kNOw One Place Reflections: People & Power

kNOw One Place Reflections: People & Power

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Adrian Sinclair –  Co-founder of Heads Together Productions and UNION: The Northern School for Creativity and Activism

For me it was a good conference. As a provocateur I felt provoked, and I like that! Having been given the theme of People and Power to work around, I then found that one of the top themes from the first day of the conference was

“Stop thinking in terms of power” 

I think I agree. The work that we do should not just try to move concentrated power from one group of people to another, but to enable a grouping or community to take agency, to have and feel the ability to effect change.

So that means not just dealing with power and political structures but affecting them too! But hey, what are you expecting of us now—the overthrow of international capitalism!?

Well that’s maybe a longer discussion but consider how radical some of the work you are doing is anyway. Modelling ideas within a community, taking a suggestion from someone who lives in that community and developing it into something that is taken forward and eventually comes into being is an absolute challenge to the normal structures. Usually people in the community complain about something, and then either nothing happens or the ‘experts’ suggest a solution through the political structures and maybe even consult the community about its implementation.

UNION: The Northern School for Creativity and Activism

I remember when we did the work in the Methleys that the idea of creating a home zone came from the very young children in the area (I am talking about the 2-year olds). When they were asked about where they thought the play space should be, they answered simply “outside my house” or “in all the streets”. And that’s when we started to think a little differently…

Those kids could have said what they said and drawn a few cute pictures and we could have smiled, patted them on the head, and completely missed the wisdom they were sharing with us.

And that’s my interest these days—what is the role of the community artist, the facilitator, the creative activist…the people that are trying to make this so-called creative placemaking happen?

It is undoubtedly a sophisticated and complex role, one hard to define but with a range of competencies linked to the idea of working alongside people and skills around encouraging creativity and imagination. You may have missed it in the previous sentence but it is that simple word ‘alongside’ that seems key. Years ago I was talking with a colleague of mine, a musician, about the job of an accompanist. A good accompanist may be virtually invisible, even though they work alongside the protagonist and at times may need to lead as well as follow, or even do nothing. But who notices, who sees the skill of knowing when to do nothing?

And might we train and support someone to be a good accompanist rather than a hero artist? That was the question we started with when we started developing ideas that were to become UNION: The Northern School of Creativity and Activism. And the kNOw One Place conference helped me to understand what we have created with UNION—it is simply a way of accompanying artists and activists as they develop their practice with communities. We are simply modelling the way the work in the way we organise the training.  As one of the participants said recently:

“UNION creates a non-judgemental space and provides me with both clarity and inspiration—a community.”

So thank you Dumfries—the community that you created gave me the clarity to kick the habit of thinking about power, and make sense of what’s at the heart of my work in professional development. 

And does it inspire me. Oh yes: to encourage others to develop their own ways of accompanying…UNION South of Scotland anyone!?

Adrian Sinclair at kNOw One Place
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