CultureLabs pilot in Ancona: video feddback from the participants

The activities of CultureLabs project have been suspended due to the global health emergency of Covid19 but the needs, the challenges as well as the enthusiasm of the participants are still the same.

For this reason, we collected feedback from participants of “Bridging Culture through Arts“, our pilot in Ancona, as a wish to restart soon to cook up a more open and inclusive world!

 

The video is in Italian, the language that non-native speakers were practicing to get social involved. It collects the self-made videos of some of the participants, the reasons why they decided to participate at our pilot activities, their wishes and their expectations.

Benefits from "More in Common" pilot - CultureLabs

The way in which people continue to be inspired by Jo Cox to bring people together across divides more than three years after she was killed is testimony to the fact that those values are enduring and unshakeable.

Inspired by her ethos, PHM launched More in Common pilot activity as an opportunity to work with the residents of Greater Manchester and think about what it means to live in a multicultural Britain today and how Brexit has changed that dynamic and feeling in the country. Together, we will be gathering to celebrate diversity, challenge racism and xenophobia – removing barriers brick by brick. This project is an attempt to help bring communities together in the spirit of her ‘more in common’ values of unity, tolerance and respect. We hope to inspire more people to join us to carry Jo’s banner of love as now more than ever, Britain needs to embrace, celebrate and find strength in its diversity.

This is clearly demonstrated by participants’ motivation to sign up for this project:

“I had always thought that what is most special about this country is the way everybody can enjoy living together irrespective of where they are from. This, unfortunately, have been changing over the past few years and I think it is even more important in these times that people come together and spend time getting to know each other”.

Benefits from Helsinki pilot - CultureLabs

Zoom In On Heritage, by using pictures, brings the benefit of creating a comfortable and easy space where the participants can express their values, identities and thoughts in a group bringing the participants also to a more equal level in terms of language. The coordinators had a sense that women took part in an increased level of engagement or somehow opened in a different way.

The activities encouraged participants to make decisions on their own and to take the ownership of the project. For some of the participants this kind of decision-making power has been very pleased and they started voicing their own suggestions and wishes in terms of the project and the activities we could do.

One of the benefits has also been to visit the Worker’s Housing Museum and Picture Collections since the target groups, especially the women, do not usually get many opportunities to do such visits.

What Bridging Culture Through Arts brought to the participants? In general, a shared need to meet each other and to participate in the project, which is extremely positive. A sense of belonging is starting to emerge, which makes the group more solid and easier to work with.

Nonetheless, some physiological dropouts were recorded, due to almost obvious resistances immediately perceived in some participants. Some persons have manifested a certain uneasiness in joining theatrical activities (perhaps because they feel very involved), while others have expressed a great interest in such experiences. The confidence that is emerging will facilitate the understanding of what is needed and what is not, thus facilitating the co-creation of cultural initiatives.

The group is expressing the need to have a space of their own, where to store and exhibit their works and to personalize according to their wishes. These are encouraging signs of the participants’ creative attitude and needs to affirm their identity in a way that was previously not perceived like that.

There is still a lot to do, but it seems that the pilot is giving its first results, repaying the participants of the efforts done so far.

Benefit from so distant, incredibly close - CultureLabs

It is hard to define exactly what has determined what… But we are very happy to hear from the responsible of the associations we are working with that the visits sparked positive energy and the target group is now very cohesive and creative, more than ever.

As told by one of the founders and coordinators of Casa della Donna Association:

These women have spontaneously started a series of self-funded events devoted to their original cultural background and open to the citizens of Pisa: a series of meetings to show their origin country’s traditions, stories, and lifestyles, and their migrant paths by proposing traditional food and music, and telling personal stories and experiences”.  

Unfortunately, this lockdown we are all experiencing due to COVID-19, has stopped the activities.

WhatsApp chat is for us and our pilot’s participants the only communication means we can use to stay in contact altogether. We have noticed that for part of our participants that don’t have precisely a home to stay, chatting with us via WhatsApp is really important to keep a sense of normality in their life and to continue to maintain a link with everyday routine. It’s likely that So distant, Incredibly Close would have been a piece of normality in this breakdown.

