By Pam Lawton

Bookmaking at Whales Art Agency [Photo courtesy of Kat Dlugosz and Paolo Drusi]

For the past 20 years, I have collaborated with a variety of communities on social justice issues through artistic expression.  I coined the term artstories, to describe these collaborative interventions. “Artstories describes the process of combining oral, written, visual, and performed narratives into artworks representative of a multiplicity of generational and cultural voices; the issues raised have to do with coming of age within a multicultural society, as well as those common rites of passage associated with being in and passing through the various stages of psychosocial development” (Lawton, et al., 2019, p. 35). While artstories projects always involve youth, the goal has been to include adult participants as well to build rapport across generations and develop support networks, particularly within BIPOC [Black, indigenous, people of color] or BME [Black, minority, ethnic] communities. Many educators have an interest in working with underserved or marginalized populations, seeing it as their duty to help uplift disadvantaged, read as mostly BME, youth.  While this sounds selfless, in practice it can cause harm.  Truly anti-racist educators consider the assets that all young people and the communities they live in bring to a collaboration.  Rather than starting from a deficit perspective, anti-racist educators begin by mapping their own identities (Congdon, Stewart & White, 2002) to determine their biases and how they affect teaching and learning.  Once educators understand their own limitations, they are more likely to design curricula that is asset-centered and bias-free.

Making decorative papers [Photo courtesy of Jing Xu]

E.R.E.C.Ting a community-based art education (CBAE) conceptual framework.  We (Lawton, et. al., 2019, p. 11) created a conceptual framework for organizing, planning, implementing, and assessing community-based art education structured around five guiding principles:

Educational. CBAE provides teaching and learning opportunities for all stakeholders, artist-educators, and the broader community through art experiences, while also supporting narrative co-inquiry, the public exhibition/sharing of understandings and knowledge gained, and art skills, processes, and products.

Reciprocal. Stakeholders in CBAE establish common ground whereby the contributions and voices of everyone involved are equally heard, appreciated, and considered. Reciprocity is key to developing rapport and trust, valuing diversity and inclusion, and building connections across communities of difference to further understanding and/or meaningful change.

Empowering. Involvement in CBAE and narrative co-inquiry creates opportunities for self and communal empowerment and efficacy.

Collaborative. CBAE programs are designed as collaborative creative experiences in which each stakeholder has a meaningful role to play, shares their knowledge, and cooperates in a mutually respectful manner toward the accomplishment of personal and collective goals.

Transformational. Well-planned CBAE experiences allow for the possibility of an empowering event (Lawton, 2008) to occur that may lead to personal, communal, and societal transformation for the overall benefit of individuals, the community, and broader society.

With these principles in mind, and my experience as an African-American artist-educator, I collaborated on an artstories project with BME youth from SCOREscotland [Strengthening Communities for Race Equality in Scotland] during my Fulbright experience through Moray House School of Education and Sport at the University of Edinburgh. After an initial meeting with Jennifer Ba, Youth and Children’s Development Officer, and BME youth aged 13-18 listening to their stories of racial injustice at school and in their neighborhoods, we decided upon a bookmaking activity that would provide them with space to voice their concerns, goals, and self-affirmations. We met for five successive Saturdays in the art room at WHALE Arts Agency which also houses the SCOREscotland program. Participants decorated papers, wrote content, and created visuals for accordion-style books.  Once the books were complete, we held a celebration: book reading, community meal, and activities to recognize their accomplishments.  The books were exhibited in the Edinburgh College of Art library.  Youth had an opportunity to travel to the college to see their work. It was an empowering, enlightening, and emotion filled experience. The youth I worked with seldom participated in visual art activities outside of school.  The opportunity to experiment with materials and tell their stories was one they appreciated.  Jennifer Ba obtained a grant to sustain the program, which affirmed for me the value of artistic expression for young people coping with racism.  

Completed books on display at Edinburgh College of Art Library [Photo courtesy of Kat Dlugosz and Paolo Drusi]

References

Congdon, K., Stewart, M. and White, J.H. (2002). Mapping identity for curriculum work. In Y.   Gaudelius & P. Speirs, (Eds.), Contemporary issues in art education (pp. 108-114). Prentice Hall.

Lawton, P.H. (2008). Artstories: Narrative construction in intergenerational and transformative learning. VDM Verlag.

Lawton, P.H., Walker, M. A. and Green M. (2019). Community-based art education across the lifespan: Finding common ground. Teachers College Press.

Website and Social Media

For more Artstories examples see my blog: https://phlawton.wixsite.com/artstories

Instagram: #artstories_uk #community-based-arted

Videos

[All videos courtesy of Video Production Edinburgh [Kat Dlugosz and Paolo Drusi]

9 minute version:

4 minute version:

As an artist-educator-researcher, Pamela’s art is grounded in social practice, seeking to shed light on contemporary issues, cultural traditions, and the stories of people affected by them. Her work, mostly prints and mixed media pieces, is a visual narrative of the people, places, and traditions that influence her life. Artstories, a term Pamela uses to describe both her personal art practice and her community-based art research, combines written, visual, oral, and performed narratives into art works representative of a multiplicity of generational voices on issues related to the coming of age within a multicultural society.

Link to Pamela’s website with email contact info: https://pamelaspress.wixsite.com/artstories