Representing Communities: Developing the Creative Power of People to Improve Health and Wellbeing

  • Elliot, Eva (PI)
  • Williams, Gareth (PI)
  • Munoz, Sarah-Anne (CoI)
  • Seaman, Peter (CoI)
  • Fazil, Qulsom (CoI)
  • Barker, Clare (CoI)
  • Saltus, Roiyah (CoI)

Project Details

Description of project aims

This large grant from the AHRC Connected Communities Progamme explored how particiaptory arts activities could be used to generate new representations of communities - and how these new forms of evidence could influence health and wellbeing policy and practice. A remote and rural case study in the Highlands was led by Dr. Sarah-Anne Munoz.

Key funding - quote all funding agency(s)

Arts methods can provide knowledge of the everyday understandings, management and practices of wellbeing:

Across the study the project has managed to capture community based understandings, practices and performances of wellbeing in five different places. Arts based approaches to working with communities made the familiar strange to community members themselves, and the invisible visible to other publics, policy makers and professionals. Thus the potential of arts based approaches in articulating the possibilities of transformation were evident. The study also blurred the distinction between the creativity held by artists and the creativity inherent in everyday encounters and places of significance. The art speaks for itself but also generates different kinds of conversation and debate about what wellbeing is, how it can shape public health and wellbeing and what approaches might be used to understand emerging wellbeing concerns and possibilities.

Wellbeing is supported in subtle ways and through semi-formal structures of care:
Stories and portrayals of wellbeing are revealed in the forms of sociability and 'community beingness' that are available to different groups of people, whether these are in a domino club, a luncheon club or outside the local shops. For older people, in particular, these provide opportunities to acknowledge memories and journeys as well as affirming future possibilities. However people also talked of the warp and weft of everyday care. Gentle signposting and the careful nurturing of confidence and skills performed by community workers suggested that these forms of street level care are a form of 'craft' work.

Reputational damage hurts and can work many ways:
The study focused on representations and in finding ways of managing, challenging or countering these. Existing representations were by not always rejected and the community groups we worked with differed in terms of how they viewed narratives from both the past and the present. The project succeeded in generating insights of everyday wellbeing that are hidden from formal representations. The research process itself turned 'reputations' into a live issue that had to be managed carefully. Communities were suspicious of how we would handle these and could be wary of any attempt to make 'visible' narratives that were not crafted carefully. This raises ethical issues about what constitutes legitimate silencing of what is seen and heard. Researchers themselves also came with baggage as outsiders who will promise much, deliver little and disappear soon.

Co-production requires collective skills of knowing when to step up or step back:
Our primary concern was to place community members centre stage, with the cultural authority to generate their own insights into community life. Working as a researchers across disciplinary boundaries with artists required a considerable amount of learning and skill in terms of when to hand authority over the research process to others. It was important to recognise when an artist had superior skills in crafting an insight with a community group and at other times it required a recognition of an artist's imposition on a community's group's cultural authority. Co-production involves the sharing of different skills, knowledge and resources throughout the process.
Short titleRepresenting Communities
Effective start/end date1/07/1331/07/17


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