Shelley Tracey discusses her involvement with Community Arts Partnership’s PICAS project and Intercultural Arts Practice

How did you come to work on the PICAS Project?

Around 2015, I had an ACES award from the Arts Council. It was an Artist in the Community Award for a creative writing project called “A Write to a Sense of Belonging,” about intercultural communication.   One of the requirements for the ward was support from an arts organisation. Community Arts Partnership agreed to do this and to host the final presentation event. I had a connection with CAP as a poetry facilitator so that strengthened the relationship. The project I was working on had around 18 or 19 groups involved, with some great examples of interconnection between people from different cultural backgrounds. This helped me to formulate my ideas around Interculturalism, especially what the needs of artists were and what the gaps in provision of support were.

What happened after that?

Conor Shields, CAP’s CEO introduced me to Charo Lanao, who was running PICAS (Programme for Intercultural Arts Support) for CAP. Then the idea came up of producing a theoretical book which would also outline Intercultural Arts Practice, The book was to be called “Between Ourselves,” and I was asked to work on that project.

Did you have an understanding of Interculturalism, as it is applied to arts practice, before you started to work on the book?

Yes, I did have an understanding of that term, and of what happened when it wasn’t happening. I had concerns about racism, sectarianism and hate crimes in Northern Ireland. I was particularly interested in people being excluded or judged because of their background; their race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexuality or because they had a disability. I had an understanding that these issues could be tackled through the arts. As the book was being produced, I deepened my understanding. I did the Intercultural Arts Practitioner Training with Charo and I was introduced to further concepts and ideas throughout.

How useful do you think the idea of Interculturalism is?

I think it is very useful; however,  I do think it has to be used in a deeper sense than is often the case…   In my opinion, many people use the term Interculturalism too loosely. There has been a tendency to celebrate or elevate difference rather than looking at the process of collaboration. There are a lot of activities which claim to be Intercultural but are too superficial to have any meaningful impact. There is a tendency to interpret Interculturalism as simply being about diversity; that all you have to do is bring together people from different cultural backgrounds and what happens then is that they showcase their cultural attributes, such as music, dance, and so on. There is an assumption built into that, that somehow interaction will take place through osmosis, rather than by proper intercultural engagement and support

How are those difficulties to be avoided?

When we were working on the PICAS project, the group work which was highlighted in the “Between Ourselves” book, was facilitated very carefully. The projects which we focused on specifically brought together groups of people who had different cultural traditions, values and approaches and they worked collaboratively. That process creates a hybrid space that enables people create new art through working together. As one of the participants said, ‘the arts is the first language.’

That is a vital element; that through a process of integration the different approaches everyone was trying to produce something new. We also set about addressing the ideas of difference and the sense of denial that only one particular culture matters. That issue has to be interrogated through conscious facilitation in order to move forward.

“Between Ourselves” was produced some time ago and well before the emergence of Black Lives Matter movement. Is it still relevant?

Yes definitely. I think it is entirely relevant. I would suggest that Intercultural Arts Practice is appropriate not just for addressing the question of racism, but also for all sorts of work between people of different abilities, cultures, and ethnicities. It is a valuable approach to creative arts practice.

The full text of “Between Ourselves -Exploring Interculturalism through intercommunity creative practice” can be found at the link below

Between Ourselves (pdf)

artist forms link
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.