Taking Up Space was set up by Naseem Khan and myself in July 2010 with six others, all with a signficant track record in the participatory arts.
We came together with the support of the Cultural Leadership Programme – to explore and formulate ways in which the arts operate in today’s environment.
Coming from a range of backgrounds and working practice in the arts – from urban planning to policy-formulation, from festivals to education – we believe that working across disciplines and sectors grows community engagement, can develop resilience and find new strategies of living together.
Naseem and I had been inspired by our experiences – in Shoreditch in East London and Tooting in South London respectively – and by the nature of the current challenge: uneasy societies, global inequalities, conundrums created by new types of migration, climate change and shrinking resources.
We gained confidence from each other; and learnt much, not least about the very real power of the participatory arts to imagine and model change. How could these experiences be pulled together and focussed? We wrote a Manifesto to give our work greater visibility:
It begins: "We are a group of artists and producers advocating the positive role of the participatory arts with a focus on creativity, engaging people at a local level and strengthening a sense of belonging and place. As a concept with more precision, we adopt the term Relational Art practice. This practice is grounded in human relations and their social and ecological context and the central role of collaboration. It offers, we believe, opportunities to be seized in a society facing economic and environmental challenge."
Naseem Khan OBE (Shoreditch, London), Lucy Neal OBE (Tooting, London), Clare Patey (Brixton, London), Jude Bloomfield (Hackney, London), Anna Ledgard (Bridport, Dorset), Julia Rowntree (Deptford, London), Lizzie Kessler (Winchester, Hampshire), Ruth Ben-Tovim (Totnes, Devon).
Robert Palmer writes well on leadership qualities needed:
'a new approach.... that calls for new responses and the need to rethink the nature of social and cultural contracts that underpin our communities. Cultural leadership now occupies a terrain that helps to bring about the marriage of cultural and political change. The cultures of our communities are processes that extend or inhibit meaning, relationships and consciousness. Leadership no longer demands a mentality of command and control, but one of exploration, discovery, flexibility, reflexivity, empathy and personal responsibility. It requires approaches that favour holistic, systemic and integrative thinking; perception, re-perception and the development of new narratives. This style of cultural leadership incorporates both ordinary and extraordinary tasks.’