Take a look at this excellent course about activating yourself and your communities via creative engagement.  The course brings together three unique thinkers and practitioners: Ruth Ben-Tovim, Lucy Neal and Anne-Marie Culhane.  See below and click the links for more info...


The Art of Invitation – Creative Engagement for Ourselves and Our Communities


Encounters is delighted to be back leading this course Monday, 9 November, 2015 – Friday, 13 November, 2015. Last year a dynamic and inspiring group of participants gathered at the world renowned Schumacher College and we look forward to a similarly creative experience this year.

Are you looking for effective ways to bring groups of people together and maintain their involvement?
Are you trying to encourage people to respond to the social and ecological challenges of our time and become active in the world?
Would you like to explore more creative ways of engaging communities?
Do you want to find out about inspirational ways to reach and include more diverse groups of people?
Do you want to learn about the craft of making things happen?
Would you like to explore how making art together can accelerate change?

Activating participation is an essential craft, and the course leaders looked at a range of approaches to invite people to Join In. Participants on the course learnt by doing and left having developed their own plans, activities and skills for change for their own projects, organisations and communities.

The course facilitator’s work spans creative projects in formal and informal spaces, working with communities, activists, politicians, policy makers, service providers, educators, seeking to develop and create change.

Join us for a week of creative exploration. Each day will include sessions focusing on inspiring case studies, specialist workshops and presentations from contributors. This will be combined with practical group work, celebration, solo reflection time, and 1:1 mentoring to develop your own practice and process.

Participants are encouraged to bring their own project ideas, plans and experiences as material to develop within the course. At the end of the week you will come away with new creative tools for change that can resource you and the projects, communities and organisations that you are involved with and give you the confidence and skills to create new ones.

Ruth Ben-Tovim
Ruth is the Creative Director of Encounters. As a professional artist and consultant, she has used the transformational power of the arts to work with thousands of people over the last 20 years. Encounters specialise in designing and delivering tailor made participatory arts projects in arts, education, community, environmental and regeneration contexts.

With Encounters Ruth has produced and co-produced hundreds of intimate and immediate participatory interventions that inspire creativity, dialogue and exchange between people of all ages and cultures. The organisation works with people to unearth their own imaginative and instinctive power to shift how they see the world and their place within it. Encounters associates co-author evolving artworks with people of all ages and cultures, mapping and collecting stories and other evidence of everyday life which are then retold to a wider community through, exhibitions, public art, performance, publications and uniquely tailor made events.

Anne-Marie Culhane
Anne-Marie initiates, catalyses, designs and delivers creative and environmental arts projects, education, events and happenings and co-devised Encounters’ Patch of Ground strand of work.

Her work includes residencies, commissions, activism, education work and projects across disciplines. It embodies all aspects of project co-ordination, mentoring, advisory and research.

Anne-Marie works with the visual arts, installation, dance/movement, performance, film and words and has exhibited, performed and undertaken residencies in UK, Europe and Asia. I have set up a number of longer term cross-disciplinary projects in the UK. She draw inspiration from the cycles of nature and seasons; permaculture (learning from natural systems); environmental and ecological concerns or questions and listening and responding to people, landscapes and particular sites (urban or rural).

Lucy Neal
Is Author of Playing for Time: Making Art As If The World Mattered, a practical handbook of creative practice to inspire transition to more ecological age which was a collaboration with 60 artists, community activists and writers. Lucy is also a Happiness Associate working on The Happy Museum Project and a core member, initiator of Transition Town Tooting. She co-led C40 Case For Optimism – with Teo Greenstreet and Hilary Jennings. An evolving space for artists responding creatively to global challenges. Lucy is Chair of Phakama and Vice Chair English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Schumacher College brings together leading international thinkers, activists and practitioners, for small-group transformative learning experiences. There is a focus on interactive, participatory and transformative learning for sustainable living.

For more information about Schumacher College and to book visit the Schumacher College website.

Project Flyer

Meeting Arts Council England about recognising our socially engaged/ ecologically engaged/ transitionary practice

We met with Arts Council England on Tuesday 16th December to discuss recognition of our work as a unique form of artistic practice.  Alison Clark-Jenkins, Director for ACE North and for Combined Arts, kindly agreed to meet us along with some of her working group looking at 'participatory' practice.  Stephen Pritchard attended the meeting in person, whilst Bridget McKenzie and Lucy Neal took part via video conference from ACE London and Ruth Ben-Tovim took part via Skype.  We were very positively received.  This blog post is an overview for our supporters and followers about the key points raised.

