PASCO: animating communities through the creative industries (Introduction)

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 as follows:

Economic impact

* Increased numbers of young people trained in the creative industries;

* Increased mobility of young people and professional practitioners across Europe;

* Increased skills of teachers in the creative industries and performing arts;

* Increased numbers of small businesses and sole traders who are working in the cultural and creative sector;

* Increased use of the facilities at the Obrenovac Culture House and a consequent increase in spending on local facilities such as restaurants, bars and clubs etc;

* Increased funding released from the municipality on culturally related programmes

* Increased funding applications to European funding sources e.g. European Collaboration Fund, Balkans Incentive Fund, Youth in Action

Social impact

* Increased activities which increase self esteem, confidence and sociability of young people attending centres for disabled people in the town;

* Increased social activities for young people both in and out of school;

* Increased interest from other municipalities in the PASCO model from neighbouring municipalities which has led to extension activities with other European partners e.g. in Grocka, Belgrade, Nis and other Serbian towns and cities.

Cultural impact

* Increased learning opportunities for young people and teachers in schools in matters relating to the creative industries e.g. film, performance, project management, fundraising;

* Increased production capacity of films, theatre productions, dance productions and visual arts exhibitions;

* Increased audience numbers at the Culture House.

PASCO has had this impact due to several key factors:

* An economic commitment to the programme by the municipality;

* The willingness by key local organisations to support the programme e.g. schools, cultural organisations, municipality departments;

* A commitment by the Norway and UK partners to sustain the programme over a 3 year period and beyond;

* A flexibility in project delivery which is responsive to local need and requirements.

This and future posts describe how these outcomes were achieved and to assess what contribution the UK partner, the Aspire Trust, made to the project. It also aims to provide recommendations on how future urban regeneration programmes might be designed, the kind of partnership profile required of partners and the knowledges, skills and attitudes that practitioners require in order to effect the kind of changes that have been witnessed within PASCO.

The transformation witnessed in Obrenovac has not however been a one-way street; Aspire itself  benefitted significantly from participating in the programme in the following ways:

* Increased work opportunities for young practitioners working in Aspire to apply their knowledge and skills within a European context;

* Increased mobility professional practitioners across Europe;

* Increased financial turnover of the company, helping to secure its long term future;

* Increased funding from UK based organisations to assist in the long term strategic development of the company across the wider region e.g. Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Bulgaria

* Increased applications to European funding sources e.g. European Collaboration Fund, Balkans Incentive Fund, Youth in Action.

* Increased activities which engage UK practitioners with other practitioners from Serbia, Norway and other European countries, helping to locate their practice within a wider European context;

* Increased cultural partnerships established with other cultural and educational organisations in South East Europe and the Balkans e.g. FYR Macedonia, Bulgaria and Croatia.

* Increased knowledge and understanding of the history and culture of Serbia and the region as a whole.

This and future posts are intended for the benefit of teachers, academics and professional arts workers who wish to learn from the PASCO experience and adapt it for their own purposes.

We hope too that it acts as an inspiration for future graduate students who wish to animate and activate their own communities through the application of the arts and creative industries.

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: