On 24th May the Empowering Design Practices Research project was delighted to host a drop-in workshop at Tate Exchange in the Tate Modern London. Led by EDP's core delivery team (the Open University's Design Group and The Glass-House Community Led Design) the participatory workshop on ‘Places for Connection’ formed part of a week-long residency by the Who are we? Project, a three year collaborative project at Tate Exchange between the Open University and Counterpoint Arts, in association with Stance Podcast and University of York.
The Who are we? project is a cross platform event that explores migration, belonging and citizenship. The programme at Tate Exchange was based on co-creation and exchange between artists, cultural organisations, academics, activists and audiences, and the second instalment of their three year presence at Tate Exchange explored the production of people and place, through a wide range of connected sub-themes: housing, displacement, hostile environments, memory, language, data, food, and environmental and racial justice.
For our workshop we reflected on the notion of hostile environments from the perspective of Empowering Design Practices. Over the last four years we have interacted with over fifty places of worship, and found many political, historical, social and cultural conditions that may negatively affect people’s perceptions of those places and their function as welcoming places. Despite these factors however, the reality remains that many places of worship today act as significant anchors in communities, not least by housing a wide variety of services and activities, from foodbanks, night shelters and health centres, to crèches, libraries and theatres. Drawing on this experience for our participatory workshop at the Tate Exchange, we wanted to invite people to reflect more broadly on the places that make them feel part of a community.
The workshop was a joyous occasion. Many of the participants stayed for the duration of the two and a half hour workshop, making and talking to one another, building new connections of their own. The installation grew steadily over the afternoon and became a colourful embodiment of the afternoon’s event. Matthew’s connection tiles were a real success in getting people to Share, Make and Connect the places where they feel a sense of welcome and belonging.
The main feedback from participants was that it was “fun” and “a great experience” to share their stories and "how they engage with places and people around you". The activity helped people engage constructively with the Who are We? themes of memory and identity. One of the participants reflected that it was an interesting space to have the chance to reflect on what truly makes them connect, and that even though she had a great life in London with children, work and friends, the only true place for connection for her was her family holiday spot in her native country. Another participant who was involved in one of the other activities on the Tate Exchange floor, related how his work helps empower people through opera singing. His own place of connection, however, was not a physical space, but an intangible shared space, the space of performance.
We look forward to exhibiting and expanding our Places for Connection installation at future events.
Vera Hale is the Research Associate on the Empowering Design Practices project.
With thanks to Jonny Bosworth for the photographs.