We talked about the broad scope of our practice and our various approches.  We explained that the field shared a focus on people, process, ethics, social justice, sometimes politics, place, communities, ecological concerns, etc.  We pointed out that we felt largely ignored and misunderstood by many within UK arts institutions.  We also pointed out that our practice was often suspicious of arts institutions and state intervention but that we frequently worked in interdisciplinary ways.  We explained that we tended towards independence and that our work was often self-organised.  ACE discussed our practice in terms of initiatives such as Creative People and Places and Paul Hamlyn Foundation's ArtWorks.  We pointed out that they, along with outreach and arts education, were focused on audience development, continued professional development and participation.  We explained that 'engaged arts' was always issue-based.  We also noted that these initiatives were not artist-led.  We were keen to also explain that our field of practice must be conceived of as an art form as valid as any other and that our work aimed at high experiential as well as high aesthetic values whilst aiming to address issues of social justice.

There were areas that ACE wanted to explore further and better understand.  They asked us if we would be willing to participate with them to develop these areas and to continue to seek to better define our field of practice.  The aim remains to recognise our work as a unique art form.  We will all play a part in this ongoing dialogue with Arts Council England but it was agreed that Ruth Ben-Tovim and Stephen Pritchard would be the initial points of contact with ACE.

We suggested that ACE might initially look at Culture Shift and their interesting 'Gablik test' as a starting point for understanding our practice.  We also recommended various US groups such as Creative Time, A Blade of Grass, Open Engagement, etc.

We have agreed to meet again in January and will soon be arranging this with ACE.  When we know the date, we will be contacting everyone to ask for comments and ideas about how to progress our discussions and call for recognition.

This is a very brief overview of what was a very positive meeting with Arts Council England.  We welcome any comments and ideas!

Warm festive wishes and more soon...

This is not a love song – lessons the arts might learn from football

This is a blog first posted by Stephen Pritchard on

It's about how the arts could perhaps learn a little from grassroots football.  Comments please...

I’m going over to the other side
I’m happy to have and not to have not
Big business is very wise
I’m inside free enterprise
This is not a love song
This is not a love song
This is not a love song
This is not a love song
This is not a love song
This is not a love song
Not a love song
I’m adaptable, I’m adaptable
I’m adaptable and I like my new role
I’m getting better and better
And I have a new goal
I’m changing my ways where money applies
(This is not a love song, Public Image Limited, 1983)

What can the arts learn from football? A lot about developing a connected culture in which children, amateurs and professionals see clear links and participate/ spectate on every level, Nina Simon wrote recently. The world of football is similar to the arts in many ways: taking part, audiences, celebrity and anonymity, economic and intrinsic benefits/ values, large costly buildings and jumpers for goal posts, health and wellbeing, and more. Oh, and let’s not forget finance: public subsidy and big business sponsorship. There’s also, at the ‘top level’, The World Cup and Venice Biennial. Lots of similarities, then. Not all good.

What football does well is undoubtedly present a cultural phenomenon that is accessible at every level. A sport where even the premiership elite are, well, not really that elitist. A game where kids playing in a back lane or park and blokes with hangovers kicking each other as much as the ball are respected. Professionals regularly going into schools for training sessions and awards presentations as well as helping smaller clubs and amateurs fund raise. Football can also be ‘viewed’ live in world class stadiums or patchy local pitches and watched on TV at home or down the pub. Yes, costs of attending a premiership game are prohibitively high for many people; as is a subscription to Sky Sports. But anyone can take part and you don’t hear accusations of amateurism or that’s ‘not football’. Some may say, ‘football is different from art’. Of course, on one level, this is true; yet, on another level, the two activities are similar, essential aspects of our lives.

Like football, the arts are engrained into our daily existence – whether ‘high’ or ‘low’ arts. They both have tiered, hierarchical structures too. The problem is that elitism in the arts means that people taking part in the arts at different levels are perceived of very differently – from billionaire art buyers to attendees of exclusive theatre to student art shows to people sitting watching Corrie. Artistic excellence is paramount at almost every level for many in the arts. It is the winning, not the taking part, that matters. There is little space for amateurism, volunteering (except as ways to keep wage bills down), or even socially engaged arts practice. These are the realms of ‘not arts’ to many within the arts elites (for they are plural, legion). Yet, ‘amateur’ art, art in schools, community art, voluntary art, social practice, etc. offer great experiences and pleasure to many people. The problem is that there is little option for progression (for many) and derision lurks everywhere.

