There are many advantages and rewards received through being a creative freelancer and one I value highly is creating and collaborating on community projects. The benefits of working on creative engagement with groups who may find it more challenging to access the arts is well documented from the participants point of view. However, recently, the question I have found asking myself is what are the benefits to us as creative artists leading on these sorts of projects?
Since June 2021, I have been lucky enough to work with Elevator Arts and be creative lead practitioner on several of their community projects, which has allowed me the opportunity to reflect on this question.
Elevator Arts was set up in February 2020 to deliver arts projects that effect social change & improve young people’s lives in Southend & South Essex and community centred projects for those most in need & with often least access to arts activity. Much of the current focus of these projects is to support mental health and wellbeing to aid community recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. To date I have worked on a project with Southend Young Carers, Project 49 (which provides innovative day services to adults with learning disabilities and associated needs.) and young people in temporary accommodation through South Essex Homes.
All of the projects have highlighted many benefits I have received in being involved with them, but here are my top three:
Opportunity to work with other creatives.
As a freelancer and especially storyteller, day to day working is often solitary and the opportunity to work alongside other creatives from different disciplines is a rare treat. Through working with Elevator Arts, I have been lucky enough to co-facilitate with at least one other creative practitioner and in the case of Project 49’s ‘Tales of the Sea’, three. This has been hugely beneficial to spark ideas and enrich practice with collaborative approaches. I have learnt new skills and reinvigorated old ones and thoroughly enjoyed sharing the journey and having the opportunity to reflect and grow in the process. Working with other creative artists from either similar or different backgrounds both enriches and gives a sense of affirmation to personal practice and generates a sense of belonging to a wider supportive community.
Another benefit of working within the community is the opportunity to practice creative problem-solving skills. By their very nature, community projects demand a flexible approach in the planning and there are always challenges to be overcome, especially over the last few months with the pandemic. Time-scales shift, locations change, there is an unpredictable level of participation uptake from week to week and even the outcomes sometimes have to be adapted. As a practitioner this is an incredible gift, because it affords the opportunity to challenge your practice and tests adaptability and communication skills and can create unexpected revelations that can be drawn upon in the work. It also instils a real sense of connection between facilitators and participants, because you are finding a way to respond as one to the challenges.
Finally, a huge reward I find from working with community organisations and their users is the sense of being part of something bigger; being part of a larger community that it generates. The modern world can encourage one to be insular and exist within a place, rather than be part of its fabric, its community. By working creatively with different groups, we build a greater understanding for where we live and who we live alongside and in turn that generates a greater sense of belonging and investment in that place.
That sense of connection and the joy and inspiration generated through this kind of creative practice doesn’t just have an impact on the participants mental health and wellbeing, but on us as facilitators too. It’s why the community engagement side of my practice has always been very important and why I never take it for granted.
Photo’s curtsey of Film Free Photography