Social Making Symposium – Plymouth 2016

Social Making Symposium – Plymouth

Kim Wide - Director, Take A Part. Photo credit: Dom Moore / Take A Part
Kim Wide – Director, Take A Part, Plymouth. Photo credit: Take A Part

Social Making was organised by Plymouth-based social makers Take A Part – focussing on the methodologies employed by a range of socially engaged practitioners operating in the UK (and further afield) and the human scale impacts of chosen case studies. The organisation’s careful, embedded and grounded approach was echoed in their selection of contributors, who ranged from social science academics, local community organisers and embedded practitioners / researchers, to internationally renowned public art producers, Turner Prize winners and the Director of Public Health at Plymouth City Council.

Each speaker and project referenced was dealt with in the spirit of Jacques Rancière’s “equality of intelligences”, an approach that does not assume that the role of ‘experts’ is to ‘fix’ problems within communities or to simply disseminate/broadcast their findings. Rather, the event operated on the basis that the gathered audience (and the communities involved in the highlighted projects) were not reliant on arts professionals, local authorities, funders or organisations to provide answers, but instead that newly instigated conversations initiated at the event would lead to collective learning through shared insights from which new knowledge and understanding is constructed.

Here’s Kelechi Nnoaham’s opening address…

From Kelechi Nnoaham’s opening address (Director of Public Health, Plymouth), the event re-focussed attention away from capital projects, bricks-and-mortar development and gentrification, resiting the economic rhetoric, discourse, hegemony and justification that the arts in the UK has (often uncomfortably) adopted to take a place (and find a much-needed voice) in contemporary debate. Nnoaham expressed a desire, and identified a clear need for working together and working holistically, towards the aim of achieving real citizen control and empowerment.

His identification of the building and redistribution of strong social capital as key to tackling the wider determinants of health and well-being, was echoed by many of the speakers. To paraphrase the words of speaker Michael Bridgewater (community organiser in Efford), we can reach this point not by having things done to us or for us, but BY us.



This focus on the social permeated the whole event – relating directly to communal, collective and people-focussed approaches, alongside the recognition of the importance of social contact, involvement and the being-alongside-and-there-for-others-ness of community in combatting isolation, disenfranchisement and alienation, and in developing and delivering improved civic infrastructure.

Leaving the symposium after two intense days, I felt not only enthused and excited but as though I’d gathered a series of practical and philosophical starting points for action and application in my practice as artist, educator, mentor and community organiser.

I’m going to use this series of posts as an opportunity to clarify and formalise some of the points raised during the presentations and discussion, and propose a number of actions deriving from these.

Read the rest of the series:

#1 Building in succession (as a requirement) in arts & community projects

#2 Re-defining the currency of success

#3 Achieving Empowerment

This post is part of a series reflecting on Social Making – a conference organised by Take A Part in Plymouth, April 2016. I attended the event as a PAC Home / VASW bursary recipient and this writing is also published in the official conference publication Social Making Socially Engaged Practice Now and Next [available online].

Rachel Dobbs is one half of LOW PROFILE, an artist and educator based in Plymouth, UK. Rachel works on community projects, has a long-term interest in creative approaches to community development and runs workshops, teaching & training sessions for a range of formal & informal groups including students, arts practitioners and communities – contact me for more details.

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