Workshop 1: Art and citizenship

A university created and run by refugees > Social enterprises forged through vulnerable street children creating a circus > Historic injustices and everyday niggles aired and shared through joining a complaints choir > An energy cooperative developed from street parties > A nation-wide exchange economy fuelled through independent music festivals > Urban transport nightmares tackled through graffiti vigilantism > An inclusive cross-generational school fashioned collaboratively inside a recently re-opened nuclear exclusion zone > A local currency invented by artist activists to challenge conventional finance > Young people collectively strengthening their communities through hip hop > The global corporate policy of a major multi-national changed through targeted and intimate craftivism > Accelerating gentrification tackled through creative activists serving eviction notices on art galleries > A grassroots people’s development toolkit and community land trust co-created with artists in a devastated city...

These inspiring and often courageous actions, and many many others like them, are happening at this moment all over the world. Whilst seemingly disparate, they are all contributing to radical reimaginings of citizenship and action through culture and creativity. They are people-centred and collective in spirit, and forcefully driven by unshakeable values. They occupy fresh territories of the imagination and build community, ownership and possibility, mostly and at times deliberately beyond existing institutions. They are foregrounding radical thinking and doing. Perhaps most importantly, while most have art and culture as their starting point, these actions are primarily focussed on tackling real-world issues and are challenging deeply-embedded conventions of our prevailing social, as well as cultural, structures.

This socially engaged practice works in the ‘undisciplined’ space at the intersection of the usually segregated worlds of art, activism and
development. Not delivering yet another fleeting spectacle, privileging yet another solo artist’s ego-project or responding to yet another non-negotiable but profoundly misguided requirement of an institution or a funder. Rather it helps to enable people themselves - the 99% - to realise their inherent agency and human capabilities in order to make places worth living in, for all.

As the artist Scottee explains "to the uninitiated, socially engaged work, or what theatre folk like to call ‘applied theatre’ cause they’re like that, is the art of making stuff with heart. Enabling a community or individual to work something through, discuss the contentious, sort something out and get ideas above their station through the act of creativity. The good stuff in this sector is for, by and with those who are often not centre stage, who wouldn’t normally step into our elitist world."

There are thousands of artists and arts organisations across Europe and the wider world trying to work this way, make 'stuff with heart' and connect with people as committed and active citizens. But because their work is often outside of institutional frames nor part of the 'elitist world' they can be isolated, highly atomised and precarious. What can we do to reshape the space for action and how can a handful of committed artists, activists and researchers from all over Europe supported by a band of visionary partners and funders through RESHAPE intervene to make a difference?

Together with a group of eight Reshapers, we will meet in Edinburgh for a few days to challenge ourselves about what makes radical imaginative practice, and the possible and impossible spaces for reshaping our ability to act. Meeting with local artists, activists and agencies to share and learn, we will look for ways to tackle or tickle powerful institutions and funders, dominant ideas of art production and who counts to be a creative citizen.

Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkinson, Cultural Change Agents and Co-facilitators of Art + Citizenship: How can art radically imagine new forms of citizenship and empower us to act?

This workshop will be held in Edinburgh and is organised by Peter and Shelagh with the British Council.

Some sessions are closed but if you're interested in the programme please get in touch here.

Martin Creed, Work Number 975. Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art


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