Provocation by Uzma Raziq

19th March 2019

Creative People and Places symposium in Luton

Uzma, our Community Liaison Associate, recently attended a one-day symposium in Luton for participants and creatives to build connections across the wider Creative People and Places network. Here’s what she had to say:

I’m fairly new to working within the art world. My background and experience is within conflict transformation. So, when I was asked to speak about “the power of collaboration” I thought of one of the models that we use in training; The Thomas Kilman instrument.

This model suggests that there are five ways in which conflict can be transformed; collaboration is the ideal way in which to address conflict because it is “both assertive and cooperative”. It encourages work in a way that is mutually acceptable and that satisfies everyone’s concerns. It isn’t about someone having to give something up in order to maintain the peace. It is not a compromise or an avoidance of certain aspects. It is about learning what everyone needs, how they can contribute and then finding a creative way towards a solution that everyone is happy with. The task is complete, and the people involved are all cared for.

Making art is rarely without conflict or controversy and in fact this often adds to the appeal. Funding dictates what we can do, who and where to target and how many postcodes we need to write down. The artist wants to create something new or that fits in their signature style or wishes to create conversation. We recruit a community group who are reluctant to engage in the Arts because it isn’t something they “do”. We compromise, we avoid and compete to be heard or we accommodate the needs of others ignoring our own.

I know it sounds very negative but actually I do believe that true collaboration exists. I know this because I have seen the development of stunning pieces of work.

Shapes of Water by Suzanne Lacy, image by Chris Payne

We all want to collaborate, but it shouldn’t be a superficial exercise in well-meaning which creates a false but appealing public image. Artists working in communities need to consider more nuanced ways of thinking and practice whilst being interculturally competent. Collaboration shouldn’t exacerbate the gentrification of communities with the need to create art for art’s sake. We have to ensure it is not an excuse to proliferate power imbalances such as free labour from minority or working-class groups in order to assign kudos to the privileged artist and build their portfolio.

In Shapes of Water Sounds of Hope with Suzanne Lacy I was able to see first-hand the power of real collaboration. For almost three years she worked closely with people who lived locally to develop ideas and a final product that has established long lasting partnerships and relationships as well launching careers and new artistic ventures. It wasn’t a short-term development it was about truly engaging the community, to learn about the people, the individuals, the groups, learning about their skills, their heritage and their passion and the things that connected them. Suzanne earned a place in that small community and learned from them in order to develop the final piece.

Shapes of Water by Suzanne Lacy, image by Chris Payne.

Collaboration is powerful because individual creativity is sought, and it is a reflection and an appreciation of all the skills within the collective. It works because it hears a range of voices without diluting their meaning. It opens up new ways of participation and it challenges the sanitised and often out of reach ideal of art. It should be allowed to develop organically over time in order to ignite a lifelong enthusiasm for art and to support long lasting connections between people. It doesn’t grow from a narrow goal focused vision because it encourages an embedding of ideas and values. It inspires complex interactions and frank conversations to take place which push past the boundaries that both artists and communities experience. Individuals from the community need to actively pursue and take responsibility to produce art which has meaning for them in a way that they feel comfortable with. Collaboration in the creation of art does work and is a stepping stone towards understanding and integration and is a necessary and powerful method by which to create a culture of knowledge, respect and dialogue throughout society which I believe is one of the purposes of art.

Shapes of Water by Suzanne Lacy, image by Chris Payne