‘Small Gathering for Big Thoughts’ is a dialogue process in which people are invited to bring their own ingredients, meet a stranger and cook together without a recipe. In a safe and inclusive environment people can connect to each other and explore ideas of how to overcome differences and co-create new possibilities. Find out below how you can support the project.
"A society is similar to a house divided into rooms and corridors. The more the society resembles ours in its form of civilization, the thinner are its internal partitions and the wider and more open are its doors of communication."
- James Hillman
As an artist I have been long investigating home, belonging and freedom of movement. Questions on how the tendency to want to preserve our cultures can contribute or not to forms of separation resonate throughout my artistic research. In our society identity and more specifically citizenship is very much connected to the idea of belonging. Yet does ‘living together in harmony’ mean to let go of our identity, cultures or heritage?
As someone who left her country a long time ago, I believe that it is important to confront ourselves with different cultures and situations. As we are exposed to other sets of values we can question ourselves and acquire new understandings and perspectives. The moment of reciprocal exchange can shift us internally and help us to make boundaries porous.
In June 2015 I started an art residency at Fusion Arts based in East Oxford Community Centre. As I was constantly presented with shocking images of people desperately fleeing their country in the news, I strongly felt I needed to do something and look more closely into the phenomena of forced migration. I started to work for the charity Open Door, a drop-in service for refugees and asylum seekers, and helped in the kitchen to prepare the weekly free lunch. I found a welcoming environment in which people could feel safe and share their experiences spontaneously. It was a real pleasure to be there and I found I was learning about other people’s cultures and personal stories through food. From this place of exchange and positivity I started to question the way I was approaching the work I was trying to do. So far I was addressing issues of separation. I strongly felt I had to look instead at what we have in common and find ways to share the insights I could draw out from the positive experience of cooking together.
After various trials, Small Gatherings for Big Thoughts was born. In the process, people can share themselves as individuals who carry with their own ingredients, differences, memories and habits. Heritage, culture and identity are also shared through their relationship to food. People can learn from each other by equally contributing to the making of a new dish that would incorporate everyone’s culture. And by working from what is there at the moment and not from a recipe, people can also learn to let go of preconceptions and build new possibilities. Whilst cooking, deep listening, mindfulness techniques and consensus decision-making processes are introduced to the participants as stimuli to facilitate thinking and dialogue.
In this arena, a sense of humanity in continuous movement and transformation comes alive. Participants can travel across the world through imagining into the ‘other’ and open up the doors of communication to reveal their connections to other people and the world.
The work developed out of a strong need to offer a space in which people could experience a shift in their perception of 'the other’. I want to continue to help people understand the power of differences and to develop the process by working closely with experts in decision-making and wellbeing, to devise sessions for organizations and groups that are looking at solving issues of separation.
To do this I need your help. As part of the RSA London-supported CrowdPatch campaign, I’m raising £2,500 which will go towards funding a three month development period of work. I need to reach 25% of the target to be able to make my campaign public and reach out to more potential donors so I really need your help at this stage!
You can contribute to the campaign by donating money, sharing the campaign with your contacts or by volunteering with your skills to the project (for example if you want to give me two hours of your time and advise me with your expertise, the equivalent fee can be added to the target).
Any contribution will help me raise my profile.
To know a bit more about my project and contribute please visit my Crowdpatch campaign.
Luisa Spina is a Fellow of the RSA and Director of Small Gatherings for Big Thoughts. Get in touch with her through her MyRSA profile or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read about the two other RSA-supported Crowdpatch projects