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  • Writer's pictureamanda haran

Reflection: The Essential Stage For Community-Engaged Artists

As a community-engaged artist, I often get caught up in the excitement of creating and completing a project. I know it's essential to take a step back and reflect on my work once it's done, as reflection can help me identify areas for improvement, celebrate successes, and gain a deeper understanding of my creative process. But why do I sometimes omit this essential stage and instead feel like spending time doing it (when there are a plethora of other tasks screaming for attention) feels like a waste of time and can bathe me in the associated guilt of not attending to the priorities of others? 

A neurodivergent artist being supported to screen print fabric whilst sitting on the floor.
Community Engaged Arts In Action
I am not alone in these admissions.

Slogging Through The To-Do List

Over the past few months, I have been building my website's 'Projects' section, which, as a task, has languished towards the end of my ever-growing 'Things To Do' list. I have thought about this job many times and am incredibly amazed by some of the opportunities I have had. I have wanted to acknowledge, learn, and celebrate. However, I have been caught up in the wheel of chasing the next project, particularly after relocating to a new county. 

If I simply wrote, 'I worked on the Turner Prize,' would anyone actually understand what that meant? Would I know what that meant, even though it would fulfil the task? I wanted to indulge in an experiment, taking the time to generate self and others' understanding; what would that mean in words and pictures, and how would it feel?

Like most of my projects, being the community engagement officer for the Turner Prize was a complex interplay of stakeholders, outcomes, time frames, budgets, steps forward, steps back, and legacy creation. When I add that I value highly (and am trained in) person-centred practice, a whole new layer of consideration is added. I needed to reflect in a manner that others could understand, not just myself. 

Nemo Resideo

One of my mantras of community engagement has echoed the concept of the Latin phrase nemo resideo, or 'leave no one behind.' Although these words are associated with warfare, they have a role to play in heritage and culture, as I had felt left behind by this industry as a child, and we know much of the population holds this feeling, too. If this is your mantra, your writing and appraisal of a project should not leave anyone behind (or alienate them), too. However, I must admit that this approach takes much time and effort.

Coincidently, I have just finished my qualification in 'Evaluation For Arts, Culture, And Heritage: Principles And Practice' offered by Future Learn and the University of Leeds. It's a thought-provoking course. It has underlined that one of the best times to reflect on a project is immediately after it's finished. Sometimes (when formal evaluation and reporting are not required), this has happened to me in the depths of the night when my mind tries to process the events. No writing, no review, just thinking in bed and moving on the following day to the tasks of the next project.

Taking some time to complete this evaluation course alongside building the Projects section of my website, I've really started to understand what I've created in projects such as the one associated with the Turner Prize and evaluate it objectively. I've asked myself questions like 'What worked well?' and 'What could be improved?' I've consciously considered how to be honest with myself, avoid unconscious bias, and not be afraid to critique my work, though continuing with the spirit of honesty, these are WIPs.

Another important aspect of my writing reflection has been celebrating my successes. I've read and re-read some sections of my prose, astounded by the opportunities and outcomes and, yes, feeling a slight sense of pride. This indulgence helps boost my confidence and motivates me to continue creating, a vital fuel as the creative act can be all-consuming and demanding. Another favourite (mock) Latin phrase comes to mind Illegitimi non carborundum often translated as 'Don't let the bastards grind you down.' This is a family mantra and once again seems appropriate as sometimes the act of creating in a collaborative setting can be 'grinding.' My hope is that if I can bolster my confidence my resilience in testing moments (which will inevitably come) will be significantly improved.

In these acts, I've recognised that reflection has also helped me gain a deeper understanding of my creative process. By analysing my work, I can identify patterns in my behaviour, such as when I am most productive and what techniques I prefer. This self-awareness helps me make better community engagement and creative decisions in the future, improve my overall workflow, and hopefully bring more joy. Don't we all deserve to experience as much 'joy' as possible?

Evaluation Is Self-Care Not Task Neglect

In conclusion, taking time to reflect on my projects is essential for me as an artist and community engagement practitioner. It helps me identify areas of improvement, celebrate my successes, and gain a deeper understanding of my creative process. I will make a conscious commitment to carving out time to do this in the holistic manner that I prefer and need, finding ways to draw in others in a supervisory manner, as I see this as a missing but essential component. I will no longer feel guilt.

And, at last, I will finish the Projects section of my website whilst I'm on a roll. Leave no project behind or evaluation stone unturned.



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