The more we got to know the participants’ motivations, the more we were certain that More in Common is very much needed within our community.

From the stories and quotations we are going to tell it’s evident the huge need for people to meet with the ‘other’ person. Whether this otherness is defined by their country of origin, race, political affiliation or even anyone beyond their predefined social circles.

During one of group discussions, two participants got engaged in a side discussion around domestic violence. One of them is a white British and the other is a British of Pakistani heritage and wears a hijab. She was telling about her experience being a domestic violence survivor and how she managed to establish her life after the traumatic experience and is now trying to spread awareness around this topic. The ‘white’ women, was fascinated by her story and she honestly revealed her lack of knowledge around this and said that was the first time she’s ever been in an in depth conversation with a Muslim person despite being over 50 YO. For her, this was the reason behind her interest in the project. 

Manchester, like other area in the UK, is a hub for tens of community centres and refugee support groups. However, it is a rare opportunity for those active communities to meet each other’s. Even for whoever is receiving a service from a charity or a solidarity group, to get to meet people from beyond that group of service users which eventually strengthen isolation and loneliness particularly among those with limited financial resources. 

These are some quotations picked up by participants about their motivation to join More In Common:

“As I am not originally from the United Kingdom but have only been in the country since the last 2 years as well as I don’t have any other platform for now to meet new people, and help myself understand more about my surroundings, different cultures, what different people from everywhere might have got. This will give me a chance for networking with some beautiful people & I would feel more comfortable & confident having to step out on my own for any sort of things like studying, finding a job, exploring more options etc.”

“I am a local person who is interested in getting a view of Manchester from an outside perspective, and of the UK in general. In this increasingly rabid anti-immigrant society we live in, I believe it’s important for me to understand that there are many different people in this world and explore how to act together to resist hate and reconnect with the people around us.”

“I am looking for outlets to meet a mixture of people. I mainly only know white and straight people and I would like that to change.”

“I want to learn new things and want to learn about Britain”

A story from "More in Common" - storytelling

A story from "Zoom In On Heritage"

The early stages of Zoom In On Heritage were characterized by unpredictability about what kind of reflections and perceptions the group of women – who had different backgrounds –  would have about the collections that mostly represent the culture and history of Finland during the past centuries.

For this reason, we focused our first task to find an approach that would have helped us to understand what kind of thoughts or ideas of our collections would have brought to their minds…

During one of the first workshops we divided the group into two parts: people from the first part selected photos, and people from the second part put a photo upon the wall giving it a name. Our doubts were already overcome since many of the selected photos showed sceneries and lives in Finland 100 years or decades before us, demonstrating that the message and symbols of the photos go beyond the subject depicted.

A further episode helped us to create an emotional engagement. In the group there were women from various backgrounds and also Finnish women as volunteers. Some told their short story connected with their values (for instance related to the public library system), others talked about small observations such as coffee or tea missing in the empty cups depicted in some photographs, and some others shared personal memories evoked by the pictures of farm animals such as funny anecdotes about milking goats… These latter stories were a mixed of feelings, including the sadness of having lost that life they had had in their past.

When we moved to another exercise examining other photos, the discussion and sharing continued spontaneously for a long time, with very personal themes, memories and values.

In this way the pictures, even if they did not depict something strictly related to the lives of the participants, were a very powerful mean in creating a space for everybody to share and interact in the capacity and level they wanted. Pictures made communication easier for those who did not have very good language skill and, above all, helped the participants to share things that they wanted to tell but they did not find the space to do it. 

A story from "Bridging Culture Through Arts" - centre of the scene

Image Theatre is one of the techniques adopted during the labs of Bridging Culture Through Arts pilot. It’s about a performance exercise in which people do not use words or signs, but use their bodies and objects to communicate an idea and emotion. In this technique one person acts as a sculptor and moulds other people as they were statues to describe a situation.

That day, participants were asked to carry an object with them and explain why they were attached to it. The image theatre was used to see if, and how, a physical object could change in meaning across different cultures and people.

