This is the fourth and final blog about the work I’ve been doing as trainee producer, looking at our relationships with local communities in Tower Hamlets.
Earlier this year we conducted a public survey asking people about their use and awareness of Chisenhale Dance Space. This was to get a sense of all levels of engagement from members to occasional users. Most respondents were well informed about the offerings available to them at Chisenhale Dance Space. Our most widely known services and activities are space hire and performance (how about you; do you know about our Arts Counselling and Hot Desk?).
Image: Audience Agency
And perhaps unsurprisingly people living in Tower Hamlets visit us more frequently than people from further afield.
Image: Audience Agency
We also got lots of helpful feedback. For example people told us how they didn’t like how cold it gets in the winter but they liked the lounge and the kids classes (including the parents who told us how their children had been inspired to later study dance and become a professional sportswoman). We’ve made a few changes, for example trying to be clearer about what classes take place here and we’re always looking at the cold issue – although we have to accept that making big changes proves tricky as we do not own the building.
“The use of the lounge is
great and very comfortable”
The comments about the lounge are a good reminder that something simple like a lounge with free wifi is actually a valuable resource that we have to offer both our artistic community (members and non-members alike) and local people. We were pleased to welcome MilesKm who held a 30-strong round table on funding of alternative arts education and on 26 June Mil Vukovic will be hosting a Rant. Chat. Eat. Coffee Morning on ‘The enterprising dancer’. But who or what else could we accomodate?
Photo from MilesKM roundtable, June 2015
“always focused on working with diverse groups,
who have different relationships to ‘art’”
And finally we conducted a survey of our members asking about their interest and experience of working in community settings. Most respondents had some interest and experience of working with ‘non-professionals’ (how we phrased it in the questionnaire) ranging from teaching open classes (“I teach Argentine tango”) and classes for particular communities (“I teach young people with Special Educational Needs”) to making performances with non-professionals. The most commonly mentioned places where this has taken place were art spaces (inc. dance venues, galleries) and schools.
“It helps keep us grounded in our community,
and although it can be challenging
it helps keep us grounded artistically too.”
Most respondents thought that working with communities in Bow should be a priority for Chisenhale Dance Space as an organisation and many saw it as an integrated element of prioritising artists.
“I think working with people who have
a story to tell is a priority of my work”
We asked people whether working with non-professional participants or community organisations is a priority in their practice. A few people answered this definitively in the negative (“No, making performances, art work is a priority”), some were open to the possibility (“no … but that does not mean I would not be interested in doing so”) but mostly the interest was articulated in ways integral to their practice rather than in instrumental policy terms (“I think working with people who have a story to tell is a priority of my work”) with some explicitly rejecting the act of categorisation (“The use of predicates such as ‘community’ or ‘non-professional’ only limit the potential of what are, in truth, purely artistic activities”). It feels like this reveals both a tension and an overlap between members’ and community priorities and how we talk about both.
The most commonly mentioned barriers to working with communities in Tower Hamlets were not living nearby (confirmed by the users survey) and lack of experience/knowledge of local communities or communities in general. On the former, I wonder if this is a variation of the way that artists are being priced out of London more generally?
And yet do we really need to live locally to work in the area? There was a strong consensus from survey respondents that Chisenhale Dance Space staff have a role to play as a contact point between artists and local communities and artists and to share the knowledge we have. Which is where these blog posts come in…
But these are just the start. If you are a member of our artistic community interested in bringing your practice to Bow, or if you live or work locally and would like to get to know Chisenhale Dance Space, please get in touch.