Seminar 3 – Abstracts


Co-producing knowledge with communities in crisis: insights from a cultural animation project
Professor Mihaela Kelemen, Community Animation and Social Innovation Centre, Keele University & Julianna Skarzynska, New Vic Borderlines

This CC project employed a cultural animation methodology to co-produce knowledge with communities in crisis.  We worked with various communities in Minami Sanriku, a region in Japan that was badly affected by the 2011 tsunami, to uncover their stories and aspirations for rebuilding from within.  Cultural Animation has been pioneered in the UK by Sue Moffat from the award winning New Vic Theatre. This methodology puts day to day experiences at the heart of the process of research, acknowledging existing power and knowledge hierarchies and taking steps to minimize them via techniques that build up trusting relationships between participants by inviting them to work together in activities which may be new to them but which draw on their life experiences.   A tree made of interlocking parts traveled to Japan and communities were invited to work together and create artifacts out of materials that were available around them. These artifacts became the leaves of the ‘tree of life’ which was renewed over and over again in cultural animation workshops that took place in a temporary shopping centre and a temporary housing complex.  More than 60 community members attended the workshops along with ten academics from Seinan Gakuin and Osaka City University (some of whom acted as translators).  Through our translators, we learnt that people from Minami Sanriku felt ‘disused’ as well as forgotten by the central government and other powers to be.  Their response to crisis was to build from within and not wait for hand outs from above.  The new businesses that were created in the aftermaths of the disaster opted for a cooperative model of doing business rather than one based on market competition.   People in the community volunteered to clean the beaches and some survivors of the Tsunami became ‘professional story tellers’. The inhabitants of Minami Sanriku felt a deep connection with their land despite its transient and fragile state of being and the constant threat of a new tsunami.  These stories emerged as people worked together to create the leaves of the ‘tree of life’ installation. We will share these stories and related visual imagery with the audience as well as illustrate some of the cultural animation techniques we used in the workshops via a button game.

Ignite Imaginations
Luisa Golob and Malaika Cunningham, Ignite imaginations

We aim to Ignite Imaginations in communities through providing high quality creative activities. What does igniting an imagination look like? Who do we know wants to explore their imagination and how do we know we are having the greatest impact? How does all of this translate to the wider research or policy context? I will explore these questions looking at the barriers and advantages grassroots arts organisations have in answering them.

Reflections on regeneration: the politics of community, documentary and policy
Hugh Kelly and Graham Jeffery

Hugh Kelly, as Swingbridge Media, has been making films and videos with communities on Tyneside for 35 years. What can be learned from his engagements with numerous regeneration initiatives? At various times his work has been cast in the role of documenting social and physical changes, campaigning for alternatives, celebrating apparent ‘successes’ or challenging the failures of urban policy. Underlying all this are ethical, political, pedagogical and representational dilemmas about how participatory approaches to film-making might to open up spaces for people to speak out, share their worlds and offer responses to the local impacts of policy initiatives that almost invariably originate from ‘elsewhere’ and which often fail to address underlying structural inequalities. Who decides what a ‘challenging neighbourhood’  is and in whose interests are policy ‘solutions’ implemented?

This presentation/conversation reflects on 35 years of practice and draws on material produced for Remaking Society, an AHRC Connected Communities pilot demonstrator project (2012 – 2014) that sought to address the value(s) of participatory arts and media practices in communities experiencing high levels of deprivation. A film that Hugh and Graham made, exploring some of these issues can be found at

In this conversation we will share some brief extracts from Hugh’s work and discuss some of their implications,in the context of wider debates about community media, inequalities, and community politics. Can a participatory filmmaking process confer some power on its participants? Are there ways in which it might frame more constructive dialogues between unequal communities?


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