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What is the Artist’s Responsibility in Addressing Social Issues?

By Rachel Shnapp

Rachel Shnapp

This past weekend, I found myself having lunch with a friend and a stranger. The friend, similarly to myself, is a filmmaker and facilitator of creative activities for young people in rural communities. The stranger, also a filmmaker and facilitator of both creative and career opportunities for young people, works in the South of Scotland, like my friend and myself (as I did up until recently).

The conversation over lunch meandered from our individual film practices, desires and influences, to creative opportunities for young people in the South of Scotland, and in rural Scotland more generally, to the role of arts organisations in tackling, or at least contributing to, the social issues that are so frequently found in rural spaces, and what responsibility art practitioners have to help.

Image by Rachel Shnapp

These are questions that, over the past year, have seeped into the conversations I have had with colleagues, mentors, and friends. Whilst programming events for young people, my team and I very quickly learned that the creative output really is not the goal of this work. What the goal is, though, is a very big question. More than that, it has hugely wide scoping answers. I’ll hazard a guess in saying that some of the aims are to create an environment for young people to explore their own creative practice, to experiment with the arts in various media, to have stimulating conversations with other people that may push the parameters of their perception of the world. But, of course, it’s a lot more than that. What some young people in rural communities lack is not simply the ability to create artworks, but safe spaces in which they can explore, grow and experiment. Where they can spend the long winter nights with friends out of the cold and the wind. Where they can be around people who will accept and support them for who they are, inclusive of any and all traits and qualities.

Of course, there is the need for young people to simply gather with others to creatively make and explore, but as it is said again and again, no art exists in a vacuum, nor does the creative facilitation that works on in the background behind the art. Young people also need all the things that society is not yet providing them with, and, whether it’s right or not, if some of that support comes from the creative community, then is that really such a bad thing? At least in that case, it’s coming from somewhere. Instead of shying away from the reality that arts organisations and practitioners have been and still are relied on to do developmental work, they should lean into it, finding organisational partners with the relevant expertise with whom they can mutually support each other to make change.

I was having lunch with my friend and a stranger, and once I’d left the café, I realised the conversation we had was one that, a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to contribute to at all. I would have sat at the table shocked at these people’s’ knowledge of the rural art scene, the social issues being faced in rural Scotland, and their intersection. It’s easy to forget what we’ve learned once we’ve learned it. One year on since beginning Creative Spaces, I’ve learned more than I could have imagined about creative production, creative youth work, and the arts in rural spaces. I’ve learned more than I could have imagined about what it is to be a young person today in rural Scotland, independent of my own experience, and I’ve learned that being a creative practitioner (whether you identify as an artist or not), is rarely just about you and your work. As I said, we don’t create in a vacuum, we create in a world, a world that’s sadly riddled with social injustices. I think that if we can all play our part in seeing that world become a little bit safer for even a few people, then the world would be a better place altogether.

To me, good art is that which comes as close to the truth as possible.

It’s hard to ignore the truth when you’re looking right at it, and the truth is that Scotland, particularly its rural regions, have a lot of social issues that aren’t being addressed. I may not have a complete answer to the question I have posed, but I’m proud to be part of the conversation.

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News Project Updates

PRESENCE an Art-in-Between Commission update

By Jo Hodges and Robbie Coleman

We are coming to the end of working on the Art_Inbetween commission and it’s been a fascinating process.  The outcome is a work called PRESENCE which is a set of cards to be used as ‘A divining tool for journeys through the restless territories and blurred boundaries of art in the social or public realm’ the cards are a creative tool to explore and reveal aspects of a project or practice and to provoke discussion and exploration.

Background

PRESENCE is a research led response to some of the questions that arose during the Art_Inbetween Summit held at The Stove Network earlier in 2016. The summit attempted to describe the distinctiveness of an evolving ‘rural’ contemporary arts practice with an emphasis on social/participatory/public art across the UK and our starting point was to try and understand this distinctiveness. What are the differences between rural arts practice and projects in urban settings with similar intentions or processes?

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During the research phase, we worked with a number of artists, curators and producers using a word card process to explore core features of practice and context. These conversations were interesting and delved into territories that were slippery and shifting, we felt this area had more to offer to a wider audience. We began to work with the idea that practice was perhaps more important and distinctive than location and so the work began on developing PRESENCE; a method to explore and open up projects and practice that could become a companion on creative journeys, a navigational aid that could help understand and articulate the aims, methods and values of a project or practice. There are 16 CARDS, each exploring a core element of practice. Each card has a number of questions on the reverse. We suggest picking one or more card at regular intervals through a live project (or project development) and letting the questions lead into conversation and discussion.

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The Cards

We see the cards as a ‘divining tool’ in the process of making creative work. They cannot be used to navigate the straightest, fastest route through a project or process but provide different positions to view the route from. They are not instructions or a model to build a project around and have no opinions about the best way to conduct a project – each project (and artist) is unique. Their role is to prompt, disrupt habits, to revisit assumptions and reassess progress and to re-excite artists and collaborators about their work and provide a tool for exploring projects and practice.

 We have tried to create a process that will result in a series of overlapping views from different positions (The points of interest in situated or social practice are not stationary and two dimensional, but three dimensional and moving, sometimes through time as well as space) This compound eye allows us to examine the same issues from different positions and so learn different things from each viewpoint.

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presence-backs

Open Source Future

PRESENCE is an open source project: all questions, concepts and card designs can be challenged, refuted or replaced. Our version is a starting point from which new sets can be constructed specifically tailored to a project or practice. A website is in the process of being set up that will include all design tools and templates to allow people to easily make new sets and upload their designs for others to use.

Huge thanks to everybody who contributed to the summit and to those who have helped with the development of PRESENCE.

If you are interested in getting a set of the PRESENCE cards – please contact johodges100@gmail.com

More info about the project can be downloaded here