The Art Works was the second phase of a community arts project working on behalf of Lime Art. I worked with textile / surface designer and educator Hazel Hewitt to engage a group of adults who attend a weekly job club at a college in Wigan. The aim was to create a programme of 6 sessions spread out one evening a week from October-November, in order to provide the opportunity for job club attendees to learn new skills, increase their confidence and have an outlet for self-expression.
Our workshops quickly evolved into a creative, drop-in social space for a small number of core participants. As opposed to taught sessions, it became clear that participants wanted to try out new techniques such as printing, mark-making, sewing, paper-construction, etc. The project evolved as a safe space to express feelings and personal issues through creative activity, rather than work in a prescriptive manner to create an end product. The approach was participant-led as it emerged that each participant had a particular idea or interest and wanted to develop this individually.
As an example, one participant who was initially reluctant to join as he was only there "for job club", revealed a former interest in photographing local landscapes, building dry stone walls and making charcoal! His enthusiasm and confidence increased as he brought shoe boxes full of photos to sort through, edit and select. We facilitated this process of editing, selecting and curating an exhibition of photos. We also suggested ways to mount, frame and potentially sell the photos, encouraging him to recognise the value and quality of his photographic 'hobby'.
Although aimed at adults only, a couple of dads decided to bring their children along to the sessions. This altered the dynamic of the group as the children were energetic, easily excited and enthusiastic to try out lots of different things. They confidently worked their way through the range of materials in a more exploratory manner. It was perhaps a good thing that there were two artist-facilitators present as it meant that one of us could engage the children, whilst the other could give more attention to the adults, who regularly asked for one-to-one assistance.
We felt that we only touched on the surface of what we could offer in terms of developing individualised projects. Unfortunately, 6 x 3 hour sessions didn't seem enough for the group to really become absorbed. Project momentum only seemed to pick up halfway through and participants couldn't always arrive on time or attend every session. At the end, participants expressed their desire for the sessions to continue as a regular, social, drop-in creative space - a place where they could work, talk and have lots of tea and biscuits! It also became clear that they felt like things were suddenly ending, just as they were building confidence to try new things.
This programme of activities followed on from another project led by artist Johnny Woodhams during the summer, in which another group worked together to create plans and artworks for an outdoor shelter to be installed within the local community area. This group will be building and installing an outdoor gazebo, which will function as a shelter, alternative gallery/performance and multi-purpose space within a community garden. The structure is due to be installed in spring 2013 and it is hoped that, from this, the groups will come together in order to decide on a programme of creative, community activity.... watch this space!