Creative Journeys: As the arts develop, so do the people

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Creative Journeys is an open and inclusive project for people who share an interest in art. Produced by social inclusion organisation Certitude and working with Artist Andy Kee the group have opened up journeys through gallery spaces in London over the last two years. DAO talked to Andy about his ideas and aspirations for the development of the project.

Andy Kee as Russell

Andy Kee as ‘Russell’. Photograph: Yaz Narcin

Back in 1710 the philosopher George Berkeley proposed in A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge that trees in a garden only exist while there is somebody present to perceive them. Similarly, artist Andy Kee feels strongly that the essence of what makes art, Art is the interaction that happens with it. When an artwork hangs on a wall in an empty space is it still functioning as Art? Andy would say ‘no’ and to prove it he has developed an art-performance character called Russell.

Russell is an experimental artwork dressed in a lab coat with a string of coat pegs around him. He appears at exhibition openings and events as a place for people to hang their ideas on.

“Creative Journeys is about growth and new ideas and I thought about how a tree represents those things. Whenever I do art projects, getting people to fill in forms or to write responses to art on clipboards is always a barrier. Russell is a way of getting participants to give their feedback creatively. He is an installation, so he gets people interacting on their own terms with the gallery space. He makes the work more approachable.”

In performance-art mode Andy literally ‘rustles’ his branches (he makes no apologies for bad puns) to create a focus on which people can peg ‘leaves’ with their thoughts, feelings and ideas. It could be about the artwork in the gallery space, drawings that have been made or simply about how it feels to be in a group sharing a snack.

The ideas for Creative Journeys first began when artist Jake Meyer approached Andy to talk about another project he is involved with.

“Certitude provide outreach support, which I use. So when I got talking to Jake about art he said he was interested in going to the first Creative Minds conference in Brighton. When I told him I was working on it with Carousel as an organiser he suggested we get together to talk about developing a project.”

Creative Journeys table

A table at one of Andy’s Creative Journey’s sessions

The team had been involved in running an arts course for people with learning difficulties, but they wanted to produce something that was about developing opportunities to use art to develop a community. Andy believes strongly in the arts as an equal democratic process in which we can all learn from each other.

“Creative Journeys is about helping people feel confident in a group and learn about each other through sharing and creating art together. It’s about building up and unlocking skills and confidence – and our sessions are as much for the support workers, the parents and the carers as they are for individuals in receipt of services. We want everyone to meet on a level-playing field. Coming to the art in the gallery is a focus but friendship and sharing tea and biscuits is equally, if not more, important.”

Andy’s involvement has been instrumental in moving the organisation forward. Certitude’s Community Development programme won a Third Sector Care Award for Creative Arts last December, competing with organisations in the not-for-profit care and support sector across the UK.

Creative Journeys wall piece

A Creative Journeys session. Photograph: Yaz Narcin

The Community Development team recognises that Andy’s contribution to Certitude’s arts activities over the last 2 years helped swing the award their way. As an artist, Andy provides a depth of engagement the project would never have had without him: one reason why disabled artists should be more closely involved.

“I was lucky enough at the age of 25 to get the chance to train as an artist and a Youth Arts Worker. I use my artwork to help other people unlock their creative talents. I’m still travelling on my creative journey. It’s about making connections between people. I want to help get rid of labels and break down barriers. Being an artist with qualifications makes me useful. People think ‘Andy understands how the arts can bring people together’.”

“One of my favourite moments of the ten London gallery visits we did last year was in the Newport Street Gallery. The gallery attendant said we were the most pleasant group of gallery visitors they’d had in the gallery space. We made use of the space and were clearly having fun − she appreciated that.”

Andy cites an eclectic variety of artists who’ve influenced him:

“I always loved TV artist Tony Hart’s DIY approach to creativity. Christo’s huge scale wrapping up of buildings was an inspiration for Russell. I like the idea that everyone who engages becomes a part of the artwork. Yinka Shonibare was the person who introduced me to Shape’s artist training back when he was a Shape Officer. I like his use of Nigerian fabrics in Ship in A Bottle and the British Library installation with books covered in it. I like installations that fill a space so people’s interaction becomes part of it.”

In the coming year, the team hope to develop Creative Journeys. Having built strong relationships with Bethlem Gallery and Dulwich Picture gallery, the plan is to give people the opportunity to make art in a studio space, rather than simply using the gallery space.

“Often people say to me ‘I can’t draw’ – that’s why I give participants a chance to use tin foil or string or to tear paper and use collage as a way of making a mark. I like to use materials in a more personalised way; participants can actually use me in my Russell-art performance guise, to make art. Making art should be fun. When I get up in the morning I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to use Art to influence people creatively.”

We look forward to seeing the results of future Creative Journeys on Andy Kee’s blog on DAO. Visit here for an idea of the creative journeys Andy and the Community Development have taken people on.

The archived blog has links to a PDF detailing all the Creative Journeys gallery visits in 2016.