F.a young woman from Bangladesh, brought a ring which she had received as a present from a dearest friend of her and explained to the group that the ring always reminded her of this extremely important person of her life. The ring was chosen by the group as the central element of the Image theatre performance, which was and composed of a three-scene narrative.

F.’s ring was placed in the centre of the room and M. (a Pakistani guy) started his mise-en-scène: in the first one, he put a girl sit in the middle of the room with a thick veil covering her face and making her not visible; in the second one, M. jumped himself into the scene putting the ring on the girl’s finger; and only in the third scene, M. could take away the veil and see the girl’s face. The two people could finally look at each other.

This representation told a lot about some of the Middle Eastern cultures and traditions. M. put himself into the scene manifesting his roots.

Moreover, the ring, that represented for F. a symbol of friendship between two women, was turned into a symbol of wedding by M. This is a fundamental characteristic of this kind of activity that lays the ground for a serene coexistence of several meanings without conflict.

A story from Bridging Culture Through Arts

When the participants had the opportunity to re-stage the scenes, D., an Italian girl, re-proposed the same situation of the first scene of M. But in the second scene the ring was put on the woman’s finger and her veil lifted, and D. worked on the expressions of the two sculptures giving them a mix of surprise and scare. In the last scene, the woman ran away and the man chased her.

At the completion of the last scene, the audience and the protagonists of the story burst into a thunderous laughter, transforming an extremely delicate moment into a sort of comedy about the wedding, in which different cultures could meet and, through the game, dialogue without feeling criticized or attacked. It was really impressive to realize that strong and rigid cultural traditions, as imposed weddings are, could be questioned and peacefully discussed through irony. 

Yaya is a young guy coming from Burkina Faso. He is full of life, curious and smart, very conscious of the reasons that are determining the migration flows from Africa to Europe. We met him for the first time during an Italian language course, organised by ORISS. He did not waste time and immediately wanted to remark that a lot of African people are forced to leave their countries, where they are living as slaves of multinational corporations that farm cacao or coffee plants for foreign trades.

Yaya continued pointing out that countries, like Burkina Faso, do not benefit of their richness that is in the hands of a little number of landowners.

Yaya has lived in Pisa from about 3 years. He does not like talking about his trip to reach Italy, where he is determined to reconstruct his life with a new job and a new social network. Thanks to his pretty high-level Italian, during the visits to the museums, Yaya likes delighting us with memories of his experience and tell his stories.

We were visiting the Natural History Museum with the group of ORISS, during one of the visits organised in collaboration with the Pisa University Museums System. We were all impressed by the exemplars of animals shown along the museum’s rooms. The Natural History museum is hosted into the awesome venue of the monumental Charterhouse of Calci (Pisa – Italy) and tells the present and ancient history of animals from all over the world.

A story from "so distant incredibly close" - collection

Yaya was really fascinated by the reptiles’ room. Our guide was explaining the origin and the histories of crocodiles samples exhibited into the showcases when Yaya took the word for telling us the story of the Crocodiles Sacrés of the Burkina Faso.

In Burkina – Yaya said – there is the village of Sacred Crocodiles, where crocodiles are not dangerous, and where you can even swim with them! But, pay attention: do not confuse sacred crocodiles with not sacred ones… in that case swimming with them would be very dangerous” – Yaya said laughing.

The mentioned village is Bazoulé, a small town near the Burkina Faso’s capital. A local legend narrates that, during a terrible drought, about the XIV or XV centuries, a group of crocodiles drove some women towards a water spring, where exactly Bazoulé has arisen.

Since that time, women and men have peacefully been cohabiting with these animals: swimming and playing with them. They feed these animals that are considered as real protectors of the village.

People – continued Yaya – offer food to these sacred animals and use them as a divinatory instrument”.

The visit to the Natural History museum was fruitful under several point of view and Yaya allowed us to discover a fascinating story about his original country, a story that we will transform soon in illustration.

Manchester pilot - more in common

What has been the impact of Brexit on immigrant communities in the UK? A work with local migrant and non-migrant communities to explore how we have “more in common”.

