Project Coordinator Rebecca Livesey-Wright explores the opportunities afforded to us when we get things wrong as part of the EVOLVE Culture Collective project delivered by RIG Arts in partnership with Williamsburgh Housing Association and Renfrewshire Leisure.
We’ve probably all been there. You’ve spent months developing your project. You’ve connected with partners and hired artists. You’ve reached out to your audiences and designed promotional materials and posted them in 50 cafes and 500 Facebook groups. And no one turns up.
That’s what happened recently with the EVOLVE project, a socially engaged arts project taking place in Seedhill, Paisley. We hit the ground running with EVOLVE, hiring our first set of workshop artists as soon as we could to deliver our outdoor workshops. We’ve had good numbers at those workshops and great feedback. We also had staggering numbers at our first outdoor fun day event, which proved to be a great way to engage with the community and promote the project.
Our next bit of delivery, a six-week series of online workshops intended to guide residents in making personalised maps of Seedhill, turned out not to go down so well. For reasons we’re not completely able to understand, although we suspect as a result of Zoom fatigue and digital exclusion, we had exactly zero sign ups for this series. I felt a whole bag of emotions, but mostly shame. I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t doing my job properly, that I was overlooking something important, that I had let the delivery poet-artist down, and that I wasn’t working hard enough to make the project accessible to the community. I felt I had two options here: either to apologise to the poet-artist, Katharine Macfarlane, for not making it work; or to come up with a different solution. As we’d entered into a contract of work with Katharine, the first option was definitely not an actual option. Come up with something else it was then!
What I discovered was that this ended up being a blessing in disguise. Thanks to adaptability and creative thinking from Katharine, the EVOLVE team, and our wider network including local community stakeholders such as the local cafes, we managed to develop our approach to be more inclusive and to have a far wider reach. We’ve taken away the level of commitment needed to become involved in the mapping project, providing opportunities for folk to contribute as and when suits them, as opposed to weekly at a set time. The pressure is also off the individual by working towards one large collaborative map, now known as ‘The People’s Map of Seedhill’, as opposed to many individual ones. We’re harnessing social media, a place where people naturally gather to share memories and sentiments about their local area, and going to them rather than waiting for them to come to us. And we reconsidered our approach to digital exclusion. While before we had the opportunity to access free digital devices and wifi for participants, we understand that making this request can still be a challenge for some folk. So we’ve also designed three postcards which have been printed and left in local spaces with suggestion boxes. Each postcard has a different prompt to harness information to contribute to The People’s Map.
We still have two more weeks of social media prompts to be shared and we’ve already gathered 39 responses. We’ve found out new information about the area and received intimate reflections and memories. For Katharine: “Seeing connections created and hearing positive reminiscences about the area have been particular highlights and have ensured the finished Map reflects the lived experience of Seedhill residents.”
All of this will inform The People’s Map, pulling the information together in one easily accessible document, as opposed to leaving it spread out amongst the minds and cupboards of individuals. As Katharine writes, we “hope the Map goes on to be used by the local community as a way of reflecting on how they use their local area and how they would like to see it develop.”
The People’s Map then will function not only as a collaborative artwork and heritage piece but as a central resource for future EVOLVE artists, the community and, hopefully, for many more creative opportunities for Seedhill to welcome.
Many thanks to Katharine Macfarlane for her creativity, flexibility and commitment to this project. This truly is a joint effort and we couldn’t have pulled off this adaptation without her.