Rachel Johnston: The Art of Community Engagement
The positive and mutually beneficial relationships, which can occur between students and members of the public when they are able to work together effectively, has been demonstrated in a series of projects carried out by the Fine Art department at the University of Chichester.
Fine Art students have become engaged in projects that allow the development of positive, ongoing relationships in the local community, giving them practical experience and a critical overview of the context of socially engaged art practice. The process is often challenging, but offers students a vocational experience as well as an opportunity to test their skills and reconsider their artistic values.
The level 5 students who embark upon these projects have already made significant steps in defining their own visual language, mostly working on individual projects in the studio, where there is little scope for exploring and reflecting the concerns of the wider community. The change of mindset required in making work for a particular space or with a particular client group can be difficult and some feel that they are ‘compromising’ their practice or somehow diluting the intensity of their focus.
As the process evolves the positive benefits of this challenge become very evident with many students find the refocusing of their skills in a practical way, for example in working with school children, a liberating experience which takes them back to a pure enjoyment of materials and self-expression. For some students a tangible increase in all-round confidence is apparent as a result of participation in external projects. For the community members who participate in the projects the benefits are numerous, providing partnerships, mentoring and an opportunity for self-expression using art as well as creating works for healthcare environments and hospices, schools and galleries.
Download Rachel Johnston CREST poster