Panel discussion with participants from the Women of the Wirral project and photographer Stephanie Wynne.
Published: 05 February 2018
At the Culture Shifts event in Southport last week I was struck by several issues that were raised multiple times over the course of the day with regards to the support, or lack of, in the field of socially engaged artistic practice. Split between round table workshops, panel discussions and presentations, the event was held to celebrate the Culture Shifts socially engaged photography programme, which had paired photographers with local communities within the Liverpool City Region to create projects that had a life beyond the gallery exhibition space. Although the work was commissioned by a gallery (Open Eye in Liverpool) Sarah Fisher, the gallery’s director made the important point that galleries need to be focused on the creation of art, and not just its display, and that the field of socially engaged practice can benefit from the support of organisations who have been traditionally focused on the exhibition of objects within a physical space.
The event brought together all the stakeholders involved in the Culture Shifts project, and gave an equal voice to participants, artists, funders, commissioners, academics and curators alike. One recurring concern was how to lobby for socially engaged practice on a national, governmental scale and how to enable “grassroots” projects to influence national strategy and receive support to sustain their practice. Arts and health was a common subject of discussion, with several high-ranking NHS officials speaking at the conference on the subject of ‘Social prescribing’. Social prescribing is defined as “a means of enabling primary care services to refer patients with social, emotional or practical needs to a range of local, non-clinical services, often provided by the voluntary and community sector”. With the launch of the Arts and Health report in ...2017, this is one of the most obvious places where socially engaged art can achieve recognition on a national scale and many of those who had participated in the projects spoke about how the programme had alleviated the damaging psychological and physical effects of isolation.
This got me thinking about other types of isolation that are prevalent within socially engaged artistic practice, specifically the isolation often faced by artists working in this field. Due to the diverse routes to becoming a socially engaged practitioner (many of which were cited by the Models of Validation stakeholders in our most recent questionnaire), the lack of need for traditional ‘object making’ along with little gallery representation, socially engaged artists often work in isolation from the close knit peer networks associated with studio practice, higher education and gallery groups. The design of our online platform will aim to address this need by providing digital networking opportunities for socially engaged artists who want to connected with a wider peer network, and establishing open forums for all stakeholders to share their opinions, meet others engaged in this work, find opportunities and funding.
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