DJ McDowall – Creative Community Development Consultant & Activist – The Imaginarium
As someone embedded in the local community, I had the joy of attending both days of kNOw One Place (KOP) as the local Provocateur, alongside key local collaborators. This gave me a unique perspective across the two days: quietly, consistently tracking and gently provoking lines of enquiry across sectors and disciplines.
KOP enabled a gathering of cultural creatives, influencers and transformers, who are focused away from individual expressions of creativity into the long view, into a way of being in the world where there is a culture of sustainable creativity, imagination and inspiration, hope and belonging.
KOP’s atmosphere was a fertile breeding ground for some honest, refreshing conversations and sharing of insights, both during and after. We explored shifting towards more equitable power structures; more secure funding streams; the need for diverse, responsive delivery mechanisms; the importance of working to establish shared understanding, ethics, values, principles; and a commonality of language to ease our cross-sectoral working practices. Which meant the fundamentals of my world of grassroots community development / community organising were on the table, beginning a wider recognition of the complexities that lie in the art and science of genuinely transformative community development, which is often lost to its role as an undermined and undervalued ‘Cinderella service’, were being openly explored and acknowledged.
The time, integrity, expertise and deep work needed to achieve this though… will that be appreciated, beyond the rhetoric, and supported?
These were conversations that needed to be stimulated in order to catch a glimpse of a shared vision and hope, that at the very least could provide a foundation that begins to shift the momentum towards improvement, activating a desire for positive collaborative change amongst the participants.
The discussions permeated deep into the psyche of lots of those attending, provoking critical conversations. We recognised the need to take the time to build more trust to harness our passions and ease collaboration through a solid, inclusive co-creation process. Allowing effective sharing of our multidisciplinary collective skills, knowledge and experience to bolster and compliment one another’s efforts.
Beyond ego, control, ivory tower perspectives, structural constraints, intellectual pursuits, creative practice, bureaucratic processes and the chaos of day-to-day life, lives a sense of familiarity in our hope for changes in our connectivity. That was why this community of people with diverse backgrounds and multidisciplinary experiences had gathered…we were creating Community. Those who had been attracted were already in many ways aligning with the concept of Creative Placemaking. The principles of practice, however, were undefined, which KOP provided the opportunity to explore.
The process of KOP’s facilitated conversations allowed us to imagine the possibilities and explore the core principles that need to be at the heart of Creative Placemaking for it to be an effective conduit in our communities.
There was a real craving for social change at KOP, a thirst to do better, be more impactful, more connected, more relevant. The potential for Creative Placemaking was not in question – the energy and passion in the room was directed at finding meaningful ways to ensure its impact. Critical components in the discussion of Creative Placemaking included:
- proactively managing and, where possible, equalising the power dynamics and politics at play between stakeholders, including funders
- creating the right environment / places / spaces to allow this to happen – with devolved, equated power – where people feel confident and safe enough to act upon their beliefs and transform the world around them
- starting where people are at – creating different formats for dialogue – ensure invitations to the conversation are widely appealing and not exclusive
- creating support structures that are there to help not hinder, that create security amongst effective collaborators, not suspicion and competition
- create an environment and culture where others can step into being their most authentic selves, building trust and so creating a culture of psychological safety
- supporting community / employee ownership – we can invest in and help grow a more circular economy and a greater sense of wellbeing
- reframe our conversations, be more about creating change culturally, not just outcome focused conversations which align with irrelevant and outdated funding criteria and / or KPI’s
- support people to take responsibility, be self-disciplined, be independent, liberate their thinking and come together to create action
- co-produce a Creative Placemaking toolkit or framework, provide an opportunity to progress this further and ensure KOP wasn’t just an empty vessel or a talking shop
- let’s not start with the problem posing approach, let’s start with: What do you love? What do you care about? What interests you? What would you give up your Saturday morning to do?
- move away from the headset of providing a service, to one of being of service, to one another, to our own communities who inhabit the spaces and places in the world directly around us, this is where our truly transformational power lies.
We might just have provided ourselves with an opportunity to reboot how we organise ourselves – Cultivating the conditions where we can enable ourselves to our natural way of being as a collective.
These kinds of shifts in culture allow us to harness our intrinsic powers, by challenging the failing status quo and showcasing different ways of engaging and connecting with one another to deliver for ourselves and our communities.
We cannot become what we want, by remaining what we are…
That missing sense of belonging, collective action, responsibility and connection that so many are desperately seeking. With the right approach, and frameworks, Creative Placemaking can help us to return to our more ancient cultural ways of being and behaving together.
All of the above are key features at the heart of my practice as The Imaginarium. Our role is to help instigate, stimulate thoughts and connections, helping to navigate the difficult parts, whilst providing the human and strategic support to explore alternative options.
Imagining possibilities in order to create new realities.
From what if… to what next?
Time to enter The Imaginarium!