Arts can be a particularly fruitful means of community engagement, especially amongst women and amongst women with a limited history of arts access.
Four artists - Sophie Cero, Emma Davies FRSA, Jessica Harby, and Annabelle Shelton - hosted drop-in art workshops twice a week from January to April. This project was a collaboration between the artists and the women.
The artists were challenged to use new techniques beyond the traditional activities like drawing, painting and sculpture; these techniques included baking, sewing, digital, performance and interactive art. Everyone developed personally and benefited from an increase in self-esteem, both the vulnerable women and the artists, who, in their own work, began to absorb the stories and difficulties that vulnerable women face and to incorporate this new knowledge into their art.
This interchange produced a public exhibition of extraordinary visual impact, bringing together all aspects of the local community, such as local government, businesses, artists and the family and friends of vulnerable women. The impact has already led to discussions with local artists, local government, and other organisations on how to continue the project and increase the role of artists in creating positive change to society from the grassroots.
The Artists in Residence at C2C Social Action project was conceived and managed by me, with the constant support of Richard Dimbleby FRSA. It was then developed as a community arts programme for artists to work with vulnerable women and funded by Arts Council England and The Sudborough Foundation and supported by the Royal Society of Arts.
C2C Social Action is a Northamptonshire charity providing support to any individual at any stage of the Criminal Justice System by inspiring and motivating them to take personal responsibility for their behaviour, in order to reduce re-offending. Artists in Residence took place during their drop-in support services for women, where trained staff and volunteers work alongside onsite specialist agencies to provide advice and support around benefits, housing, children, safety, money, debt, health and police or courts involvement.
Annabel Pickering, Women’s Service Manager at C2C Social, stated the impact fellows can have on the most vulnerable in society:
“It has been a real privilege to work with the Artists In Residence at our C2C Women’s centre in Northampton. It has been a pleasure to watch the women we support really get stuck in and enjoy the freedom of expression provided by the artists which has led to some awesome collaborative work by our service users as well as some wonderful individual pieces. Some amazing and inspirational conversations were had, barriers broken and selfesteem improved. This has been a fantastic project and we welcome the opportunity to continue the collaboration.”
Some comments from the women which makes one realise the importance of of this project.
“Thank you for teaching me how to look” ... “My whole life, I never did this. How do I find out how to do more?” ... “I really enjoyed the sewing. I like to sew. I find it really relaxing. I also made some new friends who I am keeping in touch with (as part of the language group). I would like the artists to come back, because they are like teachers; I have learnt new things, it's the first time that I have met an artist in my life. It's been very nice because they've shared their experiences with us. It's been nice to be part of a group. We shared an experience together.”