How to find your creative community

By planetm | February 1, 2022

Do you have a passion you want others to enjoy too? Caroline Butterwick looks at how we can bring communities together with art, poetry and song

From crochet to cookery, many of us have a creative hobby we take pleasure from in our day-to-day lives. But what about taking this beyond our personal enjoyment and sharing this skill with others?

I’ve experienced community arts as both a practitioner and participant. Going to an art group at a time when I was struggling with my mental health gave me relief from the drain that is depression and made me see the power of people coming together to do something creative.

I’ve always loved writing and when the opportunity came up on my Facebook newsfeed to take part in a local arts festival, I decided, cautiously, to ask about running a workshop. After getting the go ahead, I spent hours researching writing prompts, reflecting back on workshops I’d attended and thinking what would engage people.

Soon I found myself in the arts space that used to be an old shop, with plates of chocolate digestives and plenty of paper and pens laid out on the table. Attendees began to filter in and I made small talk, trying to hide the feelings of imposter syndrome that came with running my first workshop.

As the session progressed and I realised participants seemed to be having a good time, I found myself enjoying it, too. People who’d admitted at the start that they were anxious left with pages of prose. It felt good to have brought this group together to share in the wonder of writing.

Inspiring others

That one workshop, and my previous experience of being a participant, gave me a taste of working with communities. Since then, I’ve gotten to know other artists who share their skills in my adopted home of North Staffordshire.

Penny Vincent has sung in choirs and bands since a young age and is one of the founders of Stoke Sings, which started as a one day festival of community singing and grew into a project that sees a year-round programme of activities to make singing opportunities inclusive to all.

Like me, she was drawn to working with communities as she had experienced the power of participating. “I went to a singing weekend at our local adult education college when a family member was very ill and felt rescued by the simplicity, concentration needed, and the togetherness I felt with strangers,” Penny tells us.

Another artist with a particular interest in engaging with communities is poet Gabriella Gay. She regularly collaborates with arts organisations in the area and was commissioned by Festival Stoke to run Poetry at the Bus Stops, which aimed to weave words into the everyday with poems by local poets placed next to bus timetables. I’ve spotted some while travelling around the city, loving the serendipity of stumbling across an uplifting poem as I wait for the bus.

As well as running community poetry events in Stoke, more unusually, Gabriella created the role as Writer In Residence at a car boot sale, demonstrating how art can come from unexpected places.

Art for all

Reaching out to people who are under-represented in the creative world is key to many community artists’ work. “With Stoke Sings, we’re committed to enabling people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to singing opportunities to be able to sing with others, for personal wellbeing and social benefits,” says Penny.

Stoke Sings aims to give a voice to all and the chance to grow and be happy in creating alongside others. Nic Gratton, Lead for Civic Engagement and Evaluation at Staffordshire University, tells me
about the benefits for both participants and artists.

“So many communities grow up feeling the arts are not for them or that they are no good at art, which is a shame because art should be for everyone,” Nic says. “Engaging in the arts, especially in workshops or groups can help people see art in a different way and to see themselves as ‘artists’ even if this does not match the traditional perception of artists.”

Getting involved

So how do we go about becoming a community artist, whether running your own project or taking part in an existing one? From open mic nights where anyone can take to the stage to reading groups where members share their love of literature, there’s an abundance of opportunities.

For me and many others, connecting with local arts organisations was the first step. I could slot into their existing activities, and would go along to their events to get a flavour of the groups.

“Whenever you can, surround yourself with other creatives,” says Gabriella. They’ll often have the connections, experience and support you need. Social media is great for finding arts organisations. See if there are existing events, like festivals, that you can link in to.

Many charities welcome someone running relaxed sessions for their clients. Whether it’s a women’s refuge or a mental health day centre, there are plenty of places local to you that will value your input. “There is something special about highlighting the voices and stories of people who don’t often see themselves as creative,” Gabriella says.

Working with people who face disadvantage can be rewarding for everyone. There are also opportunities to take part in online groups. During 2020, Gabriella ran Zoom meet-ups for local artists. Others have organised online workshops, poetry slams, and even full festivals, meaning anyone can join in, no matter where they live.

Of course, sharing our creative skills can be done more informally. My first experience of community arts was joining a volunteer-run writers’ group as a teenager. It built my confidence as a writer and I enjoyed connecting with like-minded people from different backgrounds.

Do you have friends who share a love of knitting? Simply bring everyone together with some yarn and needles, whether in a pub corner or your lounge, and make an event of it. You don’t need a degree in Fine Art to share your creative interest. Your love of it is enough, and you and those you bring together will benefit from your passion.

Discover more

This article first appeared in issue 20 of Planet Mindful magazine. Want to live more mindfully? Check out more mindfulness techniques here.

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