Community Art for Social Impact

Social impact is the positive change toward solving or at least addressing social injustice and challenges. Intertwined with art, social impact is a tool where people can work together to create change.

“Useful art is about transforming people’s lives, even on a small scale. It is art as activism and activism as art.” – Tania Bruguera, Tate Exchange Lead Artist (2018-19)

The concept of community art as an instrument for empowerment was not until the late 1940s, where initiatives were commissioned which included visual artists, actors and musicians to work with communities to create public art.

Community art developed out of cultural democracy, which emerged after the Second World War. Cultural democracy illustrates practices where culture and artistic expression are produced by individuals and communities as a whole, rather than by institutions of power. By the 1960s, social impact gained widespread popularity as ordinary people could use art to voice their concerns and fight for social change, as a community.

Art and social impact creates opportunities that inspire social action and create institutional change, steering agency away from institutions and giving normal people the ability to contribute toward the creation of meaningful change, in ways that might be otherwise unavailable to minorities or underprivileged groups.

“What I can take charge of is not only in my home, but I can also make change within my community.”– Orode Faka

According to Tate Modern, activist or socially engaged art address the power structures around us directly, creating a kind of social or political currency which breeds the conditions for society to shift

Community art brings people together, connects them with a form of unified expression. It helps a group of residents come together and work toward a common goal, be it expression, awareness, social issues, and conversations to help one another with psychological distress.

A great example of this is London collective Assemble, the 2015 winners of the Turner Prize, who used socially engaged practice to collaborate with residents for the Granby Four Streets project in Liverpool to improve their local area and stand up against social division.

Granby Four Streets involves the renovation of 10 houses and a series of empty shops, planting and creating social outdoor spaces, and offering building jobs and training to local people. The project involved working with the community to renovate and paint empty houses and local shops. In addition, the collective created a workshop selling homeware made in collaboration with local artists and craftspeople.

Speaking to local community member, artist and activist Orode Faka, I asked her about the community and who experiences changes in their lives as a result of what she does. She said, “The local authority, and the Roehampton community through Roehampton R.O.C.K.S* – Mostly children and their parents as a result of the impact the experiences have on the children.”

*Roehampton R.O.C.K.S is an interdisciplinary artist collective committed to using their crafts to spark new ideas and innovate proactive and sustainable actions in the practice of arts for social change.

Located in the Alton Estate, Roehampton is a part of Wandsworth borough, one of the most unequal boroughs in London.

“It is important that the stories of the existing community are documented, as they represent the rich and diverse culture that exists within the area.”

Orode sees this as one of her key roles within the community. I asked whether the location of an art project is significant to its effect for social change. She said,

“Depends on the change sought. I believe and know that art that seeks to make a social change is ineffective if it exists beyond the attainment of the community/society it seeks to change. The most effective projects are at grass roots level and empower the narratives of those who are marginalised within mainstream societies.”

Adding that, “Also the perception that art is accepted as ‘art’ when it is exhibited or performed in traditional art spaces, has its limits, and can dilute the message. Of course it is amazing for these works to be presented in these arts spaces but why can’t audiences have the same reverence for art that is presented at local community level?”

Today I will look at the Panel of Art created by The Alton Estate in Roehampton, Britain’s largest council housing estate, one of the most deprived areas in the UK in terms of income and housing. The community centered project is a pop up panel of art, literally made out of panels taken from the hoardings around the current renovation of the Roehampton Estate, and were donated specially by the Borough of Wandsworth Council contractor.

The project is in collaboration with Estate Art, an non-profit organization, which aims to inspire positivity and passion of people of all ages through creative community-led art-based projects. In partnership with the Community Engagement & Cultural Coordinator of Wandsworth Council and the Alton Regeneration Team, to create a piece of art that is at the heart of the community.

The initiative was funded by the London Borough of Wandsworth, Roehampton Community Week, The Roehampton Club, Waitrose Ltd and the Co-Op Ltd.

“More than 20 large window panels were donated to Lynne, the founder of Estate Art, and she is priming them and distributing them to professional artists, amateur art enthusiasts and schools to create pictures that will feature in the pop-up gallery.” – Jo Baxter, Community Engagement & Cultural Coordinator

Hoardings were set up around the old location of the Co-Op market and chemist at the start of Danbury Avenue. Estate Art oversaw that the white painted panels were securely hung on the hoarding to create the impression of a large outdoor gallery.

‘Panel of Art’ is a shimmer of hope for the community. It combines inspiration, thought, and expression of the community as a whole. It is a place for the members of the community to find hope outside of institutional structures. It shows the strength and power of expression

Speaking to Orode Faka, I asked her about gentrification in the community, she said,

“Like many parts of the city, there is a huge change taking place in the area, with demolition, development, and redevelopment of buildings and homes. This changing landscape dramatically affects who will be the future residents, as well as the existing community in the Alton estate. The Alton Estate in Roehampton has a rich history. A grade II listed building, it was built 58 years ago and inspired by Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation.” – Orode Faka

Terms to Know

ACTIVIST ART

A term used to describe art that is grounded in the act of ‘doing’ and addresses political or social issues

COMMUNITY ART

An artistic activity that is based in a community setting, characterized by interaction or dialogue with the community and often involving a professional artist collaborating with people who may not otherwise engage in the arts

Resources

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