Jacqueline Reynolds – The Story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent: Towards Deeper Understandings of the Role of Arts and Culture

Our Cultural Value project, involving an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Creative Technologies at Staffordshire University, is concerned with issues of empathy, compassion and understanding. It is rooted in a remarkable story about Stoke-on-Trent and the tiny village of Lidice in the Czech Republic, which was completely destroyed by the Nazis in June 1942. In Stoke-on-Trent, in response to this tragic event, local Doctor and Councillor Barnett Stross launched the ‘Lidice Shall Live’ campaign, rallying local working people to donate to a fund that ultimately contributed to the rebuilding of the village after the war. It was an amazing demonstration of empathy and compassion that ordinary miners and pottery workers donated in many cases up to a week’s wages to this campaign.

Significantly in terms of Cultural Value, the village of Lidice today expresses its story through arts and culture, including the largest rose garden in Europe, and a museum and art gallery that sit adjacent to the new village. A commemorative event takes place in Lidice each year on the anniversary of the tragedy, and in recent years, the links between Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent have been refreshed with cultural exchanges, involving a range of arts projects and events that celebrate the cultural ties between the two places. It is striking that in all of the civic engagement and partnership working recently developed between these places, we choose to explore, express and celebrate these ties almost exclusively through arts and culture.

Influenced by the story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent, our research focuses on storytelling approaches in exhibitions and in community and participatory arts projects. Our key aim is to improve our understanding of the potential of arts and culture to develop empathy, compassion and understanding across geographical divides. It is often an implicit, taken-for granted aspect of arts and culture that people’s emotions can be engaged in this way, but demonstrating the value of this is clearly a challenge. We have used new insights from our research to develop resources for the design and evaluation of arts activities.

One of the significant things about this project is the key importance of issues of empathy and compassion to society as a whole. We find discussions about such issues in many different contexts – for example, healthcare, journalism, politics, and education. They are at the very heart of our relationships with other people in the world, and developments such as the widespread use of social media constantly raise new questions about the extent to which we feel and express empathy, compassion and understanding.

Our project draws on insights and understandings from a wide range of academic disciplines, and also from diverse groups of artists and creative practitioners. We held focus groups and individual interviews (some of which were filmed), at Staffordshire University and in local arts venues. We have been delighted at the levels of interest in the project, and at the in-depth and thoughtful discussions that have taken place. Discussions included what empathy, compassion and understanding mean to people, and how they apply their understandings within their own work. We asked people to reflect on when they have been deeply moved by an arts or cultural experience, and to consider why this was so, any actions or changes that this led to, and how we might be able to capture this kind of information in evaluating arts activities. We have analysed a wealth of data that have been generated by these discussions, as well as completing a literature review that draws upon a wide range of disciplines.

Following on from the focus groups and interviews, we established a working group of university lecturers, artists and creative practitioners, to contribute to the development of new resources for the design and evaluation of arts exhibitions and projects. An important part of the design of our project was a research visit by some of the working group to Lidice (in June 2014) to attend the annual commemoration of the Tragedy, and to take part in the arts and cultural events that take place at this time. This was a deeply moving and unforgettable experience for the group, and it contributed significantly to the outcomes of the research project. The visit was an opportunity for our group to consider the emerging findings from the research in relation to our case study, to exchange ideas with creative practitioners in Prague and Lidice, and to begin to formulate ideas for a new project to be informed by the outcomes of this research project.

During the project, we worked with film makers Suzanne James and Darren Teale (Junction 15 Productions), who filmed a number of the individual and group interviews, as well as the visit to the Czech Republic. This resulted in a series of eleven short films, including four case studies of projects that have connected people across geographical divides. All of the films are shared on the project blog. The films are intended not only to share the findings of the project with a really wide audience, but also to be useful resources to artists and creative practitioners who are considering issues of empathy, compassion and understanding as part of their work.

We also drew upon our research findings to develop a set of ‘Caring Cards’ to support the design and evaluation of participatory arts activities. We commissioned artist Nicola Winstanley to design the cards, which highlight issues of cultural value and empathy, compassion and understanding from a range of perspectives, all informed by the research. They include participant quotes and some key themes, and are designed to be used as a tool for project management in community and participatory arts work. They address some of the implications of the research at each stage of the project cycle, and can be used to support conversations and planning by artists, and also as a tool for evaluation. All of the cards include original illustrations that have been developed in direct response to the themes that have emerged from the research. They are therefore visually interesting in a meaningful and engaging way and they contribute towards developing a ‘visual language’ to help explore the themes of empathy, compassion and understanding. As well as being available on the project blog, we obtained additional funding from the Institute for Applied Creative Thinking (I-ACT) at Staffordshire University to produce pilot printed versions of the cards. They were introduced during a presentation about the project at the Arts in Society Conference at Imperial College London in July 2015, and a range of international delegates agreed to pilot the cards. They will thus help to address the on-going international challenges of demonstrating cultural value across a range of contexts.

