As it Unfolds
Understanding the role of the arts for Hammersmith United Charities
A report of PhD Candidate Carolyn Defrin's findings and recommendations -halfway through the research
Table of Contents
i. Understanding the value of art by way of other values
ii. Understanding a spectrum of art-making processes
iii. Understanding art as activity and as strategy
i. Interviews, Focus Groups & Observed Artistic Activity
ii. Creative Interventions: Book-making, Food & Art; Game
iii. Artistic Practice: Remembering the Future
i. Progress- The aesthetics of risk and reservation
ii. Care- The aesthetics of personality and place
iii. Communities- The aesthetics of cohesion
iv. Relief- The aesthetics of art and need
v. Impact- The aesthetics of measurement
ii. Anchor Funding
iii. Enigma Lunches
iv. Disability Arts Festival
v. Carolyn's film & installation project
“…housing is a key tool, but it cannot be the end in and of itself towards achieving healthy communities of opportunity" (Sherman, D. 2016: 9)
My PhD research was commissioned by Hammersmith United Charities in response to a widening of their remit in the last 5 years from only housing low-income, older people in high quality homes to now also supporting a number of local community grants. I am specifically examining the value of the arts activities that have been supported by these community grants, helping to elucidate what it is the arts have done and could do.
Currently halfway through my 3-year research period, this report serves to document and highlight my findings thus far, and propose recommendations that will guide testing a first community arts funding framework.
Beginning with a brief literature review to contextualize the inquiry, I then take you through my methodology, which is primarily qualitative, action-based research-- informal interviews, a series of focus groups and creative interventions and my own artistic practice. This methodology then supports a set of findings I am organising as aesthetic values that I propose are held by the charity, its beneficiaries and the local communities.
Finally, I offer recommendations for a first community arts funding framework to be tested and evolved by my continued artistic practice as well as by a number of case studies comprised of artistic activity and strategy enacted throughout the 400th anniversary celebrations.
Context- A Brief Literature Review
Understanding the value of the arts has always been tricky territory. It is an elusive field, with impacts that are not easily tracked or slated in quantifiable terms. For a charity, like Hammersmith United, that has predominantly spent its 400-year history producing the very tangible outcome of sheltered accommodation, it is understandable why there might be skepticism or doubt in supporting activities that produce lesser-known outcomes. This complexity is compounded by austerity and a post-Brexit landscape where funding schemes are significantly reduced and subsequent pressure to discern between who and what gets funded is increased.
Below I offer current language on these issues, outlining three pathways for considering how the arts could be better understood in the context of the charity’s work to provide relief in need.
Understanding the value of the arts by way of other values
Understanding a spectrum of art-making processes
Understanding the arts as activity and as strategy
It is my intention that this brief outline will both contextualize my research, findings and recommendations that follow, and offer a shared vocabulary (for trustees, staff, artists, community partners and beneficiaries) that can then be pulled apart, analysed, and evolved in the future...
To begin understanding the role of the arts for Hammersmith United Charities– for the local area and people it serves, as well as for the principles and people guiding that service, I spoke with staff, trustees, community leaders and beneficiaries both individually in semi-structured interviews, and together in small focus groups. I observed artistic activity funded by the charity, carried out a series of arts-based creative interventions and led a collaborative film/architecture project--all drawing on my own artistic practice to gather and disseminate new information.
Click below each image to find out more
Towards an aesthetic approach to community development
“Beauty isn’t all about just nice loveliness, like. Beauty is about more rounded, substantial becoming. So I think beauty, in that sense, is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.” (O'Donahue, J. 2017)
Asking questions about the role of the arts over the last year has revealed not just information about the value of particular arts activities, but a far more comprehensive view of what I am identifying as movement towards an aesthetic approach to community development. I use the word 'towards' intentionally, because I believe that while these values are present, they have not yet been named or qualified as such, and in doing so, their 'unfolding' may direct or strengthen new organisational strategies.
Core values of progress, care, communities, relief and impact emerged again and again within the charity and the wider communities they serve. And, I would argue that these values are underpinned and carried out with a set of corresponding aesthetics.
Progress: The Aesthetics of Risk & Reservation
Care: The Aesthetics of Personality and Place
Communities: The Aesthetics of Cohesion
Relief: The Aesthetics of Art and Need
Impact: The Aesthetics of Measurement
Calling these values aesthetic is perhaps telling of my status as the artist-researcher; but, notions of beauty, quality and taste can be traced through the charity’s 400 year history—from founding documents emphasising care via shelter, food and clothes, to continuous maintenance of high quality homes and award-winning gardens, to the most recent extension of attentive shaping in the grants programmes for the wider, local communities.
These five aesthetics can construct a linear narrative–moving from the starting point for this research (at the crossroads of the past and the future) to what is typically thought of as ‘the end’ (impact measurement.) But equally, these aesthetics are overlapping and cyclical —constantly informing one another, ideally evolving with each ring around.
Recommendations & Next Steps
Community Arts Funding Framework Test 1.0
I propose the first community arts funding framework explores decision making through the lens of the 5 core aesthetic values of progress, care, communities, relief to need and impact. As such I outline a series of actions planned for the coming year as the charity carries out celebrations for its 400th anniversary. These activities and strategies (inclusive of my own continued artistic practice) will test and evolve this first version of the framework.
The intention is that this community arts funding framework will serve the charity with a vocabulary that can be shared and understood amongst a variety of stakeholders including artists, funders, beneficiaries and partners and collaborators across other sectors. Nevertheless, while providing a structure, it will be flexible, open to addition, consolidation, house-cleaning, expansion and all other building metaphors appropriate for a housing charity that strives to unite the success of its past with the innovation demanded by changing needs of the future.