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Kate Temple: 'It's Not a Place but People' - What makes a workshop special?

Artist Kate Temple blogs about collaborating with The Welcoming on designing creative workshops and sharing good practice.

The Collaboration

I was awarded funding from Creative Scotland's See Learn Share fund to collaborate with The Welcoming on designing their creative programme and sharing good practice in community engagement.

I was keen to explore the simple question: what makes a workshop feel special?- Kate Temple

The Welcoming is a charity that supports migrants and refugees to build new lives in Edinburgh and become active members of the community. They also create opportunities for locals and newcomers to come together, to share experiences, celebrate diversity and learn together.

The Questions at the Heart

With over a decade of experience working in community learning and engagement, and having facilitated many, many workshops, I was keen to explore the simple question: what makes a workshop feel special?

I know that occasionally there is an atmosphere in the room; a buzz, an energy, a flow, a dissolve between facilitator/s and participant/s, a feeling that this is the most exciting place to be, the only place to be. A feeling that together we can make incredible things happen. A feeling that we want to be here, right now.

This doesn't happen all the time, in fact it happens quite rarely. As an artist, workshop designer and facilitator, how can I use my experience and creative skills to create this experience for participants? How can my workshops be as good as they can be? What are the factors to make this magic happen? Is this a chance event, a fleeting feeling, or is it something that I can have more control over? How can my workshops feel safe, exciting, fulfilling and important?

In early conversations with The Welcoming, we discussed the questions they were considering as an organisation, especially in relation to the creative arts programme. What are effective ways of involving migrant and refugee participants, especially the most hard to reach and marginalised?

What nature of provision works best and why? How can we make space for participants to lead in the planning, implementation and evaluation of the programme? In what ways can the creative arts support communities be more connected? How can we share our learning?

Creative Space

The Welcoming has a space in their programme called Creative Space. We decided early on to try four very different approaches to workshops in Creative Space, all the while keeping accessibility at the heart of our thinking and considering the individual experience within the group experience.

From early discussions, it emerged that the important things about Creative Space that we needed to keep were it's drop-in nature (every Saturday, 12-4pm), as a way to connect with artists and locals, as a social space, and an informal gathering space.

Workshop Diary: Observations & Learning

The Manifesto Workshop

For our first workshop we invited participants to create a manifesto for Creative Space.

There were a lot of people already at Creative Space when I arrived; playing Pictionary, playing chess, chatting. I brought a cake and some daffodils and there were snacks laid out. Music was playing. People continued to arrive throughout the afternoon. I set out a big table with materials for manifesto making, poster making, monoprinting.

  • Zoning is important – people want to do different things or to dip in and out of activities
  • It's quite busy
  • Social aspect of CS is HUGELY important. Some people were just there for the chat
  • Participants enjoyed making
  • Having the big table in the middle wasn't ideal as it got clogged up and was tricky to move around
  • Participants really enjoy games
  • Set up of space is very important, try out stations/zones in room
  • Simplify activities – stuff that doesn't need explaining. Not everybody speaks English

The Potato Workshop

For our second workshop we had the theme 'potato'. We kept the back part of the room as the 'games' area and the front part as the 'making' area. We had a pot-luck, potato-themed lunch.

  • The smaller numbers today created a different atmosphere – didn't seem so hectic in the room, and I was able to have more in-depth conversations with people. A warm atmosphere. Everyone fitted around the table.
  • FOOD is important – people like talking about food, and it brought the group together.
  • The making activities (potato sculptures, potato puzzles etc) were popular as were the challenges and competitions.
  • A theme works well.

The Gallery Workshop

For our third workshop we went to The Fruitmarket Gallery to look at the Senga Nengudi exhibition. The Welcoming do a lot of trips, so I was keen to explore how these could be more creative. We had a short, simple intro to the exhibition from Fruitmarket staff, and then got into small groups and chose some art user[1]cards. The Fruitmarket provided some tights that I gave to everybody and fairly organically we created a group moving tight/body sculpture.

  • The cards worked well – they gave people a focus in the space, and triggered discussion/conversation that might not have happened otherwise. They also slowed people down in the space.
  • The group sculpture was a good 'coming together' moment, as I have realised that people tend to cluster in small conversations and having a whole group conversation is more difficult (this isn't surprising as everybody speaks different languages.)
  • The atmosphere was really good today.
  • The Welcoming don't necessarily need a guide in a gallery, they can find their own way round an exhibition
  • Props/objects (ie: the tights) are really helpful
  • Having a moment when everyone comes together is good.
  • Breaking into small groups is good

The Walking Workshop

This workshop started at The Welcoming and walked down the Water of Leith, culminating in a picnic. The Welcoming do a lot of excursions/trips/walks, so we were thinking how these could be more interactive/creative.

We made a lot of creative prompts, for example I gave everybody a concertina paper book, some paperclips and an envelope as a kind of 'walk journal' encouraging people to collect/draw/write/etc. We tried various styles of walking: silent walking, backwards walking etc. We made cyanotypes at the final picnic spot.

  • Participants on the whole responded well to the prompts but didn't feel under pressure to join in.
  • Linking to leaning English seems to work well – new vocabulary, language related activities.
  • Stopping regularly along the walk and 'checking in' with everybody worked well, giving another prompt.
  • Picnic at the end worked well

Reflections

Having come to the end of my work with The Welcoming, what stays with me most is the warmth and openness of the atmosphere created by The Welcoming staff in the workshops. I will always keep that atmosphere at the heart of my thinking and planning for future projects, and I hope my input has impacted how The Welcoming will use a creative approach across their programme.

Having just started this blog, I met a participant on the street on her way to her new job and she said 'I will continue to go The Welcoming. It's a special place.' Let's work for our work to be special.

Kate Temple is an artist based in Edinburgh. Images courtesy of Kate Temple.