Developing Connections – project explained.

2014-10-21 12.37.27

Beginnings…

Lots of talking. And thinking. And Questions. Some research into tea ceremonies and who is working in this area or around this subject or wanting similar results already? What is this about? Who is it for? What do we want to achieve? Why do we want to do it? Is it needed? By whom? What and who benefits? Who can help? How can we make this so that all kinds of people have a route into the process? How can we reflect many cultures? Will that mean a wider cross-section of people can participate? We do not know.

Starting structures….

Teapots. Questions. A trolley. A roaming flexible experience that can happen in a wide variety of places. An open space for conversation and reflective thought. That has choice, listening, attention and joy. The essential idea that each person that participates will contribute in the making of this work. That there is a notion of spectacle but a balance of this with non-performance so that there is no barriers or divisions.

It seemed important in this process that as much as possible, equality and an equal sharing or value of each person be also applied to the management, finance and communication structures. So decisions are agreed with all three of the lead artists. The experiment is in the entire structure of the project as well as the process of the ‘art’.

Participation….

As the project develops, we are experimenting with how people can participate and how what happens can be taken forward to other people through this participation and the connections that we make with people.

It seems that the more performance structures that we initially created are not necessary for the connection to happen. In this project, it seems less is more. It is the absence of filling the space that creates the space for participants to fill. We have introduced, participants being invited to leave a question. At this point, this is the sixth event the trolley has visited and at this point, we have had our first person ask for us to give her feedback on the conversations that occur in response to her question. We have also had someone ask a question of us on our Facebook where a very personal response to a real problem that person is having. This was in response to a post about empathy..and the question…what is empathy?

Starting Journey… ( What happened in 2014)

September 13th – Harehills Festival – we created a starting structure to experiment with. In this structure was a script, various choreographed movements of the trolley and objects on the trolley. It also included pretend tea drinking….what tea would you choose? The trolley in the park was precarious to move and created  musical and considered journey as it roamed. Participation and audience included watching from a distance, reading question, admiring, handling and asking to buy objects, and sitting, conversing, exchanging thoughts and experiences.

October 7th – Leeds Federated Housing -Arose the question, what is the result of announcing this as a performance? Slightly off putting as it creates a sense of standing back and watching. Thus how do we articulate this accurately? Perhaps to some extent this depends on the audience, perhaps not as much as we might think? A social experiment? A roaming tea trolley? An intervention? Something to be considered…

October 20th and 21st – Love Arts Leeds – we experimented with musical bells….it did not have a strong impact or support further making connection with people. Perhaps if a greater level of mastery it could, however, the question that it raises…is for what purpose? We concluded – it is not needed. We also added a chalk board with Tea and tolerance – All Welcome. This adds a great deal of welcome and a call to action without actively enticing people which we do not want to do, as the invitation has to be chosen by each participant independently.

November 21st – Live Arts Bistro takeover at COMPASS festival. What arose was – do people talk about whatever they need to talk about whatever the question being considered? We have also added giving participants a card with our online details and a question on the reverse side, and inviting them to have their picture taken with the question they have written or one that resonated for them that we discussed. We are also meeting with the per on who runs a project called Humans of Leeds as this project seems to have a good deal of synergy with ours. Perhaps we can collaborate or we can learn something from his project. This is the first point another live arts artist has expressed wanting to be involved as a facilitator in the project. It seems that involving other artists where appropriate could be an interesting addition and useful to the project.

6th DecemberArt of Hosting (AOH) Gathering. Interesting to be introduced to these methods which are widely used in groups affecting social change and participatory conversations. We met in Bethnel Green with people from all over the country interested in social change/ other ways of having conversations/ the world. This was  useful insight into the AOH practises but also useful to reflect on documentation ( which they call harvesting – which is different perhaps better way to think about documentation) and on the processes and structures we are using within Tea and Tolerance…how and why they work, and what we can learn from the methods we have been introduced to. Most of these methods we have used before in one way or another. It wa interesting to look at access and engagement in relation to some of the methods and how we could use them with any person from any background, circumstance, age, religion etc