The project is creating opportunities for different communities in Greater Manchester to meet, discuss, and explore what they have “in common”.

Who is involved in the activities?

PHM targeted a diverse group of participants that included residents across different migration experiences such as refugees, asylum seekers, second generation migrant communities, naturalised citizens, migrant workers, migrant students, and ‘native’ citizens.

More in Common is an opportunity to work together with the stimulus of Jo Cox – the politician and passionate advocate for multiculturalism murdered by a far-right terrorist, that stated in her maiden speech to Parliament that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us” – to think about what it means to live in a multicultural Britain today and how Brexit has changed that dynamic and feeling in the country.

The case study is partly envisioned as a celebration of different people’s voices and points of view and partly as a reflection of social and political changes happening. Therefore, it represents an opportunity for participants to have a voice in the creation of cultural heritage and artistic outputs within the museum space to champion diversity and to engage a broader audience within the debate of how much multiculturalism is valued in Britain.

PHM’s existing relationships and collaboration with NGOs and community groups was necessary to help us spread the announcement to recruit participants from a diverse background, among these the Jo Cox Foundation (https://www.jocoxfoundation.org/).

The current group of participants is a mix of age groups and genders, although participants identifying as women are much more than those identifying as men. The ethnicities of participants are also very diverse both within the British people (many come from mixed heritage or minor ethnicity groups in the UK) and non-British participants that include Hong Kong, Poland, Syria, India, DRC, Sierra Leone, France, Iran.

Some of them are asylum seekers or refugees while others have different migration reasons and stories.

Many participants told us after meeting the group that this is probably the most diverse room they have ever been into, but most of them consider themselves to be Mancunians. In the word of one of the participants:

“I am keen to get involved in projects that promote Manchester friendliness and dialogue between different nationalities who made the city their home.”

Manchester has a long heritage of activism and PHM – as well as Jo Cox’s memorial wall – represent the ideas that worth fighting for.

What do the activities consist of?

Following a launch event at the People’s History Museum, people had the opportunity to sign up as project participants. The key messages we used to explain what the project looks like were:

Do you believe that we can live together in a multicultural society without labels?  Are you looking for a space to meet a diverse range of people?

Be part of a group getting together at People’s History Museum every fortnight to meet, discuss, and explore what you have in common.  You can choose what you want to do and how you will spend the time together.

Working with an amazing facilitator, Magdalen Bartlett, the first 4 fortnightly gatherings are intended to build the group and get to know each other’s interests and skills.

We had clear objectives for those gatherings, however, we kept the plans flexible as we needed to adapt to what we managed to achieve in each session and build on it. The objectives included: getting to know each other; setting ground rules; exploring motivations of participants to get involved; brainstorming suggestions/ ideas for the fortnightly gatherings to be used for voting and making final decisions; introducing the next level of engagement through the smaller groups gatherings, we decided to call them Mini More in Common; and finally, making decisions on how to proceed, both in terms of fortnightly gatherings and the mini groups.

The Mini More in Common was an opportunity for participants to establish smaller groups of who shares a similar interest. Once founded, the mini group will decide their own schedule and frequency of meetings. We managed to start forming these groups before suspending the meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A glimpse into the future

The journey and experience of the participants will be celebrated and shared with the world in an exhibition in memory of Jo Cox. The exhibition will feature Jo Cox memorial wall with a new virtual memorial wall projected in the exhibition space.

The participants will work alongside museum staff to produce content reflecting their journey together whether through photos, text, personal account, etc.

However, participants will mainly focus on producing their own creative outcome that they’d have developed as part of their mini projects. The type of outcomes is varied: a photo / text collage, oral histories, fabric-based installations, theatre plays. All content will be digitised and a digital exhibition will be launched as a legacy for the project. Finally, as part of the national campaign by Jo Cox Foundation to celebrate Jo’s life, we are hosting a Great Get Together event organised by the project participants.

 

Discover further details of the pilot on CultureLabs platformhttps://recipes.culture-labs.eu/#/workspace/recipes/644