Community Arts: What is at stake in community practice?

1.11.2015, Talks

What is at stake in community practice? What have we learned?

Liverpool Biennial's annual conference Community Arts? Learning from the Legacy of Artists' Social Initiatives was held at the Black-E on Sunday 1 November 2015. The daylong event brought together distinguished thinkers and practitioners from the field of community arts to discuss the legacy of such practices in the light of a renewed interest in socially engaged art.

Wendy Harpe, Frances Rifkin, Alan Read and Jason E. Bowman consider what is at stake in community practice, and what we have learned.

Wendy Harpe began her career as an arts administrator, working as assistant to the Director at the Cardiff Commonwealth Arts Festival 1965. She also ran the Bluecoats Arts Forum, which promoted projects across the artforms, including bringing the first outdoor sculpture exhibition to Liverpool. She co-founded The Black-E with Bill Harpe and Peter Moores in 1968, working there full time until 1984, and on one-off projects in the years that followed. She continues to be a Trustee of the Black-E, and is currently archiving the 40-plus years of the Black-E's work. She also worked at the GLC in the 1980s, The Arts Council Of Great Britain (1990) and the BBC (1998-2006).

Frances Rifkin is Artistic Director of Utopia Arts. In the 1970s and 1980s, she worked with the Labour Movement, anti-fascist and progressive organisations as Director of Recreation Ground Theatre and then Banner Theatre companies. She studied with Augusto Boal in the 1990s and is a Theatre of the Oppressed practitioner. She is director of Implicated Theatre, a company initiated by Janna Graham and Amal Khalaf for the Serpentine Gallery in 2011. Most of its members are people who have had to leave their home countries to live in the UK. She also works across diverse communities, including professional performers, mental health service users, older people and NHS staff. Rifkin opposes the notion of ‘applied theatre’: her practice is in the long-standing international tradition of making theatre with actors and non-actors to express creative, social and political passions. Rifkin has lectured at Warwick and Lancaster Universities. Palatine, the HE Academy, funded her report, an Ethical Framework for learning and teaching Participatory Theatre in Higher Education.

Alan Read is Director of Performance Foundation and Professor of Theatre at King’s College, London. He was co-ordinator of The Council of Europe Workshop on Theatre and Communities for Dartington College of Arts between 1981-83. He went on to work alongside David Slater, Director of Rotherhithe Theatre Workshop in the Docklands area of South East London through the 1980s. In the 1990s he was Director of Talks at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He was appointed Professor of Theatre at Roehampton University in 1997 and King’s College London in 2006. Read is the author of Theatre & Everyday Life: An Ethics of Performance (1993), Theatre, Intimacy & Engagement: The Last Human Venue (2008), Theatre in the Expanded Field: Seven Approaches to Performance (2013) and Theatre & Law (2015). He worked with Andrea Phillips as the editor of The Fact of Blackness: Frantz Fanon and Visual Representation (1996). Read’s most recent work has included writing for radio, Plato’s Cave (BBC Radio 4, 2013,) and Dreadful Trade (BBC Radio 4, 2015). His most recent research concerns the fate of the dramatically insignificant for a book entitled The Theatre & its Poor: Performance, Power and Politics, due in 2017, and All the Home’s a Stage: From Oikos to Auditorium, to be published in 2018.

Jason E. Bowman is an artist with a curatorial practice. He is a researcher, writer, educator and Programme Leader of the MFA: Fine Art at Valand Academy, University of Gothenburg. Bowman was one of the first arts educationalists for the Deaf-Blind in the UK and has worked with communities his whole career, through participatory methods, to interrogate the coercion and violation of publics. He recently completed a role as a co-researcher interrogating the co-generative potential of trust and dialogue via the practices of Esther Shalev-Gerz, and is now at work on a three-year long enquiry, via the curatorial, into artist-led cultures. Previous curatorial activities include the official presentation from Scotland at the Venice Biennale (2005), the inaugural European career survey of Yvonne Rainer and Monica Ross’ Anniversary – an Act of Memory. His artworks have been commissioned by Franklin Furnace (NYC), ICA (London), Tramway (Glasgow) and Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester) amidst many others.