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.

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.

Calling teachers interested in educational and cultural exchange in the Caribbean

Over the last two years, Aspire has organised international  conferences for Principals and Head teachers from India, Nigeria and the UAE to visit UK schools.  We have also produced student exchange programmes for students from Nigeria, Serbia and Macedonia.

These events have been very powerful in establishing links between UK and overseas schools, developing educational exchanges, facilitating visits by UK Head teachers to India and offering unique insights into our mutual educational cultures.

Next year we are planning a similar programme of conferences in the Caribbean in conjunction with schools and universities there. To set up those programmes, I have been invited to visit Barbados, Trinidad and St Lucia in the first week of February to participate in a trade and culture mission with schools, the University, teachers and other colleagues.

If you would like your school to benefit from my visit – e.g. by making links with schools, connections with head teachers and pupils, curriculum developments, CPD opportunities or other possibilities – then please get in touch to discuss how I could facilitate connections and exchanges between those schools and your own. I can be contacted at nick@aspire-trust.org.

AspireBalkans – MISIM ZNAŠ, TAJ RAD; BRATE!

Greetings to the AspireBalkans blog, a one shop blog spot with information, offers, proposals, hunches and ideas about our forthcoming arts and creative education programmes across the Balkans. We’ve been working in Serbia since 2010, are building relationships in Macedonia, and looking forward to making new friends and colleagues in Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania, Slovenia and across the region in the years to come.

Our work in Obrenovac, Serbia started here:

https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2011/08/29/poetry-on-the-serbian-hoof/

And carries on here:

http://pascotd.weebly.com/index.html

Watch this space for further action!

Aspire Trust е организација за уметност од Велика Британија, посветена на трансформирање на животните приказни на луѓето на креативен начин.

Aspire Trust е организација за уметност од Велика Британија, посветена на трансформирање на животните приказни на луѓето на креативен начин. Ни причинува задоволство да објавиме дека после неодамнешните значителни инвестиции од Советот за уметност на Англија, во моментов планираме да го создадеме „Скапоцени“: врвен културен и образовен настан во англиканската катедрала во Ливерпул, во октомври 2012 година.

„Скапоцени“ ќе претставува инспиративна, мултимедијална театарска продукција со висок квалитет, направена врз основа на приказните од Титаник. Настанот ќе вклучува продукција на настани во живо, медиумски, дигитални и образовни настани, и општествени настани низ Велика Британија и во светот, и ќе се одржи првата недела во октомври 2012-та година.

Продукцијата ќе опфати приказни, филмски снимки, звучни пејзажи, изворна музика и театар во живо, со цел да се оживее патувањето на Титаник и да се истражат приказните на луѓето погодени од трагедијата. Поставена во навистина импресивната театарска сцена на англиканската катедрала, продукцијата ќе биде едно од највизионерските и неодоливите театарски искуства на годината.

Ние развиваме врвна стратегија за интернет-технологија и технологија на игри („Digi-Treasured“) којашто гарантира изненадувачка, иновациска и врвна форма на развој на публиката и нејзино учество, какви што нема во светот. Digi-Treasured ќе им овозможи на потенцијалните учесници да нурнат не само во продукцијата, туку и да учествуваат заедно со уметниците и публиката пред, за време на настанот и по самиот настан, преку уред за виртуелна реалност на интернет. Ова ќе биде од посебен интерес за луѓето кои не се во состојба да присуствуваат на самиот настан поради географските или временските разлики.

Во потрага сме по 12 (дванаесет) меѓународни партнери коишто се заинтересирани за можноста да работат заедно. Партнери може да бидат невладини организации, организации за уметност, училишта, претпријатија за информатичка и комуникациска технологија од приватниот сектор, универзитети: секој што е заинтересиран да учествува виртуелно во еден од најголемите настани за јавен настап во Велика Британија годинава.

Poetry on the Hoof: Serbian kids past present and future, tense.

Serbian kids
Listen to turbofolk,
And Californian surfing pop,
riding your pentatonic scales and beatbox bullets
With ease.

You gas gobble up the guezler with the guzzler,
The soviet command with the Yankee demand,
The eastern promise and western demise,
With aplomb and the lead free sonic shrapnel
ricochet of NATO bombing.

Economising where you can,
With the diphthongs and glottal stops,
Preferring instead Cyrillic imperatives of Ч, Ђ, Џ, Љ, Њ and Ћ.
Your present itch is our future tense.

you go
looking to Paris
looking to Boston
looking to Moscow
looking to Rome
looking to Istanbul
looking to Athens
looking to Budapest
looking to Home
looking to Belgrade
looking to Zagreb
looking to Skopje
to Sarajevo
Ljubljana
And Podgorica
Check out Pristina
wondering wtf lol SOS.
Past Perfect or imperfect?
Provisional or conditional?
But what a future it is.
We would be wised-up
to memorise it.
Hvala!

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.

Have a Nice Day – Belgrade Style

Someone says ‘I love you’  to someone else on a mobile and up and down the train carriage little messages of encouragement and protection flutter by which are offered as a way of saying ‘take care of yourself through the forthcoming day as you never know what’s around the corner’. The hidden but frequently visible primaeval anxiety of the unknown – wrapped in that little message of “take care…” followed by “and you…”

J tells me of the Macdonalds restaurant in Belgrade where staff handed out hundreds of free burgers during the civil unrest and the student gatherings in Belgrade round about the time of the NATO bombing. Never thought I’d say it but hurrah for Macdonalds and their staff.

We stop off at the Sanctuary, a pub opposite a famous church so named as it protected the artists, leftists and radicals from the police: a secular place which is just a stones throw from the spiritual sanctuary offered by the church. They were always left alone apart from when Milosovic was in power  who then cracked down on them.

I can see why if you were a young firebrand all the bombings and corruption and edginess of it would appeal:  a rock and roll life style for those with no musical ability or talent – the X Factor with balls guts and high stakes – and where things matter more, are more heightened, have a greater intensity than the living of your life in a progression of civil obedience and decorum. Or as a member of a boy band for that matter.