Our project blog, including full project reports, can be found here:
Notes:
The Story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent: Towards Deeper Understandings of the Role of Arts and Culture, is a six-month project (February-July 2014). The project team (from Staffordshire University) includes:
Principal Investigator: Dr Jackie Reynolds (now at Keele University)
Co-Investigator: Janet Hetherington
Postdoctoral Researchers: Dr Ann O’Sullivan and Dr Kelvin Clayton.
John Holmes (Visiting Research Fellow, Staffordshire University)

The Research Team is grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the funding that supported our project. We would also like to thank participants in the UK and the Czech Republic who generously contributed their time, knowledge and expertise to this project.

David Beel: EViDAnCE – Exploring Value in Digital Archives and the Comainn Eachdraidh

A large proportion of the work on cultural value centres upon primarily institutional accounts as to how ‘culture’ brings value to both individuals and communities. Research from institutions such as museums, libraries, galleries, theatres and arts organisations dominate the literature in this area, however, very little is written or researched with regards to more everyday and voluntary cultural work conducted by communities. Even more so this is especially pertinent for rural, remote and peripheral locations where such activities often play a central role in maintaining community ties. This is especially true of the Comainn Eachdraidh (Gaelic for Historical Societies) in the Outer Hebrides whose potential cultural value extends well beyond their initial remit as a historical society. There are around 19 active and autonomous Comainn Eachdraidh groups in the Outer Hebrides with the earliest dating back to the 1970s, beginning with a very specific political motivation: to preserve the aspects of their own culture that more official, institutional and mainstream archives saw as irrelevant or unimportant. The larger groups have almost full membership from the populations in their respective areas. As such, the Comainn Eachdraidh represents a medium for the cultural transmission of meaning (McGuigan, 2004) in order to present and preserve a ‘way of life’ (Williams, 2010) that for Islanders is seen as fragile and under threat due to a variety of long-term external influences.

Archives such as these are generated as an articulation of ‘heritage from below’ (Robertson, 2012) and they represent spaces of ‘marginalised memory’ (Creswell, 2011) attempting to give a counterpoint to more top-down and mainstream articulations of history (Mason and Baveystock, 2009). As Stevenson et al. (2008) suggest, their relevance and value extends well beyond the physical site of the archive itself, it is ‘the active and on-going involvement in the source community in documenting and making accessible their history on their own terms’. This makes understanding the practice of archive production amongst volunteers central to comprehending their broader value. Added to this, through the process of digitisation something is both gained and lost in the ‘click of a mouse’ (Latour and Hermant, 2004), and understanding both the production and outcome of such ‘clicks’ is key in understanding the different ways in which value is potentially generated.

Most Comainn Eachdraidh groups have some form of digital presence whether through social media (facebook, twitter and blogs), their own websites or through online digital archives. Digitisation, however has not been a simple process for such small groups to undertake alone. Despite allowing their archives to reach beyond the walls of the archive, it have often meant trading-off autonomy. Due to the expense of converting analogue records to digital form as well the need for long-term hosting solutions, collaboration with other Comainn Eachdraidh groups in order to pool resources has been necessary (for example see Hebridean Connections and their blog . This raises a series of interesting questions about the nature of such practices in term of how digitised content creates value for Island life. And following on from this a series of further questions which this project wishes to understand – How are everyday practices of cultural heritage production represented in digital formats? What value do volunteers/non-institutional heritage work have culturally, economically and socially for communities? Finally, in a broad sense, how does the ‘memory work’ of the Comainn Eachdraidh build identity for individuals and communities?

Project website/blog – evidance-ahrc.com

Claire Pajaczkowska: Compassion By Design

Tiles for interior architectural surfaces made from recycled high density polymers by people living with dementia in AHRC participatory design workshops. Credit: Julie Behseta.

Tiles for interior architectural surfaces made from recycled high density polymers by people living with dementia in AHRC participatory design workshops. Credit: Julie Behseta.

How can making art and design create better relationships inside institutions?

This research tests the idea that making art is more valuable than owning or appreciating art.

Edna (96) lives in a residential care home in Essex, with a hundred other residents and a dozen care workers. Each week she opts to join a group of residents who want to gather around the tables in the lounge in order to stitch, knit, talk and listen. Staff are welcome, if they can find time from the tasks that need to be completed. Families and visitors can join in too. Edna, like most of the residents and staff here, has never been to an art gallery or museum, but is curious to know what it means when we describe our workshops as making art and co-design. We bring offcuts and swatches of fabrics given us by manufacturers, shops and the municipal recycling centre. Families bring in materials that are familiar and personal. Individuals find their pieces of work from previous weeks and continue. Stitching seems to bring back memories. Garments that mother made are remembered and with this comes memories of childhood playtime toys, beds of the family kitchen, of setting up home in married life, of working in textiles, buying fabric at the haberdashery, knitting socks on four needles, Make Do and Mend. When we bring in catalogues of textile artists, like Louise Bourgeois, Barbara Hepworth, Tracy Emin, Grayson Perry – Outsider Art residents laugh. They call this the Workhouse and the Cheeky Girls. We show them the tiles encasing their work, made from recycled plastics from the kitchen, which make the square tiles that can be used to resurface the walls of the corridors and bathrooms in the Home. A renewed sense of purpose settles over the group’s weekly gathering as the sense of industry is part of the pleasures of the handiwork.