December 16th – Reflection day 1 with team and invited guest Jill Mann. So we met up with Jill Mann from together for peace ( T4P) and talked through her experience of Tea and Tolerance, the Art of Hosting methods and ways forward for the project. We considered the importance of beginnings and endings in the process – invitations, permissions and perhaps having t&T principals on the board. We talked a lot about privacy of the process – how can we document accurately…in the person’s words without invading their space and privacy. Lucy was very clear that the process of talking in the events was what was most important and any documentation mustn’t disrupt that. We talked about using these methods in an end event where we bring everyone back together. We discussed harvesting and how to document…

Why are we doing this?Who are we doing it for?What types of harvest? What are the gifts ( in the conversations)? What is the point? What are we listening for? Something specific in what people are saying to us…examples of beyond tolerance, tolerance, insights, love.We discussed new ways forward….ways of sharing the documentation using other methods – film, animation. The potential for humanising the teapots. This we intend to pursue. Involve participants again in the documentation process too…so its agreed and they have full ownership/choice.We will be setting up an email for Tea and Tolerance.

December 18th – Reflection day 2 with team and invited guest Fran Graham. Regarding social media what is it for? What do we want it to do? It will take time to get engagement…maybe a year. This is ok. Just let it evolve. It needs to sit with same principals of all other sharing…not endless noise, allowing people to choose to engage as and when. Listening for insights, beyond tolerances here also?

If we really took time to listen, what would happen?

Ritual Creates Safety – what are our rituals?

How would we do TnT if we worked with children? This is further down the line.…could be interesting future development.

Reflection and future planning day – January 15th – We discussed future journey of the project and had a look at demographic of people we have world with so far, then a list of potential groups to work with in future. We set a date for the final event where we gather everyone back to see meet each other in a larger Tea and Tolerance Event which we plan to use some of the Art of Hosting techniques within.

We also talked through design with our designer Lynette Willoughby and how we might customise the trolley both from an aesthetic and practical perspective. We thought about what kind of look we want. This includes the chairs and where we keep store the teapots for transportation.

We discussed involving other artists in delivery of project as this could prove interesting/useful for diversity and a different perspective. What might they add? We agreed that need to strike a balance so that all three lead artists are still involved in most of the events.

Living Local Day at Allerton C of E Primary School – January 31st  This was significant because it was an event that involved active members of leeds grant within who have funded us and T4P and was to work with a community already actively rebuilding and creating better interfaith and intercultural cohesion. Pigs blood had been thrown on the Iqra mosque in the area. It felt poignant to be part of this – showing the benefit and relevance of this art project within social activism.

Synai Synangogue in North Leeds – February 7th First time we had people engage without sitting. this made for much swifter and more immediate conversations and began the process of how best to engage quickly…what are now the key factors if we are not listening carefully sitting in circles. is it still useful? Engaging? Useful to consider for the city centre gigs we are preparing for.

Bramley Lawn in West leeds – Older Adults – February 25th Bramley lawn is a social centre. There were’t that many people to engage with at this event. it was useful for making contacts with other local organisations and raising awareness for the project. We plan to return here. This is a group of people who we feel need to be heard more.

Men’s Room at Denis Healey Centre in East Leeds – March 3rd

Forward Planning with Jenny Wilson – ( strategic development and reflections so far) – what do we want for our end of project outcomes? Are we on track? What next? How successful has it been so far? What is the art? What is the social benefit? What have we learnt through this action research so far? What else do we need to do? What’s missing? The art is the artists facilitating the trolley – why is this important and different from say a trained therapeutic facilitator – its different rules – its base don improvisation and play ( artistic skills) because this will take the conversation somewhere unexpected and surprising but developed through co-creation and collaboration with other people. The rules often used within therapeutic conversations are often used but can also be discarded depending on what happens. There are rules but the rules are implicit – the safety is created by the choice to participate and there also levels of participation for participants. They can say a lot, a little, nothing, comment on what others say, make the conversation deeply personal or very global.

Ca-Bear-Gay – cabaret at LAB run by the Dancing Bear (for LGBT) – April 3rd Interesting how costumes make no difference win this environment…a mermaid and a man in pink high heels and silk pink shirt. Still full acceptance and focus is the conversation, the listening and the ideas and not who or what each individual is based on their look.

Women’s Group at Together Women (TWC) – 15th April – we started in a neutral space so that members of the group had the choice to join us in conversation or not. Four people cam through-participated then invited us back to the whole group. So we sat at along table of 12 women ( including staff and two hosts). We moved swiftly through topics and there were insightful moments where individuals made realisations about their own circumstances and what they can do to change them.

