatory techniques and is presented in a wide range of public spaces.   It uses creative and collaborative arts practice to identify the things that matter to people, to engage them in connecting them to their communities and the wider world and to tell tales that need to be told.

There is necessarily a fundamental connection between professional artists and communities in this process and that connection is characterised by people working together for a common good  – whether this be cultural, social or economic. It is not just about professional practitioners doing something ‘for’ or ‘to’ people; it is not just about teaching and learning new skills and it is not just about developing products and services which reflect particular issues that a community may face – although it may involve all of these things to a lesser or greater degree.

Rather, Community Arts practice emerges from the combination of social purpose, purposeful participation and production and promotion in public spaces: it is not a definable product or service which can easily be packaged up but a phenomenon which arises when a combination of people, places and politics coalesce at a particular point in time, space and history.

It is this methodology and approach we introduced to the PASCO project in 2009 and which we would suggest has been an important element of the success of the programme since then.

How did Aspire contribute to PASCO?

Aspire contributed knowledge and expertise through the following elements of the PASCO project:

Web design (Morning Movers) and Marketing workshops (October 2010)

Advice and Guidance on production of Christmas Show (December 2010)

Production of 2 short films made by PASCO participants (PASCO Film School, December 2010)

Delivery of workshops in performing arts for disabled people (December 2010)

Course design and delivery of the Autumn School, Buskerud (October 2011)

Shadow Theatre and Puppets workshops (May 2012)

Workshop on Partnership and Collaboration (November 2012)

Performing Arts workshops for UK based site specific production, Treasured (May 2012)

Cultural Exchange in Liverpool with students from FYR Macedonia (October 2012)

Furthermore, the results of other elements of the programme can also be viewed online:

Morning Movers short documentary film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ky209K2JdqQ

Visit to Liverpool as part of the Treasured project:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJWiwDoSilg

Short film: Kuda Ide Ovaj Zivot (Where Is This Life Going?):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYrTC_zTbVM

Short film: The Book of Life

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21HpzRJXtck

Thursday Beatbox short documentary film:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuajksxYFN4

Short film: Anti-Dream Candy

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WXrKYeDlxk

How did Aspire contribute to the success of  PASCO?

Aspire’s arts based methodology is based on community arts principles: arts practice which has a social purpose, uses high quality participatory techniques and is presented in a wide range of public spaces.  There are several implications of this practice for artists, teachers, practitioners and participants which we aim to address when it comes to participating or leading a project.  These are as follows.

Social purpose

Community arts practice is driven by a social agenda: this may involve attempting to address a number of social ills such as unemployment, social exclusion or cultural intolerance.  Whatever the motive, it is the social agenda that provides the ‘call to action’ for community artists, not the cultural agenda implicit in an ‘arts for arts sake’ model.

Participation

Community Arts practice depends on the ability of its practitioners to engage a wide range of people in a diverse range of settings, spaces and cultural contexts.  Frequently, they may be working with people for whom school and traditional, didactic ways of teaching and learning are not appropriate. Consequently, they need to understand that their strategies of engaging people in the creative process rely heavily on constructivist forms of learning: forms which are experiential, value the voice and experience of the participant and which are about facilitating peoples expressiveness and creativity, as opposed to instructing them.

Presentation

Without the element of presentation in community arts projects,  work becomes too process orientated and means that the audience from whom the work stemmed are unable to comment on or feedback to the artists and participants who were responsible for generating the work in the first place.  This issue is constantly referred to in debates of whether ‘process or product’ is more important in the community arts field:  our view is that both elements are equally important.  Presentation however does not have to happen in traditional platforms of the theatre or gallery; they can also take place in the housing block, the day centre or increasingly on-line via blogs, YouTube, Facebook or other social networking sites.  What is critical in this part of the work is that whatever is produced or published to the wider public has to be of the highest quality: not just its production values but with the necessary frameworks around the work which help contextualise the work to audiences who may not be  familiar with the background to a particular context.