The tabletops are covered with pieces of cloth, threads, yarns, buttons, images, and each participant chooses the colours and materials they will work, sew, knit, fray, bind, twist, crochet , glue or stitch.

Each week brings new memories and makes links back to previous gatherings. The sense of the hands holding the materials as all work together is a bond more powerful than holding hands. The loose collectivity of individual collaboration exerts a strong gravitational pull and soon people come over to watch, to comment and to share thoughts. The quality of concentration as each pursues their own piece of work is a vivid and vibrant note of tensile strength.

How can this be recorded, noted, choreographed, documented? How then can it be evaluated? The value of this process is not only in the attention that it deflects from calling out to the doctor, nurse, care worker for something else. The value is in the quality of the attention intrinsic to this work, which enriches the moment, the day and the week. It is a culture of Insider Art.

We want to find ways of showing the value of this culture in creating a quality of attention that links our inner selves to the shared space of society. We think this quality of attention may help repair the ‘compassion deficit’ that the Francis Report noticed in the institutional care of the old and vulnerable.

Janelle Reinelt: Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution

What do people ‘do’ with their experiences? How do they process them? ‘Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution’ approaches the challenging call of the Cultural Value Project by searching for the network of associations that audiences activate when they attend the theatre. Partnering with the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Young Vic, and the Plymouth Drum, we set out to trace the pattern of connections established by spectators after seeing a show. We ask what they remember shortly afterward, and in two months’ time, as well as asking some subjects about a show they saw over a year ago. We also ask whether they communicated about their experience to anybody, and if so, to whom and using what medium (face-to-face? Facebook? Phone?). We ask if the shows connect to anything going on in the world or in their private lives. And we ask what value such experiences have to our subjects, and why.

Nine productions have been chosen for the study ranging from a classic, Hamlet, to a new adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall (both at the RSC); from a new play such as David Greig’s The Events (at the Young Vic) to an experimental work from the 1927 company called The Animals and Children Took to the Streets (at the Plymouth Drum). These evenings in the theatre are rich and variegated enough to provoke a panoply of reactions from research subjects. They respond to questionnaires and interviews, and participate in creative workshops that go beyond fact-finding to stimulate imaginative associations between shows and the people who have seen them.

While this research is well underway (in October and into early November, seven of the shows have been surveyed and some interviews and workshops have taken place), we are not yet in a position to predict substantive outcomes. What we have seen is that many of our subjects (self-selected in response to an invitation to participate) are passionate about their theatre experiences and often extremely clear about assigning value to this activity. After viewing Mark Ravenhill’s Candide, one subject wrote: ‘I like musical comedies, but I also like the big subjects to be tackled and not shirked, and they don’t get much bigger than the ones mentioned [in Candide]—life choices, genetic manipulation etc.’ Many subjects communicate with partners or other family members, friends or bartenders; often face-to-face, but using social media as well. The project intends to harvest additional data from social media through establishing Twitter searches and Google Alerts to capture blog and comment-box mentions of our performances, and to use Facebook’s search facilities to capture interactions on the social network. These will provide an additional data base for our analyses.

Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution also hopes to illuminate the role of memory and time-based processes in cultural value. To ask, for example, how people remember—in images? key lines? themes or story-lines?—is to begin to understand what we retain from experiences. In asking subjects about shows they saw a year ago, we are hoping to follow the traces of theatrical experience as they become amalgamated into an individual’s life, and to query what, if anything, remains in consciousness.

In undertaking this project, the British Theatre Consortium is following up on previous research into audiences and spectatorship. Working always with both the artistic and academic communities, BTC has run four sector-wide conferences and conducted a study of new writing 2003-2009 for Arts Council England (2010). In response to John Knell and Matthew Taylor’s RSA pamphlet, ‘Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society’, we partnered with The Royal Society of Arts (2012) for a round table entitled ‘From Spectatorship to Engagement’ comprising 25 invited artists, scholars, and public figures to discuss different models of capturing public value. BTC has also recently partnered with Manchester Metropolitan University and The Library Theatre in a study titled ‘The Spirit of Theatre’. Focusing on a production of Mother Courage, and on the associations and memories of audiences about The Library Theatre, we investigated and analysed the meaning and effect of the work of the Library Theatre in Manchester, using oral history and creative research techniques in addition to surveys and interviews. This study has been a kind of pilot project for ‘Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution’ with which it shares the emphasis on memory and processual analysis.

As we move into the analytic phase of our project, we are especially interested in the way the micro-practices of everyday life generate or negate cultural value. We seek evidence of value attribution at the corpuscular level of individual activity within a public context.

Our research team has started a blog of personal memories and observations triggered by working on the project. See our posts and more about BTC at http://britishtheatreconference.co.uk/