Community projects

A thing I do and really enjoy is community engagement projects. I have worked with various communities in the last ten years, including schools, small groups, art studios and the general local community to make things like carnival parades happen. Here’s a couple of recent projects with pictures and a bit of writing. These projects have been designed by me and contracted by a council and an art studio. They were designed to be engaged with the needs of the community, but also specifically connected with my own practice. It was very gratifying for me to realise that after each project I had given as much as I do to my own projects, but had also learnt as much to bring back to my own practice. Collaboration is so challenging but so rich!

This project was with Fernridge school and Masterton Primary, both in Masterton, and was supported by the Wairarapa Road Safety Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council as part of the Regional School Travel Plan programme which aims to have more children travelling safely, actively and sustainably, to school. I worked with two full classes of ten year olds to create three pou each, which will be positioned along the walkways to the schools. They will act as markers at which children can be dropped off, and walk, bike or scooter from there to school. The aim is to encourage active transport, and a sense of ownership and observation of the route through art. We began by walking the route together, after a talk by me and some training on how to ‘look like an artist’. We looked for details and small wonders rather than large shots, and we tried to find contrast between colours, shapes and forms. Some things made or built, some nature; birds, trees and leaves to scuff through. The time of year is spring now, so we looked at all the blooming trees in pinks and bright yellows. Cows, dogs and cats were also popular!

We then worked through the photos to decide on a selection, and divided the class into three teams, with one pou each. We drew and painted with lots of colours, learning about contrasting colour, and other hands on colour theory in the process. We decided to try some hand painting and went wild outside with our hands slapping on the paint, creating a wild Monet style painting! We decided to use this technique to get the paint onto the Pou as a background, so that it was covered with colour and texture.

We collaged our drawings together, looking again for contrasting colours, shapes and textures. We then picked up all the paint, and worked directly onto the pou. The mission was to cover every inch, and to intertwine all of our ideas and designs. The kaupapa of this project was that everyone is creative, and there is a place for every kind of mark. Also that there is no ‘my bit’ or ‘your bit’, but that together we make something far more beautiful than we could ever make alone. I said towards the end “I wish I had one of these for my house!” and the kids told me “why don’t you make one?” My response; “I’d need you guys to do it with me!”

There were so many incredible moments of discovery and wonder in this project, of working together and learning. One thing which was the most exciting to many of the groups was a surprise to me; how to make brown! It seemed that it was a total wonder that a whole range of colours mixed together made this colour; that it isn’t one which stand alone. The interconnectedness of all the colours and how they worked together was a good metaphor for the project as a whole, which taught me, yet again, that we are all stronger together.

Thank-you to Fernridge and MPS school for working so hard to make the magic happen with me, Wellington Greater Regional Council, the Wairarapa Road Safety Council, and all of the amazing children I worked with.

“I have just been at the final painting session at MPS I cannot begin to explain what a fantastic exchange I have just witnessed, the kids admired and adored Sian.

The Pou are simply extraordinary and the ownership has remained totally with the kids, they have learnt amazing things and they could not have had a better experience anywhere!

What an amazing opportunity to be responsible for something so significant in your community”

Kerry Hefferen project manager

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Samoa – a residency with community workshops

I was fortunate to go on a residency last year 2012 with Tiapapata arts centre I was there for five weeks, learning so much, being very welcomed, my body adjusting to such a new climate, food, people. I’ve written poetry pieces about this on this blog if you search Samoa, which speaks better than I can in prose about the experience. The workshops were wonderful; my first opportunity to really teach the way that I practice myself. We did blind drawing, where I gave each participant an object, which they had two minutes to explore with their hands, and then draw from memory. These haptic, non representational techniques released a lot in the participants – new mark making, looseness and bodily expression that they hadn’t experienced before. We listened to loud music, and tried to really loosen our bodies, drawing from the shoulder instead of the wrist and swinging our arms, legs and hips before busting into the drawings. We searched for a sense of fight by me giving them an object and then taking it away, asking them to fight me for it, to not want to let it go. And then a sense of release by simply letting it go. We made wonderful things…

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Making Here – a collaborative residency project with Pablos Art Studios Wellington

This project was developed from ideas about place. Pablos had recently moved to a new location, and I wondered how this affected the artists, many of whom walk to the studio. I developed practices and workshops which were based on walking around the neighborhood, collecting images, sounds and experiential data. We then translated these into abstract, haptic drawings and sculptures. We did blind drawing of the traffic sounds we could hear from within the building, drew the building works from close by, and worked with found materials from the street. All materials for the installation were gifted from local businesses, so we explored ideas of recycling and remaking our environment. We also included representational drawings of buildings and streets. We aimed to create a real document through art of both the environment, and our individual practices, some of which are abstract, representational, sculptural, ad more! The idea was that the city is made up of many identities all existing together, and so would our installation be, with many styles and identities included and made space for. We worked together on specific exercises, and also seperately on the ideas which the project sparked for us. together, we made this!

Pablos Art Studios Incorporated is a community organisation that provides people who have experience of mental illness with free materials, tuition and support to make art.

Working in the studio provides people with a social and creative experience that helps them regain their confidence to re-engage with their family, friends and the wider community

Pablos was established in 1993. Today the studio accommodates over one hundred and thirty artists a year.

“There are few advantages in having a mental illness, but one of them is definately being an artist here.”

This project was made possible by generous funding by Wellington City Council through the Creative Communities fund. Thank you so much!!

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