Partnership working

We aim  to build effective partnerships between  artists, educators and participants.  By ‘partnership’ we mean the development of relationships which are based upon principles of co-constructing, co-delivering and co-assessing unique, challenging and innovative creative arts educational projects in which all participants’ voices are heard.   The principles we aim to adhere to behind effective partnership working are available on line at https://www.dropbox.com/s/na92hsteaiu2yef/effectivepships.ppt

Commitment to Professional development

We believe and are committed to delivering practice which extends and enhances teachers own  skills, expertise and approaches: if this occurs in a project, then the work has more likelihood of being sustainable in the future.   Therefore, where-ever practical, we offer  sustainable, innovative and rigorous continuing professional development  (CPD) programmes for teachers which focuses on the application of arts disciplines and techniques for the greater purpose of  pupil attainment, attendance in school and attitudes to learning. Arts practice in this context is of an instrumental nature, not an ‘arts for arts sake’ practice which values and privileges the voice of the artist over all others.

Programmes in which all partners learn from each other

PASCO programmes have not simply been a model of importing a UK skill set into a particular cultural context in Obrenovac: an essential part of the process for us has been the learning by our practitioners of other knowledges, skills and expertise which our Serbian and Norwegian colleagues have bought to us.  The process has particularly added to the richness of our experience and knowledge of Eastern Europe and this has been a vital element in the ongoing success of the project.

Programmes which challenge participants with high quality intellectual resources

Where-ever practical, we have aimed to critically challenge and support new approaches to theatrical and media production by all participants.  This entails a pedagogical approach which doesn’t just accept ‘first choice’ material when it comes to creating new work but continues to ‘raise the bar’ for participants and offer new and innovative methods of creative practice.

Offer long term relationships with partners

It has been important for us from the onset to see the PASCO project as a long term commitment by us to all the partners.  This has meant that we have been able to build on the work achieved and plan for different opportunities e.g. when funding streams come to an end.

Recast learners in new roles and identities whilst offering them new ways to articulate learner voice

This is perhaps the most critical part of the methodology we use: the need to allow other participants to redefine themselves and ‘find their voice’ in ways which have not been traditionally available to them.  This was most noticeable in the workshops run at the Disability Day Centres in Obrenovac and Belgrade in May 2011.

Future posts describe the development of the programme in Serbia and beyond and suggest possible horizons of what might happen next.

Flow: prayer for a provisional ending

As life begins
The circle of evolution continues
Life flows through my body
like the wind blows through nature.

Flowing beside the city
Beside the river
Down by the docks
Along the far side of the port,

My words and stories evolve into thoughts and memories
and through these
my world becomes a performance.

A place where the boats fill up
The seagulls fly straight
And the passengers look out
To a place and time

Where my imagination flows
My humanity becomes a performance
Where possibilities begin
And end and begin again.

The tide surges
It falls back
The salmon are left on the shoreline
Waiting for the signals

To call them back
To the ocean
And back to the stream
They left in their youth.

But will the flow ever end?

Composed with Emily Frodsham on the morning of the death of Steve Jobs, as part of the final performance of the Flow Community Arts Autumn School, Sigdal, Norway.

Geoff Pennycook, in memoriam.

Naming and Shaming in the wonderful world of Community Arts.

It’s been about 10 years since I last set foot in a proper community arts class. Sure, there’s been all manner of community based practice in all manner of places and contexts, but working with students offer you something else again, something extra and something that has a kind of vital, urgent quality to it.

There’s more at stake in one sense: if we get this right, then those students will take the work elsewhere and effect changes themselves. The catalytic possibilities of teaching community artists is perhaps mirrored only by those who train teachers (putting aside for one moment the Pavlovian implications of the act of ‘training’).

It’s been like trying to ride a bike again after having been off the roads only to find that the pleasant country lanes you used to amble down have now turned into dual carriageways and are infested by speed cameras.

Remembering all the necessary moves, the highway code and the thinking that’s necessary to navigate students through these processes has all coming flooding back in the strangest of moments. I’d forgotten the delights and possibilities of ‘gnomes, goblins and elves’ until the moment we started to throw ourselves around on the outdoor decking at the start of a foggy Norwegian morning in the middle of a large Norwegian Wood.

Of course, one of the first things you need to get to grips with early on is the dreaded name game; an attempt to elicit some information from your participants about who they are, where they’re from and what their favourite potnoodle is. This gets problematic sometimes when you set up the rules incorrectly so that some poor bugger at the end of a circle of 42 people has to remember everyone else’s names, gestures and personal morning habits. It gets even more problematic if you’ve spent many of your last ten years in bars of various descriptions only to find yourself with your memory shot to pieces, and unable to remember the name of the person who you last spoke to not just 5 seconds ago.

