By Alison Jeffers
Over the last year Alison Jeffers (Lecturer in Applied Theatre and Contemporary Performance at University of Manchester) has been working on a research project with three refugee organisations in Bristol – Bristol Hospitality Network, Dignity of Asylum Seekers and Barton Hill Walled Garden. Alison, Emily Cuming from the University of Leeds and Naomi Millner from the University of Bristol made up the academic team. In this post from her project blog, Alison writes about this work.
The project was funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Connected Communities scheme which means that academics work in partnership with community groups to co-produce ‘new knowledge’. For us this has meant working with the staff, volunteers and participants of these organisations on a series of arts-based workshops to explore ideas about hospitality – What is it? How does it differ between cultures and from place to place? What does it mean to offer hospitality and to receive it? What is the relationship between hosts and guests? Is hospitality always positive? What power relationships might be found in hospitable encounters?
With Gerri Moriarty’s help co-facilitating the initial stage of the project we planned five Table Workshops which involved working with artists Rhiannon White, Oday Alkhalidi and Deborah Aguirre Jones. Rhiannon and Oday ran two drama workshops and Deborah focused on visual art and making temporary objects and environments. These workshops culminated in a Feast weekend away in the beautiful seaside town of Coombe Martin in Devon. Here we discussed what we’d done and planned how to share this work. We’ve made a booklet and a film and these were launched at a public event in Bristol in January when we also displayed the beautiful pots that participants had made with artist Lou Gilbert Scott.
We thought you’d like to see the film and if you would like a copy of the booklet do let us know. Emily, Naomi and I will be talking about the work at conferences this year and we will also write an academic article.
Literature and Resources list This is a link to books, films, projects and other resources that we gathered during the project. We see this as an on-going resource for anyone who is interested in working through the arts with refugees and asylum seekers.
This project has made me think about how we frame knowledge and the things we find out. One of the discoveries of our research into the community arts movement of the 1970s was a certain mistrust of academic work. It was a pragmatic movement on the whole with little time for theories – these just seemed to slow things down and produce a sense of inertia when there was so much to be done. It wasn’t that community artists didn’t think deeply about their work and what they were trying to do – quite the opposite: just reading old copies of the community arts magazine Another Standard published by the Shelton Trust soon shows that. But there’s no doubt that academic research works at a different pace and sometimes different ways of knowing do bash up against each other, helpfully or not. It would be very easy to criticise schemes like Connected Communities for appearing to suddenly wake up to a way of working that community artists have carried out for many years. But that would be unhelpful because it ignores the potential of research with community groups to create the possibility of discovering new things and new ways of working, and for academic research to speak far beyond its usual boundaries.
What do you think?
We hope you enjoy the film and, as ever, would love to hear your comments.