53 Million Artists delivered its first public workshop in Leicester on the 7th June as part of the local ‘Art Beat’ Festival. In conjunction with a range of other activities that comprised the festival programme, we held in a drop-in session for local people to try their hand at making something and to inform them about our campaign.
On two large tables we arranged an assortment of arts materials and recycling odds and ends to equip people’s creative practices. On the wall we stuck 20 different creative challenges on coloured paper to offer suggestions of what workshop attendees could do. After their creative activity, we encouraged participants to upload a picture and reflection of their creation to the website (see their contributions here).
We had 25 participants overall with a wide range of ages as many families attended. The sociality of making really came through compared to our previous three workshops which were held in employment contexts as people were happily chatting away and sharing stories and ideas on their creative histories and interests. A reoccurring theme in people’s conversations was about channelling their “inner child” or talking about the art and craft they did at school. As one participant reflected, it seems that somehow as one gets older, it is more difficult to make time for creative activities, and perhaps it is less socially acceptable to dedicate time to something that isn’t instrumental towards something else.
As participants approached the 20 creative challenges on the wall, many found it very difficult to choose an activity. There appears to be a common set of feelings workshop attendees experience when they are encouraged to make something. There is often initial resistance and reluctance, which for many people seems to stem from a lack of confidence and fear of failure because they think they are “not good at art”. However, when people actually start to get involved in making something, a different and more positive feeling emerges; either they are better than they thought they would be or they realise that it doesn’t matter. It is worth noting that this observation only applies to adults as the children in the workshops were much more receptive and willing to engage in the activities compared to their hesitant parents.
53 Million Artists is about the ‘doing’ rather than focusing on the outcome and product. As such, an area we need to continue working on as facilitators is creating an environment and atmosphere that encourages and enables people to be more open to engaging in creative activity. This is the most challenging yet fundamental task, as nearly everyone enjoys it once they start so we just need make sure we help them get going in the first place.
Everybody genuinely seemed to enjoy the making exercise and expressed interest in the 53 Million Artists project. However, a challenge for us will be retaining their enthusiasm and involvement in 53 Million Artists for the long-term as it will be difficult to ensure they continue with the creative challenges after the workshops.