Developing Connections| history.

Beginnings

We started with lots of talking and thinking. We had many Questions. In addition, we researched tea ceremonies, imperialism and who is working in this area already.  Or who might be wanting similar results as us. 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? Who benefits? Which people can support us? How can we make this so that all kinds of people have a route into the process? In what ways can we reflect many cultures? Will that mean a wider cross-section of people can participate? We do not know.

Starting structures

First, we collected teapots. Then, we explored questions. In addition, we acquired a trolley. And we set about creating an experience that could happen in a wide variety of places. Of course, we needed an open space for conversation. The essential idea, many people will contribute in the making of this work. There will be a notion of spectacle but also 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 so far, we have had our first person ask for feedback on the conversations that occur in response to her added question. Additionally, someone asked a question on Facebook. This was in response to a post about empathy and the question ‘what is empathy’?

Harehills Festival | First Gig

September 13th -We went to Harehills Festival. Here, 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. This  also included pretend tea drinking. And the notion, what tea would you choose? It was precarious to move the trolley around the park. And the trolley created  a 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. Maybe not as much as we might think? Is this a social experiment? Or a roaming tea trolley? Is it an intervention? We think this is something to be considered

October 20th and 21st | Love Arts Leeds

Love Arts Leeds – we experimented with musical bells. This did not have a strong impact. Nor did it connect people. We wondered if perhaps a greater level of mastery  was necessary.  However, the question that it raise is function of bells. To put it another way, what is the purpose We concluded that it is not necessary. In addition, we added a chalk board with the words ‘Tea and Tolerance – All Welcome’ written on it. This added a great deal of welcome and a call to action. Yet without actively making people join in.

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? In this version, we 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 December | Art 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. It has to be said, this is not a method we would use in this exact way ourselves. It was 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

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. Then 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.

Questions: Like why are we doing this?

Who are we doing it for? What are the gifts ( in the conversations)?  What are we listening for? To what end?  We looked for the specifics in what people are saying to us and examples of beyond tolerance. Is there potential for humanising the teapots? This we intend to pursue. Could we involve participants again in the documentation process too? So it was  agreed that ownership by all people speaking mattered. 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 worked with so far. Then, we created a list of potential groups to work with in future. After this, we set a date for the final event.

We also talked through design with our designer Lynette Willoughby and how we might customise the trolley both from a practical perspective. After that, we thought about what kind of design we want for ourselves and our set.

Finally, we discussed involving other artists in the delivery of project. In general, we felt that this would prove interesting. We agreed 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 a significant event because it was one that involved active members of leeds grant. These are one of our funders. In addition, it involved T4P. Besides this, we were working 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 because it showed the benefit and relevance of this art project within social activism.

Synai Synangogue| North Leeds

February 7th Firstly, this was the first time we had people engage without sitting. Unsurprisingly, this made for much swifter and more immediate conversations. And also, this 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 | West Leeds

We worked with 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.

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

Forward Planning

Some questions we had: Are we on track? What next? How successful has the project been so far? We wondered about what exactly the art was.We also pondered on the social benefit? We discussed what we had learnt thus far and what else did we need to do.

First of all, we decided that the ‘art’ is the way that the artists facilitated the trolley. We wondered how it was different from say a trained therapeutic facilitator.  Furthermore, we decided that improvisation and play were important. This is what will take the conversation somewhere unexpected and surprising. We concluded that we often use similar rules as therapists but we also discarded Das appropriate. 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. People can say a lot, a little or nothing at all.  On the one hand, they can make the conversation deeply personal. On the other, the conversation can be about the world.

Ca-Bear-GAY | Cabaret at LAB

So this was run by the Dancing Bear and an LGBT+ Event. It took place on  April 3rd. We decided to wear costumes to add a performative element. So I was dressed in a mermaid tail and its actually quite hard to move in one of those. And Jason wore pink high heels with a rather fabulous pink shirt. It has to be said, it was extremely interesting how costumes make no difference within this environment to the focus and deep engagement…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 | Together Women (TWC)

So on 15th April 2015 we visited Together Women in Leeds City Centre. Initially, we started in a neutral space. This was so that members of the group had a clear choice about whether to join us in conversation or not. Four people participated. And then they invited us to bring the trolley into the other room where the rest of the group was. So we sat at along table of 12 women ( including staff and two hosts). After that, we moved swiftly through topics. And  we witnessed some brilliant insights. Individuals made realisations about their own circumstances and what they could do to change them.

Bramley Baths | West Leeds

We talked with staff and parents of children attending street dance at the Baths. At first, people were a little suspicious. Eventually, a few approached us and asked us what it was all about. There were some interesting thoughts on what makes people feel good and also on ways of living our lives. For instance,  two participants compared how people live differently in Denmark to England.

Men’s Group | Bramley Lawn

There were eleven men, one woman and two hosts. The conversation ranged across a vast spectrum of issues. And it was playful at times, at other times, hilarious. We found some people really lit up when they spoke. 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. I think the non agenda is important for the flow. What comes is sparked by the questions and what is there for people. And of course, question of what to do to make the world better provoked some deep debate and some sound ideas about what 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 | Outdoor Festival

It has to be said, the day happened in not so great weather. The rain presented problems because people didn’t want to get wet. We engaged more children in this event and more questions were offered. We concluded that the rhythm and confidence to ask for contributions is beginning to flow.

Leeds City Centre | Briggate and Black Swan

The trolley works well as a moving piece. However, a shopping street like Briggate is a significant barrier. This is a street where people already feel sold to. We were confused  with people selling things, religion or causes. We were accompanied by Humans of Leeds, Zubeir. It was very nice to share the journey. We think this could work as a future collaboration.

Live Arts Symposium is a politicised environment. People had views that were 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 University | Art Party

People engaged swiftly and more leisurely. They were standing, sitting in various spaces. And people engaged as they always do.  We are now thinking about the next stages.

Soon, we will further development with Jenny Wilson and with other artists. Our next steps and stages of work are important. What next? Will it be Handbook for being a Human in the 21st Century? Or perhaps a game? Maybe teapot top trumps? The big question is: What kind of world would you like to live in?

Magellan House

On 7th June we had our first T&T party! Our aim was to bring all the people we had worked with thus far together. This was attended by 25 people: 15 participants that came back from other events; 10 new participants; and 2 ‘walk ins’ from passers by. We tested a number of ideas at this event. For instance, we explored the 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.

Conclusions

In fact,  we concluded that the trolley would work really well in a pop up shop. Perhaps in a city centre or high street? Notably, I collated all the blogs to see multiple answers form multiple events of the questions. 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. He noted that people don’t make time to just talk and are often in a hurry while shopping. He understood what he was reading and was able to immediately engage.

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 nicely.

Grassington Festival 2015| National Care Home Day.

We used a new artist Tiago Gambiogi. He really enjoyed the work and gained a lot from the conversations. We believe there is something about format. The rules – sit in circles/listen/be kind/evolve conversation/ collaborate don’t argue. In care homes, we felt that the 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 2015

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. We talked to people on either side of the conference talks. It worked well particularly at start of the conference. This is food for thought. We 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 | Owls is a Young People’s Gathering. It happened on  22nd July.

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