Bramley Baths – talking with staff and parents of children attending street dance at the baths. People were a little suspicious at first – though eventually a few approached and asked what it was all about. Interesting thoughts on what makes us feel good and ways of living our lives – comparing Denmark and England.

Men’s Group at Bramley Lawn -Eleven men, a woman and two hosts. The conversation ranged across a vast spectrum of issues…was playful, jovial and people lit up. There characters became more vibrant and it felt like people forgot some of their woes. It was a privilege. Is this T nT a space that can be developed to resolve issues of importance to larger groups of people? It certainly felt so today though the non agenda is important for the flow. What comes is sparked by the questions and what is there for people. The question of what to do to make the world better provoked some deep debate and some sound ideas about WE EACH can do to ‘genuinely’ make things better. At this point many questions have come up a number of times and its interesting reflecting on what one group have said to another.

Oakwood Clock – an outdoor event in not so great weather. presented problems gets till people sat down and engaged despite rain. We engaged more children in this event and more questions were offered, the rhythm and confidence to ask for contributions is beginning to flow.

Leeds City Centre – works well as a moving piece but there is a significant barrier to this in a shopping street where people already feel sold to and confuse what we are doing with selling god, which we do not, but are the most significant other non sellers of goods in the space. Accompanied by Humans of Leeds, Zubeir. Very nice to share the journey with him. This could work as a future collaboration.

The Black Swan – Live Arts Symposium. Politicised environment. views generally fairly left of centre. It brings up again the question of how we engage with right thinkers. can we? Or will it’s message /look already be off putting for more right wing thinkers. Maybe it doesn’t matter. In the interest of engaging all kinds of people we feel it is something we need to consider.

Leeds Art Party – Engaged swiftly and more leisurely. standing, sitting in various spaces….people engaged as they always do.  We are now thinking about the next stages.

Further development with Jenny Wilson and with artists – next steps and stages of work. What next? Handbook for being a Human in the 21st Century, a game – teapot top trumps… What kind of world would you like to live in?

Magellan House – 7th June – event gathering groups together. This was attended by 25 people. 15 were participants that came back rom other events, 10 were new participants. 2 were ‘walk ins’ from passers by. We tested a number of ideas at this event. use of a craft activity on the subject of ‘What kind of world would you like to live in?” which definitely added another way for people to engage especially children. We also used an artist to illustrate what was being said – this proved very successful and we loved the results and will definitely be taking that idea forward in future developments of the project. it addresses other ways we can share what is being said without intruding on it. The whole event in fact made us think that this would sit really well n a pop up shop in a city centre or high street. So its about finding the right one. I collated all the blogs into one document addressing the questions we created and that participants created. This was well received especially by people who knew nothing about the project and had not participated previously. One man, a shop assistant, particularly identified with the blog discussing how people don’t give  time to talk and are in a hurry while shopping. He understood what he was reading and was able to immediately engage. Another man that walked in as he saw the sign tea and tolerance and was interested because his therapy profession involved specifically tolerance and compassion.

Other gains were testing the book where people could post their comments and answers to the questions. Also we used little labels with hearts on for people to write on. This worked really nicely.

Grassington Festival – national care Home Day. used a new artist Tiago Gambiogi. He really enjoyed the work and gained a lot from the conversations. There is something about format. The rules – sit in circles/listen/be kind/evolve conversation/ collaborate don’t argue. In care homes, emphasis needs to be to create circles. this is more tricky with less mobile people in heavier chairs that can be moved around less easily. might need pre-planning in collaboration with the care homes.

Leeds Waterfront Festival – This was an amazing day of immense conversations. We have fully embraced using the handbook to collect questions and comments. it works really well. We also developed a more performative way of moving the trolley very carefully and slowly….and stopping to move the sign. We also happened upon costume – same colour t-shirt. Works really well.

Halifax Minster day – Halifax City Centre

Leeds Citizens First Gathering – Elland Road Very good. long evening – engagement on either side of the conference. Worked well especially at start of the conference…food for thought. Got lots of positive feedback. We experimented with handing out questions and cards for people to take away and back to their groups to discuss. this was sometimes countered with questions for us to take back and think about.

Millennium Square – Young People’s Gathering. Happening on 22nd July…

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