The advent of Facebook over the last ten years means that disclosure of yourself in this context is now a lot more problematic. There are now distinct possibilities, if you’re so inclined, for you to get to know much more about your fellow participants and workshop leader than they may feel comfortable with disclosing during those early first session gambits. You can find out various intimate things about them, read opinions about them and formulate your own idea about who you’re working with to a much greater degree than you could in 2001.

This is not specific to the community arts professional of course – but given the informality of the practice in general and its dependency on establishing equitable, respectful relationships, the influence of Facebook amongst the faces in front of you in that first session when you’re trying to remember everyone’s names, does lend another dimension to proceedings.

I’m reminded too, ten years on, that the naming of your fellow participants is not only the problematic naming ceremony in this neck of the cultural woods. The naming of the practice – “community arts” still causes many people to come out in a kind of ideological rash.

Community Arts – What’s that then? Was a common gag at LIPA ten years ago and it still manages to lead to endless hours of description, analysis and definition amongst everyone who finds themselves at the start of a teaching programme.

Its been recast as ‘participatory arts’; as ‘arts in a social context’; as ‘voluntary arts’ and all manner of other descriptions which desperately try to avoid the ‘c’ word. This is hardly surprising given how the ‘c’ word has been misappropriated by so many over so long; but nevertheless, the preponderance of alternatives never quite manages to kill the term, ‘Community Arts’, stone cold dead.

It’s also managed to have been completely written off the contemporary cultural education map since 2002 with the advent of Creative Partnerships and all its offspring and cousins. One argument goes that the basis of CP practice has been based almost entirely on an ethos that is found in the roots, practice and theory of community arts: but given CP’s unending anxiety about claiming that it was never just an arts education programme, it was never then going to admit openly that the arts practice it was predicated upon was that of the ‘c’ word. That would have been a naming gambit one step too far.

What’s different about the development of International Community Artists? Flowing towards international community arts practice in Norway

To re-write Peter Brook in his 1987 book, The Shifting Point:

What do we need from performance? What do we bring to the event? What in the artisti process needs to be prepared, what needs to be left free? What is narrative? What is character? Does the event tell something or does it work through a sort of intoxication? What belongs to physical energy, what belongs to emotion, what belongs to thought? What can be taken from an audience, what must be given? What responsibilities must we take for what we leave behind? What change can a performance bring about? What can be transformed?

Big questions from a big man and exactly the questions emergent community artists should always be asking of themselves.

What are we looking for from those young artists? And how does their training differ from an actor’s, or dancer’s or visual artist’s training? What are the differences between an ‘actor’ and a ‘performer’ in a community based context? Whilst arts skills are clearly essential for fledgling artists, are they the be-all and end-all?

Artists working a community contexts may well find themselves working in a number of different contexts which require them to play very different roles:
* actors in a Theatre in Education (TiE) shows
* Master of Ceremonies (MC) in a club or community centre,
* teachers in class,
* preachers in funding meetings
* actors in a ‘straightforward’ show in a theatre,
* facilitators with a group of young people,
* interactive performers in a museum or gallery,
* as a TV, video or radio presenter.

The relationship of the performer to ‘text’ is an interesting issue to start exploring. A lot of performance work may be in devised / improvised productions in which ‘text’ will not necessarily be language based, and is often unlikely to be the first impulse to a production. ‘Text’ as we know it may not even appear until after the production has ‘finished’.

Our relationship with ‘The Author of the Text’ who is somehow above or separate to our process will be radically different from a context which is designed to honour and respect the word of the author above everything else. One consequence of this could be, for example, that we have to reconsider whether and when the notion of us developing in-depth character psychological profiles, performed in naturalistic, ‘4th Wall’ settings which require little in the way of audience participation are of relevance to us.

Flowing towards contemporary community arts practice continues to exercise the youngest and oldest of practitioners and the advent of social networking in recent years means that old assumptions about the identity of individuals and groups has to be completely re-thought.

Further work on Flow: the Norwegian International Autumn School in Community Arts in Sigdal, Norway, here: