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'Community Arts? Learning from the Legacy of Artists' Social Initiatives' live coverage from Liverpool, 11/1


e-flux conversations is pleased to present live coverage of Community Arts? Learning from the Legacy of Artists’ Social Initiatives, a conference on art and social initiatives following the Visible Award temporary parliament in Liverpool. The inimitable Emma Sumner (@emma_sumner) will once again take the liveblog helm.

Community Arts? Learning from the Legacy of Artists’ Social Initiatives is a day-long conference on Sunday 1 November convened by Liverpool Biennial and Andrea Phillips, in association with Visible Award 2015 and Tate Liverpool.

Distinguished thinkers and practitioners from the field of community arts have been brought together to discuss the legacy of such practices in light of a renewed interest in socially engaged art. The conference will re-open conversations and instigate new ones, ensuring that important work undertaken in the 1970s and 1980s continues to resonate. The event takes place at The Black-E, the UK’s oldest community arts project.

Speaker highlights include Turner Prize nominees Assemble co-presenting with Joe Farrag from Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust in Liverpool; Wendy and Bill Harpe presenting on the history of the Black-E; Laura Raicovich, President and Executive Director of the Queens Museum in New York; Frances Rifkin, Artistic Director of Utopia Arts and director in political and community theatre.

Official hashtag: #CommunityArts

:arrow_right: Full schedule and speakers

10.30-11.00 Registration

11.00-11.15 Introduction and welcome: Sally Tallant and Andrea Phillips

11.15-11.45 Introducing The Black-E: Wendy and Bill Harpe

11.45-12.20 What is at stake in community practice? What have we learned? Wendy Harpe, Frances Rifkin, Alan Read, chaired by Jason E. Bowman

12.20-13.05 How can we bring the legacy of community arts into the present? Loraine Leeson in conversation with Sophie Hope, Ania Bas, and Ed Webb-Ingall, chaired by Andrea Phillips

13.05-14.00 Lunch by Homebaked

14.00-14.45 What kind of organisations do we need to develop to work with communities and how does this affect how we reimagine galleries and museums? Nato Thompson, Anna Colin, Anna Cutler, chaired by Sally Tallant

14.45-15.25 How can we learn from the practices of the past and develop new models for the future without losing our values? Sonia Boyce, Laura Raicovich, Polly Brannan, chaired by Janna Graham

15.25-15.40 Coffee break

15.40-16.25 Politics and participation: housing, arts and Liverpool – what is necessary here? Jeanne van Heeswijk with Britt Jurgensen and Angela McKay, Homebaked; Fran Edgerley, Assemble with Joe Farrag, Granby Community Land Trust; and Nina Edge, chaired by Rosie Cooper

16.25-16.45 Screening: And On the Eighth Day, Granada Films, 1969 (23 mins) introduced by Wendy and Bill Harpe

16.50-17.00 Closing remarks: Sally Tallant and Andrea Phillips

*Image caption: Koo Jeong A x Wheelscape, Evertro, 2015. Photo: Pete Carr, via Liverpool Biennial

Welcome back to Liverpool, where the weather has provided us with a befitting post-Halloween thick misty-white fog. Today you join us from the iconic Black-E (formerly The Blackie), which has sat at the heart of Liverpool’s Chinatown community for many generations.

Welcoming everyone in from the cold, Sally Tallant, Director at Liverpool Biennial, provides a brief introduction to the day’s events. Talking to the audience about yesterday’s Visible Award and how it acted as a catalyst to furthering the conversation through today’s event, helping to bring the work of young practitioners to the fore and of course, thanks her loyal team and all those involved in producing todays event.

Ensuring that everyone is fully briefed on the day’s events a second more in-depth introduction is given by Andrea Philips (PARSE Professor of Art and Head of Research at the Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg), who has worked in collaboration with Liverpool Biennial to shape today’s event. Andrea will also be chairing several of today’s panel discussions. To give the audience food for thought on what might be discussed in today’s panels, Andrea highlights some of the long term struggles the UK’s art scene has had with community led arts and how it is often more about fulfilling the government’s inclusion criteria than working with the community.

Finally, The Black-E founders Wendy and Bill Hope explain the history of this iconic building. Having taken over the building in October 1967 with the support of Peter (now Sir Peter) Moores, Wendy and Bill Harpe began their cultural adventures with long term aims and with an ‘open door’ policy. With nearly 50 years of work which has uniquely combined the functions of a contemporary arts centre with a community centre, Wendy and Bill provide a brief overview of the work they have undertaken at the Black-E and the impact it has had. With so much work to discuss, with projects ranging from collaborations with John Latham and lectures by Judy Chicago, the presentation perhaps lasts a little longer than it was allotted, but the legacy and importance of their work is more important than timing.

After a little shuffling and re-arranging of the stage, the first panel, What is at stake in community practice? What have we learned?, gets under way.

Jason Bowman, who will be chairing the panel, takes to the lectern to introduce his thoughts around the question at hand. An artist with a curatorial practice, Bowman is also a researcher, writer, educator and Programme Leader of the MFA: Fine Art at Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg with Andrea Philips. Talking faster than I can type, Bowman throws numerous profound questions to the audience which cover the work he has undertaken during his career and how it relates to the conversation and debate we are here to listen and contribute to today.

Next to the lectern is Frances Rifkin who is the Artistic Director of Utopia Arts. Helping the audience warm to her with tales of being fired by several main-stream organisations, Rifkin then goes on to explain how she came to be in the position she is today and what she has learnt a she has tread her career path. Having been buoyed by what was going on around her in the 70s, Rifkin explains how she and her colleagues went off and ‘did it’ rather than talking about working with children in parks and how this led to revolutionary theatre.

“Art is necessarily and of its nature, political. Art is not for art’s sake. Art is a path to liberation, consciousness or conscientization”

Alan Read takes the lectern asking Bowman to intervene when he reaches his allotted 10 minutes before he starts. Director of Performance Foundation and Professor of Theatre at King’s College London, Read has also been coordinator of The Council of Europe Workshop on Theatre and Communities for Dartington College of Arts which has given him a wide and varied experience in the field of community theatre. Talking rapidly, perhaps to fit in as much information as he can in his ten minutes, Read discusses several of the books he has written and his experiences before radical inclusion became so popular and highlights how we are all in this together and rallies the audience to ‘keep on keeping on’.

“What would it really be like if we distributed our ideas of what counts and what does not count”

Finally Wendy Harpe, who we have just heard from, makes a few poignant comments to add to the discussion. Highlighting their ability to achieve what they have at the Black-E because of welfare benefits and the fact that they paid enough to live off as well as the new involvement of the visual arts within the community forum where there used to only be theatre and other art forms, a change Harpe welcomed.

“We do not talk to each other enough and we need to review our past and talk to people about it”

The debate is then opened to the floor and the ever heated topic of volunteers and an intern working within arts organisations comes up. Frances then suggests we rally the arts funding bodies and scare them; it’s an on going disgrace that young artists have to work for nothing. The discussion doesn’t last very long until a rallying cry comes from the audience that Liverpool Biennial themselves scrap using volunteers. A highly contentious issue so massive it cannot be answered within today’s time frame, Bowman stops the conversation to allow the next panel to take to the stage.

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Next up, chaired by Andrea Philips who provided part of the introduction earlier introduces the members of the second panel which will discuss How can we bring the legacy of community arts into the present?

Visual Artist Loraine Leeson starts the conversation with a presentation about her experiences during the 1980s when she was heavily involved in the cultural campaigning in support of the communities of London’s Docklands, and her subsequent collaborative and participatory work in East London which developed from this.

Andrea Philips, as the panel’s chair apologies for the mass of information being thrown at the audience but explains how, with such a diverse group of experts with them, they wanted to use the opportunity to extract as much information out of each panellist as they could.

Next up Sophie Hope who, before beginning her presentation picks on the previous debate about artists pay by rallying for the Artists Union; an organisation who represent artists in the fight for fair pay. Hope’s practice-based research investigates the uncertain relationships between art and society, her current projects include hosting dinners about art and politics in the year 1984 ( and exploring physical relationships to immaterial labour (

The third member of the panel is Ania Bas who, through her practice, creates situations that support dialogue and exchange, and explore frameworks of participation with a particular interest in the ways that narratives shape understanding, mythology and knowledge of places and people. Finally, Bas also picks up on the issue of ensuring that artists receive fair pay as for her, receiving fair pay was a huge part her being able to achieve what she has. Another rousing of this topic which is perhaps a sign of how complex this is issue is within the forum of community arts practice.

Finally, before Philips opens the conversation to the floor, Ed Webb-Ingall introduces his work. A filmmaker and writer with an interest in exploring the history of community practice and its forms of collectively and collaboration, Webb-Ingall’s research explores how the portability of video technology contributed to its application within social contexts. Currently undertaking a two-year residency at The Showroom in London, by looking at historical community projects, Webb-Ingall is creating a dialogue between then and now.

Philips opens the conversation to the floor, taking the opportunity to ask each of the panel members to give examples of past failed projects; failure being something she feels helps to propel community arts practice forward. Leeson picks up on this by explaining that she feels her projects are a form of conflict resolution and through each one she is trying to understand what each person wants from the projects output. Webb-Ingall interjects by explaining that he feels the issue is more about being honest about what your limitations are.

Having overrun into lunch, Philips allows for one question from the floor. “What is the mission of community arts?” … Philips decides this is something we should consider over lunch.

Over a lunch of scouse, pies and other freshly baked products from Anfield’s Homebaked we caught up with the events live online periscope feed which you can watch at - A quick check on numbers reveals there are around 150 people engaging with the debate through the portal; generous number considering there are also over 200 people in the audience.

For those who are not aware of Homebaked, they are a project which was initiated and supported by Liverpool Biennial and artist Jeanne van Heeswijk with the aim of supporting the local community to ‘take matters into our own hands’ regarding the future of their neighbourhood. The Homebaked Bakery Co-operative was first formed in 2012 by a group of local residents passionate about the possibilities of re-opening the bakery in community ownership, and creating a successful enterprise with social as well as financial value.

Ready for round two after fuelling up on a northern lunch, Sally Tallant introduces the next topic of discussion and the panel who What kind of organisations do we need to develop to work with communities and how does this affect how we reimagine galleries and museums?

First up for their ten minute mini presentation is Nato Thompson who is Chief Curator at Creative Time, an organisation based in New York where he has worked since 2007. Highlighting some of the projects he and the organisation have commissioned, Thompson speeds through projects which range from Paul Ramirez Jonas’s Key to the City which provided members of the public with a key which enabled them to gain access to private exhibitions and spaces they would not normally be able to, to a yearlong community bootcamp run by Susan Lacey taking place on the stoops of New York communities.

After a few technical issues, independent curator Anna Colin starts her presentation. Based in London, Colin co-founded and co-directs Open School East and has most recently co-curator of British Art Show 8 (touring to Leeds, Edinburgh, Norwich and Southampton in 2015-16). A school which is open to all members of the community, the school is giving artists and others the chance to be independent and providing them with creative autonomy, be it through a dance workshop or an opportunity for older community members to learn computer skills. The curriculum is defined by the associates and what they want to learn, making OSE a true open learning platform. The school is formed on a structure which is a moveable framework that can be adjusted when something is’ working as all of the members expect.

Ana Cutler opens her presentation with a question directed at the audience ‘Who defines their practice as Education or Learning’. After a large number of the audience raise their hands, Cutler explains that she will have to be careful before launching into her presentation. Director of Learning at Tate, Cutler’s interest in learning has been at the core of all she has undertaken and it is the purpose, exploration and improvement of learning projects and programmes within cultural practice that she continues to test and trial. Discussing how she is using these processes a in her current role at Tate, Cutler takes the audience through the changes she has made in the structure of learning within the organisation.

“You have to change systems to make something happen”

Sally Tallant immediately opens questions to the floor, the first question, directed at Anna Culter; ‘why we need organisations to work with communities?’. Sparking a heated debate which Nato explains the need that organisations need to remember their privileged position.

Then the issue of money rallies the audience into an even hotter debate. Describing the institution as a pointed top to the triangle taking the money and not filtering it down to the lower levels where there might be more qualified people to do the community work we are talking about but currently they just don’t have the money. At this point Tallant interjects by asking if actually we need numerous platforms rather than an evening out of public money.
Wendy Harpe then interjects to remind the audience that there is plenty of public money; we just need to fight for our share.

The next panel was supposed to be chaired by Janna Graham but due to illness, Sally Tallant stands in to chair the discussion; How can we learn from the practices of the past and develop new models for the future without losing our values?

First up is Laura Raicovich who joins the panel from the Queens Museum, New York where she is President and Executive Director and directs all aspects of the Museum’s activities. A true champion of socially engaged art practices that address the most pressing social, political and ecological issues of our times, and has defined her career with artist-driven projects and programmes.

Polly Brannan, Education Curator at the Liverpool Biennial takes her given time to discuss her past experience and how it has led her to the position she is now in. With a keen interest in using her role to expand collaboration and her understanding of how the city works, Brannan champions how important learning through play is to her in the work she is doing at the Biennial and highlights some of the very different and diverse ways the Biennial takes their work in communities including Dazzle Ships and glow in the dark skate parks.

Finally Sonia Boyce emerged as an artist in the early 1980s as a key figure in the Black-British art scene, with artworks that spoke about race and gender. Since the 1990s, out of the spontaneous performances of others, she uses the documented process to make multimedia artworks. Boyce explains that she often gets ‘parachuted’ in to work on community projects which involves her working from the seat of her pants as there is a lot of organisation and background work involved in community projects which actually most people don’t appreciate and think things can just happen.

Questions then go straight to the floor - “Where does the money come from?” – Raicovich then explains this in relation to the Queens Museum.

Another audience member explains how he feels the tensions previously raised through other panel discussions are being soothed by this panel’s discussion and examples of work and approaches to community work. Given the calmer questions now coming from the audience, this seems a very fair assumption to make.

A member of the audience highlights how information and presentation heavy the day has been so far and how enthusiastic the audience are the feed in their own thoughts on the topics being discussed. At this point Bill Harpe offers that we cut the film from the programme and Sally Tallant compromises with the idea of showing at the end when people can continue their discussions and watch the film instead of rushing home.

The audience seems to agree and the panel begins its change over.

The final panel is the largest so far. Chaired by Rosie Cooper, the final panel discussion aims to discuss - Politics and participation: housing, arts and Liverpool – and what is necessary here?

Several members of Homebaked - the organisations who served us all lunch - including Britt Jurgense, explain what other activities Homebaked are involved in apart from baking bread. Closing their presentation with a quote from Fred Brown, the group put out a rallying cry calling for people to stop moaning and get up and do:

“As in all baking so it also should be with a developing idea. Decide what you want to make, gather materials, include people, do some frenzied work in preparation and then wait.”

Nina Edge, describes herself as a direct advocate of community practice. As an artist Edge’s work in the community began in the 1980s when residents in Cardiff Docks established control over artist selection, insisting that their established relationship with Edge be recognised in the commissioning of West Close environmental improvements. A demolition order on Edge’s home and studio in The Welsh Streets area of Toxteth lead to eleven years of housing activism in which she has exploited culture as a political tool.

As the sense of urgency in the room grows and people start to return from their sneaky coffee/cigarette break, the final presentations provided by Fran Edgerley from the architecture collective Assemble and Joe Farrag from the Granby Community Land Trust. Both working the same project in Granby 4 Streets, their work reflects the true meaning of community work.

Farrag explains the work of the Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust which is a not-for-profit community-based organisation central to the L8 neighbourhood, by delivering housing and other community facilities at
affordable levels for local people.

Edgerly explains how Assemble work as a collective who work across the fields of art, architecture and design while addressing the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made. Assemble champion a working practice that is interdependent and collaborative and this year became the first design practice to be nominated for the Turner Prize, for their work with Granby 4 Streets Community Land Trust in Liverpool.

This then leaves the rest of the day open to discussion …

“How do you work in collaboration respectfully? How do you know when the right moment is to step in or out of a project or when a project might just need some extra love. There is no manuscript for this kind of work, you just have to build trust over time”

Although the panels have taken up a lot of time, they have been educational and thought provoking in a way that might help to fuel this closing conversation.

“how much do we really coordinate and collaborate in community arts”

“if we want to talk about the complexities of the future it might come out as moaning, but its a way of thrashing out the complex and difficult issues we face as we move forward”

“we need to make decisions on how we are all going to use our resources and learn to organise”

“institutions should continue to exist but they need to change”

“together community arts organisations can create a powerful force and stand up to their local councils”

As Andrea Philips wraps up the day’s panels, presentations and group discussion, she brings to the fore how imperative strong networks are to organisations who want to tackle the most urgent of political issues facing us today.

In order to add strength to our fight, we must learn how to deal with the law and inform ourselves about its processes.

The current way that arts organisations are structured is hierarchical which is wrong but how do we change this? We moan because we are put in a position in which we can often do little else; this is why collaboration and combined forces are so important.

We need to propose a new funding infrastructure so that it recognises the importance and historical significance of community arts.

Given the high level of information the audience has been subjected to during the days panels and presentations, the screening of the film And On the Eighth Day, which was filmed in 1969 for Granada Films is rescheduled to the end of the day at the time that the conference should have closed.

Introduced by Bill Harpe the film is a mini documentary of the work the Black-E was undertaking with the local community in 1969. Towards the end of the film we watch John Latham’s performance of his work New Reckoning in which Latham, dressed as a barrister, uses an electric saw to cut books in half.

Silencing the discussion, the film is a befitting close to the days events, perfectly demonstrating true community arts in action and the legacy of the building we are in.

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