These tips will help you design more inclusive art projects in public spaces
Parks are fertile ground for people to meet and get to know each other across the differences of race, culture, class and ability. Collaborative art making in parks acts as an incredible way to bring people together who may otherwise never meet. Thinking through how you will welcome, actively include and keep specific cultural communities and groups safe takes pre-planning and the allocation of resources. Here are some things to consider:
1. Address potential barriers to participation
Some potential barriers may take financial resources to address, but many can be tackled through creative thinking and the assistance of partners, community leaders and/or volunteers. What’s essential is thinking through these potential barriers as part of the planning process while also remaining responsive to accessibility needs as they arise.
At MABELLEarts, we’ve been able to deepen our commitment to accessibility by responding to the needs of participants as they arise. For example, we began providing pick-ups and visual interpretation when we met Berle - a Mabelle resident who was visually impaired. We first sought the expertise of an ASL interpreter in 2016 - when we met Johann Fisch - a community leader who lives near Broadacres Park.
Sometimes we pair participants with a community leader (someone who has taken part in an number of MABELLEarts projects and is now a volunteer or staff) to support them to engage. These community leaders can assist by providing translation, visual guidance (for those who are visually impaired) and even physical support. Sometimes it can help those who are shy to have someone with them as they get to know the project and what we’re up to.
Other things we think about when considering barriers to participation are:
Cost of admission/participation. You might consider making all your workshops and events free of charge.
Access to childcare, which can include providing satellite activities for kids to ensure that parents can take part.
Time of day and how that might impact participation.
Some other good resources on accessibility in the arts can be found here.
2. Consider all things safety
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to making everyone feel safe and comfortable in a park or public space setting, but safety and comfort are still important to think about. What will you do if a participant is loud or disruptive? If someone is aggressive? If people who are using drugs or alcohol want to participate? Natalie James, from Winnipeg’s Spence Neighbourhood Association, talks about this last dilemma in her working context:
“At two of our events there were people who were intoxicated and there was discussion about whether they should be invited and offered a glass of water or some bannock, or told to leave. In the future, I’d like to do some planning in advance, since we know we’re going to encounter this situation again. Is there a creative, arts-based way to make sure everyone feels safe and welcome?”
Part of your job as a project host is to anticipate the dilemmas that could possibly arise in your park and to prepare your team to handle those moments. Talking about inclusion is one thing, but enacting it can be tricky. Decide in advance which behaviours you can accommodate and how you might engage different groups or individuals simultaneously. Decide as well on situations you’ll want to intervene in to ensure the safety and comfort of other participants. Sexual harassment and racism are pervasive problems that can flare up when working in public spaces. It’s important to think through how you’ll respond and to work with your collaborators to plan for how you’ll intervene.
3. Take note of cultural and religious protocols and their relevance
At MABELLEarts we try to hire artists whose cultural backgrounds and artistic practices align with the communities we work with. This increases the relevance of what we’re offering and helps make participants feel welcome and included. It’s also incredibly exciting artistically to work in this way.
If you are hoping to work with a cultural community that is different than your own, consider seeking cultural interpretation and advice from partners and community leaders. (We’ve often included this role in our budgeting process to insure we can pay for this service). Understanding religious protocols related to prayer and purification, food and the separation of women and men can help to make observant participants feel more welcome and included.
4. Recognize community contributions and leadership
Community art projects are made possible by the people who choose to give of their time and creativity and take part. Whether for an hour, the full duration of a production phase or over the many years of a long-term project, community members make vital contributions to art in parks and it’s important to acknowledge their efforts. It can be helpful to think through ways of recognizing community contributions as well as identifying opportunities for participants to benefit from their involvement in your project.
This is especially true when working with newcomers to Canada who face incredible pressure to gain Canadian experience and find employment. At MABELLEarts, we see anyone who takes part in our projects as a volunteer and a potential leader. We publicly acknowledge participants during events, track participation hours, and write letters acknowledging their contributions—which can be helpful with early job-hunting efforts. We’ve offered subway tokens, food and childcare. With our community leadership program, we provide honoraria to community members who make specific contributions, i.e. by preparing food for workshops and events. We also employ community members as: workshop assistants and one-on-one facilitators; child-minders; translators, and; cultural interpreters. Sometimes we establish advisory committees to help plan and envision our projects, thereby ensuring that our plans make sense for the people we hope to engage.
Do you want more tools, tips and insights for creating your own community-engaged projects in public spaces? Visit Placing Parks to learn more and explore our project archive and toolkit! We hope Placing Parks helps you envision artful projects that bring people together in your local park!