Creative Dundee

Blog: Unlocking Imagination and Agency through Creativity

Our Creative Climate Producer Claire Dufour, reflects on two years of CULTIVATE, the programme’s ambitions, and its invaluable ongoing work driven by creative practitioners and communities.

Two years into delivering the CULTIVATE programme – and now half-way through our six brilliant Creative Practitioners commissions – I want to share some reflections from our collective discussions along the way and give you a glimpse into the collaborative work done with diverse communities across the Tay region through this project.

But first, I need to take a step back and reintroduce what this (not-so-pilot anymore) programme is all about. Since the start of the programme, we have led many conversations (with creative practitioners, external experts, our learning partner Tialt and the Creative Dundee team) around the language that we use to describe what we do and how we define success – which I reflect on in a previous blog: Creativity Makes Positive Change

In this blog, I will reflect on the programme’s aspirations and new ways of working for initiating positive change in collaboration with communities across the region, and share more about the critical discoveries and learnings that comes with experimentation (and inevitably failures) from delivering a new programme.

In an attempt to clarify the complexity of such a large-scale programme that takes place over several local authority areas, with a multiplicity of issues, opportunities and approaches – we posed ourselves the following questions. 

And more importantly, these interrogations helped us navigate and break down our reflection on the reality of what has essentially been happening at a grassroots level in the last two years, through the collaboration between local individuals and groups (who are typically underrepresented within the conversations and efforts to alleviate the impacts and adapt to the environmental, social and economic crises) and the commissioned Creative Practitioners.

  1. What do we actually want to do and how do we determine what needs to be addressed? How do we enable people and communities to creatively imagine and initiate collective actions for a more equitable and sustainable future? How do we creatively and collaboratively nurture our imagination for, and capacity to build, a better tomorrow? (I’ll share more on this question below).
  1. What is it exactly that needs to be supported in order to do what we do? How do we grow creative leadership? Could it be through: exploring better ways of working with creative practitioners, through building long-term relationships and trust; giving extended access to resources, training opportunities, and time to share and reflect with experts; and creating stronger networks of peers to share knowledge, skills and experiences?

Briefly on this, I would like to acknowledge how valuable it has been for our project to be part of the Culture Collective network – a larger, national network of projects, art organisations, community partners, coordinators, creative practitioners, local activists and more, which have a common goal to explore how creative and culture (in its participatory-form) can be a force for good in Scotland – and thus make new connections, share resources and learn from each other. 

Here are only a few examples of how we benefited from what this network is enabling – we took part in their Starting Points Events Series, exploring themes such as Environment and Climate and Minoritised voices; we also presented our work at the first Culture Collective Showcase (here’s some reflections on the event and our behind-the-scenes tour of Dundee); we went on a learning exchange day with Combine To Create in Moray; and some of our Creative Practitioners participated in and led workshops at an artists residential in Comrie (Jaz Gradie shares her experience in this blog: Positivity in Rural Perthshire).

  1. What has to change on a systemic level? What are the seed ideas and models for a more robust and sustainable creative/cultural sector; for direct impacts on decision/policy-making at local, regional and national levels; and for more creative and equitable civic participation in future-making?

We’re delighted to see that our work enabled through this project (alongside other local community-first projects and activities, as well as the amazing work done within the Culture Collective network) has been noticed and taken as an example of good practice on many occasions – not only as a way to engage people and communities in the inevitable journey towards Net Zero, but also as an advocacy tool for a truly participative ‘just transition’.

I was recently interviewed by a Masters student who’s interested in how a programme like CULTIVATE has supported local sustainable development, looking at how community-engaged participatory arts projects relate to all three pillars of sustainability (economic, cultural and environmental) and how this, in turn, can inform healthy community development and resilience. 

One of her questions, which I truly appreciated being asked, was around the emotional realities of climate change; how we have handled these realities when engaging with ‘vulnerable’ communities, especially within a time of multiple crises.

“Normalising access and doing it right takes time and care … we all want to belong and contribute, and self-organising is the key to community resilience” 

This has been such a sensitive part of our work that it has become one of our main focuses and which we have explored deeply during the course of the programme. We’ve done this publicly in several ways: through a series of climate justice events last year (Diversity & Climate Justice in Dundee and Poverty & Climate Action in Forfar); our various partnerships (including the 2022 Tayside Climate Beacon Event Series, Build a Marble Run! workshops across the city); and of course through the two rounds of CULTIVATE Creative Practitioner commissions (you can delve into previous case studies from the first round and read more about this year’s round of commissions below). 