It is therefore essential that we remember that the arts too were once much more connected to life; less elitist than is the case in our present cultural milieu. Artisans were performers and producers, an integral part of everyday life. Festivals were commonplace and many people who may now feel disenfranchised by much of ‘the arts’ today took part. They were key events in the yearly calendar for everyone in communities – they had special meanings and marked special times. Streets and markets were often venues for free theatre and, even when theatre buildings opened, the ‘groundlings’ still formed a substantial sector of the audience of many Elizabethan plays. Sports, like rugby and football, were also integral to the lives of many people. Our neoliberal consumer society today often forgets its past. So too does much of our contemporary arts world. But sports, like football, tend to hold closer ties to their histories as integral to their on-going narratives.


The darker side of the arts and football (and many other areas of our contemporary lives) is undoubtedly philanthropy and sponsorship. This is not to say that all giving is bad. It is just a warning of the dangers of ‘tagging-on’ brands to activities for purely commercial gain or, worse still, to deliver marketing messages that directly conflict with the activity being ‘supported’. This will be a topic for another post so, for now, let’s just consider BP’s financial support for Tate and The British Museum or tobacco sponsorship of artist residencies in the Caribbean or investment bank and 2008 financial crash ‘Titan’ Merrill Lynch’s project with Tate aimed at regenerating local areas and making places safer. This type of activity is all about ‘realising corporate responsibility outcomes’ – something Arts and Business are promoting heavily as a means to increase philanthropic giving to the arts at the moment – but it mires the arts in corporate complicity. This is different from professional football’s out-and-out clear marketing-for-money deals, not to mention the often essential small-scale sponsorship of local amateur teams by local small businesses who are happy to support their team in return for a little extra local exposure. However, football sponsorship can be dangerously unethical too. Think about the World Cup 2014 with big corporate sponsors including Budweiser, Coca Cola and MacDonalds. The message: play or watch football – drink alcohol and fizzy drinks and eat unhealthy food. Or Wonga and their shirt sponsorship of Newcastle United – buy your season ticket and pay for it with a thousands of percent loan you might end up never repaying! The danger for the arts is that, not only will the ethical and moral concerns about current big arts sponsors affect the independence and critical essence of the arts, but the drive for philanthropic giving may lead to Wonga sponsoring participatory art projects in ‘disadvantaged’ communities, etc.

Nonetheless, forgetting the similar drives for both the arts and football to become increasingly commercialised (at least at their ‘top’ levels), there are, perhaps, lessons the arts might glean from football. It has retained its grassroots up appeal and ethos. Think of (local Toon legends) Gazza, Peter Beardsley, etc. They, like many other people who managed to become professional footballers, had difficult upbringings but became famous (not always just for footballing achievements). They started out playing at school; they were encouraged by sports teachers and (sometimes) parents. They were developed in volunteer-ran ‘boys clubs’ with little funding but loads of commitment to the young lads having a chance in (footballing) life. Professional clubs went there to find ‘new talent’. The professionals paid their dues, coming back to help raise money for the clubs and to help train new generations of possible future pros. Even those who ‘didn’t make it’ still found new friendships and enjoyment in taking part and trying; some stayed to volunteer to help keep the clubs running. If only the same thing could be said about much (not all) of the fractured ‘arts world’ in the UK right now. As Nina Simon pointed out, until fifty years ago soccer was derided in the US – now it is a sport that is increasingly becoming an important national game. It built itself up through grassroots engagement and commitment to accessibility for all. Perhaps we in the UK now need to think seriously about rebuilding the arts from the roots up?

What's in a name?

Great to see a such a fundamental first question for our new blog from Genevieve Rudd.  So many ways to attempt to describe our practice.  Perhaps it’s important?  Perhaps it doesn’t matter?

I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on the title of our practice - participatory, socially-engaged, collaborative, community arts… ? Is there an actual tangible difference in the work depending on the name, or do each describe the same process?

I personally use ‘community artist’ to describe my job role, because I work in the community and do art. For me, it’s a simple and accessible phrase, even if it is a phrase that is less commonly used.

What do you call yourselves?

Look forward to connecting with others working in the field on this new platform!
Genevieve, @gruddphoto