The Bridges We Build – The Importance of the Arts in an Outreach Setting
One week to go until the Culture Symposium!

Meaningful Conversation

This article has been written by Hannah Uttley from Macrobert Arts Centre.

I spent my first day as Creative Learning Officer at Macrobert Arts Centre in Sauchie Hall, where members of the community were exploring the theme of protest with artist Philip Gurrey and Drama practitioner Lucy Wild- all inspired by a production called Coal(Gary Clarke Company). It was fantastic to see members of the community, both young and older, coming together to engage with these activities and inspiring to see the genuine interest and passion they felt. This was my introduction to the ‘Conversation Starter’ approach that Macrobert Arts Centre has been using since Julie Ellen took up leadership. Each season a production is placed at the heart of a programme of activities that has real relevance for different people and communities across Forth Valley. 

We don’t want the engagement with these communities to be a one off event, we want the conversations to continue to develop over time and to grow into real connections and relationships. In the case of Coala chorus of local women played the miners wives in the production, real roles not just bit parts; and recorded voices and artwork from local communities formed part of a specially commissioned exhibition by artist Philip Gurrey. As part of this project I also had the chance to visit the Cowie Miner’s Welfare with Gary Clarke, witnessing first-hand the pride this community held in their mining tradition and the excitement they felt at seeing their stories on stage at Macrobert Arts Centre. Those few hours in Cowie have really stayed with me and continue to remind me of the importance of this kind of work.  

As we head into 2018 I’m about to start a project that’ll reinvigorate some of the relationships started by the very first ‘Conversation Starter’ which was focused around Rosie Kay’s 5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline back in 2016. Working in partnership with the Armed Services Advice Project (ASAP), Stand Easy Productions and the Royal Caledonian Education Trust we’re creating education resources for schools and delivering a practical and intensive drama project with local veterans. Through this project we will engage with those veterans who are most isolated and disconnected with their local community, and wouldn’t even consider getting involved with the arts. 5 Soldiersasked the questions ‘how much physical risk would I take to do what I care most about?’ and ‘who am I if I can’t do that thing’. These questions are at the heart of what we will be exploring with the participants. We hope to enable them to take the first steps towards finding their place as a ‘civvie’ and making sense of their lives and community through this new lens. 

To me, the most important work we can do in the arts is work such as this with communities who are marginalised and at odds with society. The transformative effect of the arts is often spoken about and is seen most clearly with groups like these. I hope that through this project we’ll be able to give something back to people who have made huge personal and physical sacrifices for their local community and indeed the nation. We’ll be working to build relationships with these veterans that open up other opportunities for them, both at Macrobert Arts Centre and through other support networks. 

We are not being idealistic, we realise that engaging with such a marginalised group will pose huge challenges. However, by working with experienced partners such as ASAP and Stand Easy, I hope we will be able to build something special and something which has a tangible and lasting impact on the lives of the participants. I believe the true power of participatory arts is in the way that it not only enriches our lives but also enables us to undergo a transformation – broadening our horizons and allowing us to become more confident, self-assured individuals with a strong sense of our own worth and importance. We realise that the participants probably won’t find their lives transformed overnight, however I believe that we can enable them to take the first step on this journey. By combining drama with practical steps to help the veterans to become more aware of and open to the support available to them, we hope to enable them to see their place within society as a civilian and to build lasting relationships and friendships.