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4 Strategies To Empower Your Community Through Collaborative Art-Making

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

'SPIN ENERGY' workshop for Wollongong City Council engaged over 60 TAFE Design and High School students to create an immersive art street landscape. (Photo by Chris Frape)

At The Beautiful and Useful Studio, we have had the privilege of collaborating with many diverse communities and organisations to bring transformative art projects to life.

Our experience has taught us valuable insights into what makes a community art activation a success - for the organisers (you), the facilitators (us) and most importantly, the participants (the public).

Here are our top 4 recommendations to make your community art-making engagements a success for everyone involved!

'SPIN ENERGY' for Wollongong City Council. Activating the community-lead installation with bands and performances created both energy and engagement. (Photo by Chris Frape)

1. Ignite Creativity by Breaking Boundaries

Often the biggest barrier to our creativity is internal - the fear of getting it wrong.

To overcome these initial hurdles, we use a range of strategies like music, movement and working outside to loosen participants' thinking at the beginning of a workshop.

As they gain confidence in the task at hand, we gradually increase the amount of time and focus spent on any one design or activity.

By focusing on 'fun first', we foster an atmosphere where the barriers to creativity fade away.

'DOBEL FESTIVAL LANTERN' workshop for Lake Macquarie Gallery / 'mima'. Staging the workshops outside in a public space ensured that family, friends, prams, dogs and toddlers could be close by. (Photo by Martina Mrongovius)

2. Foster Inclusion by Sharing Your Creative Vision

Don’t underestimate the power of sharing your creative vision, even if it is still at a very conceptual stage.

In fact, ‘working it out together’ is a terrific way to bring inclusion and connection into a project.

Share reference images of things that inspire you and outcomes you’d like to achieve with all parties involved.

Use major themes to unite all the participants with a shared goal. Having everyone approach an individual activity from the same conceptual place is an easy way to create cohesiveness!

'LOVE, AT PARRAMATTA' workshops for Parramatta Council. A genuinely collaborative artwork can be both fascinating and complex. Share the process!

3. Tailor Experiences for Every Member of Your Community

Cater for different abilities by creating your hands-on experience with layers of complexity for different types of demographics.

An activation at a gallery might attract a group of artists who want to spend several hours creating work to add to a collective whole...but you might also get unplanned ‘drop-ins’ that also want to contribute to the project (but only have fifteen minutes to spare).

We have found a combination of free-from and templated activities are the most successful combination, which offer the most flexibility for each participant.

'LOVE, AT PARRAMATTA' workshops for Parramatta Council catered for all levels of abilities using a variety of strategies.

4. Encourage Community Engagement Before, During and After the Activation

Creating art together can build community beyond the project itself. Here are 5 simple ways to build community engagement along the way.

1. Create Something specific to YOUR Community

If there is an amazing local landscape, or a unique industry, or a fascinating piece of history in your community...create something that celebrates that feature! For example, we created a series of lantern textile designs together with workshop participants at Lake Macquarie Gallery to celebrate their lakeside Dobel Festival. We translated the designs that were generated in the workshop into textiles, then fabricated these designs into lanterns that were placed onto boats at night time. Local,

2. Work In Progress Presentations

Communities typically love an insight into the artist’s practice or studio. Keep them up to date with artwork progress by inviting them into the studio physically (or virtually via Zoom).

3. Do a Test Flight

Get a community excited by sharing your progress with a prototype. Testing a prototype in situ is a great way to make sure everyone is on the same page - and could even get local media excited.

4. Get Social

Encourage participants to celebrate and promote their participation on social media using predetermined hashtags. Get local figureheads to be part of the social media story - i.e. have the Town Mayor do a sound-bite about how exciting and unique the project is.

5. Celebrate and Acknowledge

This may sound obvious, but make sure you celebrate the project’s community by creating a special moment for acknowledgement upon opening or ribbon cutting. Pop a bottle of champagne!

Lastly, providing an opportunity for feedback and shared stories is a great way to end a project.

'DOBEL FESTIVAL LANTERN' workshop for Lake Macquarie Gallery / 'mima'. A retired couple admiring the results of their lantern-making workshops as they prepare for installation at Lake Macquarie.

For more information about The Beautiful and Useful Studio's community-driven processes, check out our previous COLLABORATIONS !

'LOVE, AT PARRAMATTA' incorporated artworks by over 50 local residents into an immersive sculptural activation celebrating inclusion at the new art centre PHIVE for World Pride 2023.

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