Asylum, Migration and Community: towards a sense of Belonging
This arts/research project used both participatory action research and arts practice to examine: how the arts, defined in their broadest sense, might help mediate and represent the experience of arriving in a new country; what it means to feel a sense of belonging; and deliver cultural, social, and economic benefits to new arrivals. The aim of the research (funded by the AHRC) was to: understand the experiences of exile and displacement as well as facilitate processes and practices of inclusion and belonging with new arrivals by encouraging collaboration and exchange of ideas among artists, practitioners, academics, policymakers and new arrivals in the East Midlands. Working in partnership with four community arts organisations the research explored a sense of belonging, place and place making with four transnational communities who were defined as refugees/asylum seekers, some of whom were undocumented. The project also commissioned work by five artists who are members of The Long Journey Home regional arts organization.
The Sense of Belonging research project worked with migrant groups including women, unaccompanied young refugees and asylum seekers and refugees from a rich variety of communities. The project was launched with a ‘walking’ event developed by internationally recognised artist and educator Misha Myers and who was consultant to the walks. The walks involved migrants to the East Midlands (in Nottingham, Derby, Loughborough and Leicester) drawing a map from a place they call home to a special place, and then walking that map, with a co-walker in the new environment in which they find themselves. The walks took place simultaneously on Friday 16th May 2008 at 10am, lasting for around two hours.
Post-walk discussions (held at Mount Fields Lodge Youth Centre and facilitated by Myers) led to the emergence of connecting themes for the development of the arts/research practice and workshops.
Following the walks a series of arts/research workshops took place in each locale putting art at the heart of social research and further exploring themes raised by the walks. The arts/research workshops were led by the four community arts organisations, City Arts, Charnwood Arts, Long Journey Home, and Soft Touch, in collaboration with O’Neill and Hubbard. The artworks that emerged from the workshops and some of the narratives produced in the workshops were exhibited at the Bonington Gallery in Nottingham, January 2009.
This collaborative research project built upon the strong regional work of many artists, community arts organisations, voluntary and statutory sector agencies and researchers working with new arrivals, community groups and the region. It also built upon previous work (O’Neill 2002; 2008) that explored the social role of the arts in processes of social change and the space between ethnographic, participatory research and arts based work.
The research partners engaged in three strands of activity. First, they developed a website and a database of exhibiting artists to connect with each another as well as to programmers, schools and regional community and participatory arts organisations seeking artists for their projects and programmes in schools and community settings. This raised the impact of arts and cultural activity for social policy agendas in participation with new arrivals. Second. They held a ‘diversity pool’ event that focused upon bringing artists and programmers together, so that artists could showcase their work and that employment and employability were supported and fostered. Third, they conducted the research and arts project called ‘A Sense of Belonging’ using participatory research and participatory arts based methods. This led to an exhibition of work produced in arts/research workshops.
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