by Arts Reporter Felicie Kertudo
A new task is set for this afternoon: dare to go out there and make a difference, with a reflection on the notion of 'safe space' in mind, and drawing on what participants have been learning those past two days. How to go out there and change, and be changed by it ?
The table is full of different objects. People are invited to grab anything to help them pursue their aim. Be playful, says Laurence.
We have the radio station as a platform. "We are fully at your disposal today" says David, from Andover Radio.
"Can I give a biscuit to people ? Is it legal ?" I heard from one of the participant.
Or "It is illegal to write on walls with chalk. But go and find a police officer to ask him, just in case."
It is always a bit tricky, when involving other people in an activity. Participants have a bunch of consent forms with them. So far, it has been very positive: a group had a great discussion with a couple, who then signed a consent form and had a picture of them taken for the activity.
Just to be safe, participants decided to draw with chalk on one of the blackboard, instead of drawing directly on the pavement.
It is true that social art practices are delicate because they involve people and, in term of ethics and legal rights, it can be tricky to document the process. Laurence comes back up to the radio station where I am writing from, while the participants are outside, making a change, an intervention. She had an exchange with a participant, where they discussed how the whole idea of having a consent form is impacting the interactions with people, fearing that the conversation will be 'fake' and not as sincere as it could have been. When it comes to recording, Emma says "I want to find someone with a need, a need to express, a need to be heard". Documentation of her interactions was problematic to her, especially after having chat regarding housing situation, the importance of arts in people's lives. "It would have compromised the ethos of the action I was doing" she adds. At some point, Michael said "it is enough" when challenged by Laurence regarding the idea of documentation. Then, Laurence realised she was trying to make a safe space for the participants, but she decided to back off and let them taking the lead and making their own space. But at the end, isn't it a form of documentation, the feedback session we are having after everyone came back at the radio station ?
As Anna, a participant, puts it on paper when coming back : "I need an excuse to engage and began with the idea of asking permission from - the centre manager, the manager of the café - could we set up in their place? Once I had started it was easy". It is true that there is always a warm-up phase at the beginning, it is not natural and spontaneous for everyone. Someone wrote on the 'D-Dare' blackboard: "As a planner, improvisation can be uncomfortable".
However, when doing that as a group, it felt easier for the participants. Getting together makes it more comfortable for certain people, although some went away on their own, feeling confident after setting up the boundaries and finding a place of experiment together. For Emma, she thought she would have to go to people, instead of them going her. There's something more comfortable in finding people, approaching them, pulling them in, having the control over this decision.
Some considerations were important : one group learnt that anything underneath the local commercial centre rainproof roof would fall into the security's guard responsibility. "Anything else is the council's, so you can do anything you want I won't mind".
"Being", "I can", "What I know", "Power" : those words were written on bookmarks made by participants before going outside, in order to trigger a conversation, asking people to creative their own bookmarks. They chose a specific place with a metal place on the high street to put some kind of homemade yellow table top, where they could sit on and occupy a space, building a creative environment in an outside area. One of the participant had an instrument, a hang drum. People came and sit in the space, intervening in the process. "I don't read" said a woman, as a first answer. "But my husband is always at Waterstones". There is a need for adjustment, for flexibility. The music element to the space would bring kids and people's attention. "Music is universal" says Michael. Children were curious. "There wasn't an agenda, it was a free invitation, just for meeting and chatting" adds Maija, who took part in the workshop.
The spontaneity, the impromptu, effortless, engaging in the open space: "isn't it what we want to see more?". Everyone agrees it is a powerful way to connect with the local communities. It echoes with something written on the blackboard at the end of the day: "It's in the small moments, the individual stories."
As a practitioner, in social art, you need to be self reflexive when engaging with people, says Michael. And also, about the documentation process, what does it make you as a person, when interacting with others ? The need of documentation is subjective and up to the individuals. Laurence reacts to that, saying she realised she wanted participants to make her documentation but then, the feedback session is actually her documentation, and participants' memories are their own.
We go back to the notion of 'safe place'. Emma takes about the problematic definition we embraced today. The root of this idea was to provide a space for people who went through discrimination, to be safe from stereotypes. She urges for taking a step back, and having a proper reflexion about what 'safe place' means. Marcelo forwarded Maija and Laurence a 'safe place policy', as a code of practice. They both agree it needs t@o be put on the agenda. There is an increasing awareness of the importance of having safe spaces for marginalised people. There is also an aspect of 'safe place' in the term of emotional safety, which is important when programming events with groups. We are coming back to this morning's workshop : in which way would we, as White people, have felt unsafe actually? But safety can be understood as a freedom of expression, articulating your personal thoughts, a definition that was embraced today. "It is operating on so many levels" says Anna, "there are many layers in safety". She continues: "My safety is about expressing my feelings and I have felt able to do so in the last two days. We all do that, playing a role, trying to fit in. And in this space, for the last two days, I am probably more "me" because I feel safe".
"Here, safe space is about authenticity" raises Tony.
Laurence speaks about an idea she had: she had considered doing a performance, wearing the French costume and still covered in charcoal, wearing the sign "Toubab", going around the High Street and asking people what they think it is. But no, today was about the participants' responses and interactions. She shares her own definition of safe space, saying she came back alone to the radio station after Michael told her "No more challenge". She needed some time to come down, to relax, and change our of her French Artists costume; to just be herself instead of the stereotype and what she jokingly referred to as 'The DARE Master'.