The commissioning of artists to work in areas challenged by low levels of environmental pride, yet resident feedback on the importance of the local environment, created an interesting dynamic for discussing environmental sustainable development.
Two environmental residencies were appointed, by Core Groups of local people, to work in some of Newcastle’s most challenged and diverse neighbourhoods – Byker Old Town and Arthur’s Hill/North Benwell Terraces. Residences saw the fun of art and digital technology used to engage around barriers to recycling and waste minimisation. Discussed was what could be done, potentially very differently, in back lanes with longstanding problem with litter and bulky waste. Residencies build on two successful years of an Artists in Residency programme for the city.
Environmental residencies looked to identify as many new actors as possible through creative endeavour; stimulating and supporting behaviour change, providing information and knowledge and celebrating local artistic talent. A deliberately inductive approach was taken to help inform direction, policy and opportunities post GAIA. There was purposely no ‘top down’ set plan of x number of people to engage or for y set of results.
This GAIA inquiry was pleasingly well-received in communities and on dedicated Facebook pages. Evidence suggests art is an excellent vehicle to engagement and can create an occasional missing sense of ownership of place essential to support specific action by state actors (or others) wishing to see improved pride. Pleasingly, there was excellent engagement of community groups in business opportunities from waste and these will be explored further as a direct legacy of the GAIA project. Action is also being explored to assist the large number of private landlords operating in both areas as one of the few constants in areas of high turnover of residents.
Residencies featured in news items in a local newspaper (readership 36,000) and on a community radio station. Engagement of people was supported using existing city-wide networks (eg of informal carers, 26,000 and volunteers 13,000) and shared, in a targeted way, with groups already supporting artistic talent. Several thousand people have had direct engagement with the artists by the end of December, 2015. Working with Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, the inquiry was able to offer placements to local students and, through this inquiry, help evidence new pedagogical materials and approaches. Confirming that litter, waste and the wider environment can be discussed if people meet, greet and share music at ‘Reclaim the Lanes’ sessions is being progressed locally now through academic study funded by the European Social Research Council (more info).