Local festival workshop 1

Our project officially started this week and we had our first two workshops. Yesterday was the first – which took place in Leeds. The research team has developed links with organisations and ESOL providers in the area over a number of years. The workshops here were aimed at the participants on one of the courses and we had a full room of people ready to start painting by about 10.10am. The organisers have kindly provided us with a space in which to run our sessions.

The Leeds workshops are being led by a local artist, and, as with the Wakefield workshops, we are working mainly with silk painting. The workshop format is three part. Firstly, participants will work on a small silk painting which they can then take away. Secondly, we will work on a large piece (or rather 2/3 pieces per location) which will be for the organisation itself to display. The two organisations will be given the paintings which they can use in their offices/reception. The organisations involved in the workshops were pleased to have something that they could use and which would be used to welcome people, and also as a reminder of the workshops and the kinds of activities and projects that people can do together. Thirdly, a composer will come and work with the group on a vocal score.

There are five of us facilitating and assisting the workshops. S. is leading the painting. B. is coordinating and assisting. M. is taking photos and circulating in the room. S. is assisting and writing his own notes on the project – which will feed into his own doctoral research into practitioners in performance and theatre. I am circulating, talking to people, and aiming to gather up some oral histories about ‘welcome’ and what we mean when we ‘welcome people’.

We’re in the upstairs room. This is a large, airy classroom space with tables put together in the middle of the room and windows at each end – front and back. We’ve covered the tables with a clear plastic table cloth and put out each item in front of each place setting. A pencil, a piece of kitchen roll, and a piece of card with silk taped onto it with masking tape. On the table, erasers and tape.

Ethical practice/research

We start by explaining the forms that are in front of them. These are the ethics forms for the research side of this project. As a theme, this is interesting. An arts group has its own procedures and forms. But when a research element is introduced, researchers also have processes which must be followed. Put the two together – visual arts and research – and the paperwork can be lengthy. Yet the workshops are only 2 hours in duration and time spent going through the forms can cut into the arts activities. At both workshops this week, all the team has considered the paperwork side of our work and how we can manage this in a way that is ethical and which fits with all the organisations’ aims and objectives – and which also protects the participants. We have to balance the macro (institutional requirements) with the micro (the workshop-level ethical issues which might arise, and our own management of these as artists and researchers)

In our discussions we considered the following as ongoing ethical practice (in addition to the ethics forms):

We will always ask permission when taking a photo, and, always focus on the piece of art work.

When collecting ‘stories of welcome’ (which is part of the research element of this project) we will always ask before recording. If someone seems unsure, we won’t record. We ask for a first name when starting the conversation, and we record the verbal consent.

The workshops 

The artist starts by explaining what we are doing in the session and by demonstrating the process herself, using one of the pre-prepared cardboards and silks. Then the group each start to consider their own piece. The artists have print outs with the word ‘welcome’ written in different languages. The group are asked to consider the idea of ‘welcome’ and what it means. They can interpret it however they like on their silks. The piece of card behind the silk is for the initial drawing. (Erasers are provided for the shaping and reshaping of the designs). Most of the group start with a word. Welcome. Some write in English. Others write in Arabic. The majority of the group speak Arabic and have asked for Arabic versions of the information sheets.

As they start to sketch our their designs, we observe the different ideas and images which are linked. After the words, come pictures. There’s a hesitation at first, but then the participants start to become immersed in what they are doing. I notice as I work my way round the room, just how precise some of the pencil work is. There is one piece which is essentially calligraphy, the strokes so beautifully placed – with care and attention. It’s just one word – there are no images. But it is strong and striking.

‘Welcome to Leeds’, one of the pictures states. Do you feel welcome in Leeds?, I ask? Yes, he replies. I didn’t at first, but now I do. We talk in groups about welcome and what it means, while the group are painting. People talk about where they feel welcome and why. The organisation itself is mentioned as a place in which people feel welcome.

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