We’ve also took time to share and reflect on this topic, more internally, with creative practitioners, community-first experts, climate justice activists, our learning partner and the team – like when we reviewed and reflected on our recruitment process (more on this in Vicky Beesley’s blog: Creating a Positive Recruitment Process) or through facilitating learning exchanges as part of our peer-leadership programme (a snapshot of this in Vinishree Verma’s blog: In Search of Answer).

Normalising access and doing it right takes time and care. For me, the most valuable understanding from the last two years working on CULTIVATE is that we all want to belong and contribute, and self-organising is the key to community resilience. 

Through facilitating these sensitive (yet essential) conversations and work around access, we confirmed this idea that we must facilitate ‘safer’ spaces where we can all come together and collectively nurture our imagination for the here and now, and for the future. We need creative spaces where anyone and everyone feels welcomed, heard and confident to discover, share and participate. 

And, perhaps most importantly, we need spaces and opportunities where we feel invited, knowledgeable and confident to contribute to the conversations taking place, the actions being collectively imagined and initiated, and the difficult topics that need to be creatively explored.

We urgently need more empathy and creativity in our thinking and actions, between each other and within the nature around us, to nurture our imagination for a better, more inclusive and just tomorrow.

So, how could this translate into creative and practical action? Here are just a few examples of how we’ve been exploring the role of culture and creativity as a democratic process – how we’ve been facilitating creative opportunities for collective imagination, and amplifying a sense of self-confidence, agency and leadership within individuals and groups across the ongoing CULTIVATE commissions: 

Amadu Khan is facilitating and capturing conversations on ‘climate change’ action with New Scots, immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from all cultural backgrounds, in Dundee and Perth. His work considers the ways we engage with societal and environmental injustices through and with our own cultural kaleidoscopes, and how telling stories again and again (naturally transforming and embellishing them in the process) can help us share our understandings and values with each other – so that we don’t forget the learnings from past generations! Read Amadu’s most recent blog: Oral tradition, environmental justice, and emotional relationality.

Jaz Grady is leading opportunities for young adults across rural Perthshire to share concerns and ideas, build confidence to make things happen, and visualise their own vision of a better future, through painting murals, making simple video-games, designing slogans on pre-loved clothes and ‘accidental learning’. Her work aims to highlight and connect up what’s already locally available that could be made more visible and accessible – all the while using capitalism to fight capitalism! Jaz has made this fun animation about her project: Project Echo – A Day Doing Good Things.

Vinishree Verma is facilitating workshops in Dundee, using simple yet effective creative activities to host conversations around waste, food and responsible production and consumption practices. Her group is intergenerational and multicultural, exploring how ‘climate change’ is talked about in different languages, and, with collective care, building participants’ confidence to speak up and share their knowledge and ideas around these topics – giving strength and agency to future climate champions! Vinishree’s recent workshop: Discussion on Greenwashing.

Shona Inatimi is capturing, visualising and sharing Black and black biracial women’s essence through portraiture and writing. Her creative process explores one-to-one connections collaboratively with the ‘muse’ – through conversations, making together, and finding ways of capturing stories. Shona sees portraiture as a visual manifestation of thoughts, feelings and experiences – acting as a mirror that reflects a muse’s positive energy back to them!

Angela Gillies is interested in people’s perceptions and understanding of local climate change issues and injustices, particularly those that impact communities living with low incomes in and around Forfar. Using her extensive local knowledge and lived experience, she’s engaging community members with climate justice issues – individually and in small groups – through cooking and sharing recipes, working with clay and natural dyes, family craft activities and reminiscing about the joyful past… with the aim to bring everyone together for a celebration event that will create space for empathy and connections! Angela’s recent workshop on Public Transport Provision in Forfar & Kirriemuir.

Activities will continue to take place throughout the summer and conclude with sharing and celebration events this October, in Dundee, Forfar and Perth. Head to the CULTIVATE main page for more info about the programme, our journey so far and previous commissions, and sign up to our monthly News Mail Out to receive ongoing updates about the current commissions and more!

CULTIVATE is a Culture Collective leadership programme led by Creative Dundee. The programme works with local creative practitioners to place creativity at the heart of climate justice, developing action with communities across the Tay region.

Creative Dundee believes that culture and creativity are essential catalysts for positive change. We facilitate collaboration, nurture collective leadership, and support people to imagine and act together to benefit our communities and places.

As a national network of 26 projects, Culture Collective places creative practice right at the heart of a just transition, and helps shape the future of local cultural life, which will impact massively the way we embrace creativity and culture in Scotland.

With thanks to CULTIVATE Storyteller Lu Kemp for the wonderful photos.

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