Community Arts Partnership’s Chief Executive, Conor Shields, on the PICAS Project and the “Making It” Conference

In defining new ways of seeing and being and devising and supporting new ways of working, CAP has sought to challenge, renew and promote a paradigm shift in how the arts can support a social dialogue and address in doing so some of the greatest challenges in our society that affect all of us.

The role of community arts has always had at its core the transfer of knowledge and skills, carving out new possibility and fusing experience into new formations of creative collaboration. As a template for offering the development of a shared and safe space in which to reflect and communicate difference and celebrate diversity, the challenge has been how to mainstream this area of work and strengthen our opportunity to support new challenges.

In the changing demographic of Northern Ireland, where over 10% of the population is foreign-born and where we are now a community of minorities, we face new challenges and indeed opportunities. The Making It Conference offered the chance for further and deeper reflection sharing theory and practice, expertise and experience.

We saw not only the five programmes that have received awards and funding from the PICAS programme (Artsekta, Beyond Skin, Love Music/Hate Racism, Wheelworks and Terranova) offer us amazing insight into their work, with stand out performances from Terranova, who generously took time away from rehearsal to represent their work through a reading of James Meredith’s new play to the weaving of new formations from Artsekta’s Saree project and Beyond Skin’s ‘from Kurdistan to Ardoyne…and back’.

We heard from practitioners here, from Dublin and from Birmingham. Naz Koser aka Sufi Punk, offered us an insight into her very personal journey into responding through the arts to real social challenges. We were treated to a performance from her colleagues in the Philanthropy Collective, drawing on their intercultural arts practice to perform their new musical compositions.

Our thanks to Love Music/Hate Racism for their Fusion project’s performance at our evening event too, which illuminated the real intercultural arts work that is central to this practice.

The Making It Conference also saw how a community of artists, wedded to the idea of inter-community engagement, can also support each other in finding a voice. The Independent Artists Forum made great strides to gain recognition for their role as free-lance artists and also supporters and facilitators of change.

All this work, the conference and the associated projects and funding programmes were only made possible through the support of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. They too offered their voice in articulating the new and continuing refinement of this area of working and affirmed their support for the work of CAP in this area of crucial arts development.

After a long week, it is a pleasure to reflect on how far we have come in this area of working and to hear from others where the journey might take us.

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New Belfast Community Arts Initiative trading as Community Arts Partnership is a registered charity (XR 36570) and a company limited by guarantee (Northern Ireland NI 37645).Registered with The Charity Commission as New Belfast Community Arts Initiative - NIC105169.