Part of the Community – by Hamish MacPherson

Since November I’ve been working at Chisenhale Dance Space as a Trainee Producer, carrying out some community research. This has involved working with Natalie, CDS’s Project Producer in looking at ways to relate our experimental dance and performance work to diverse audiences in Tower Hamlets.

Chisenhale Dance Space has been working with communities since we started over thirty years ago. Here are our aims from around 1990 for example.


Our children’s classes have always been a core part of our work and in just the last year and half these have reached 234 children, 70 per cent of whom live in Tower Hamlets.

Family festivals have been another regular feature, for example last October year we created Chisenhale Fun Palace which we ran with Chisenhale Gallery and Artists Studio. We designed this by asking local local residents what they wanted to learn and do and then providing it.


Natalie Clarke and friends planning the Fun Palaces in Roman Road market. Photo: Will Huntley

And in March this year we put on Canalside Festival to celebrate World Water Day. This event highlighted environmental concerns through Amy Sharrock’s The Museum of Water and Rachel Gomme’s Water Bearer and reached over 300 people.


Rachel Gomme’s Water Bearer part of Canalside Festival. Photo: Will Huntley

A recent addition to our community activity is our Close-Knit residencies, the first round of which are now drawing to a close.

Laura Napier has been working with patrons of the Crown Pub to collect personal stories about the local area.  The stories will be woven into a larger fiction, to combine an imagined inhabitant of the pub with the real lives and histories of its patrons and wider community. This is culminating in a performance tonight (Thursday 21 May – book tickets here). Meanwhile Alex Noble has been at Muxima café making collages that are created using people’s actions in the café.


Photo: Alex Noble

Now with this new research project we wanted to create new connections with local residents, businesses and interest groups to broaden and deepen relationships and inform future programming.

It was also important to make sure the community engagement programme is in line with our artist and art-form development to make sure that it is integral to the practices of our members.

The research had four main parts to it:

* commissioning the Audience Agency to create compile a profile of Tower Hamlets residents;

* calling up and meeting with lots of local community and cultural organisations exploring possible shared interests and possibilities for collaboration;

* asking the public about their use and awareness of CDS; and

* asking CDS’s members about their interest and experience of working in community settings.

I’ll be going into these in a bit more detail in my next few blog posts.