On Friday afternoon I was invited up to Milton, near Alness, to attend a joint networking meeting of the Woodlands Community Association, Voluntary Arts Scotland and a variety of artists.
The networking event itself was held to discuss the concept of bringing together Arts and Nature, how the Artistic and Cultural sector can support the growth and sustainability of Scottish Woodlands, through Arts Projects based within Woodland Communities.
The Community Woodlands Association, established in 2003, was set up “to help community woodland groups across Scotland. It provides advice, assistance and information, facilitates networking and training, and represents and promotes the benefits of community woodlands, both in the political arena and wider world” (CWA, 2010).
At present there are 150 member groups with 15,000 participating members across the country, but the future survival of these woodland communities are under threat. Whether it is from the modernisation of the world or apathy towards saving our environment, CWA recognise that this is a time in which action to engage wider audiences and therefore members is necessary to support all the hard work of the few devoted individuals who work, live and protect their communities woodland areas.
Voluntary Arts Scotland (VAS) on the other hand offers support, advice and information to groups and individuals who take part in the voluntary arts and crafts. This partnership between the CWA and VAS may well ensure a future relationship between socially motivated Artists and the woodland communities, towards providing socially engaged artistic projects right in the heart of the Woodland areas across Scotland.
The concept of ‘Community Arts’ has always been a tricky one in my mind. I have had the most amazing opportunities in the past to work alongside community art projects, and see the impacts and benefits that communities have from engaging the arts and an Artist to deliver something unique and special to these groups. Community arts projects definitely have an important role to play in fostering participation, partnership and greater respect for local communities or for arts in general.
However, I have struggled with the idea of a ‘community artist’. Does this really exist? A community arts project by definition involved local community members, it is a collaborative project between the artist, the community and the local area. Many socially motivated projects require specific and measurable ‘outcomes’, what will the legacy of this project be, what skills will the local community have learned. It is vitally important to define your goals, have an idea of what you hope to achieve, to leave a legacy for the local community. But how much of this infringes on the creativity of the Artist? Especially if the socially motivate outcomes are already predetermined by either the local community or organisation(s) involved? Where does ‘community art’ stop being about Outcomes and more about Artistic practice?
It is afterall a balancing act, and there are so many incredibly talented and inspirational artists who work with community arts projects across the country, one such artist I met on Friday Tara Beall, who had worked on the Govan Graving Beacon project in Glasgow for the Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art.
The Graving Beacon is an automated light placed on the Govan Graving Docks which flashes messages in Morse Code. People are encouraged to send their messages to the Beacon via text message, and wait to see their message translated into Morse code and flashed out across the docklands, and then wait for a reply. So see more check out the beaconcam at www.astonesthrowaway.co.uk.
The meeting on Friday was designed to give both parties an opportunity to talk through their needs and requirements to make sure this partnership has a successful future, and I believe much ground was made in the few hours we had.
This is early days still for the partnership, and I’ll be sure to keep you all up to date on all the developments.
Milton Community Woodland Trust: http://www.mcwt.org.uk/