Gerri Moriarty

On Community Arts

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 Some Recent Work
 My colleague Alison Jeffers and I are working on a book about the early years of the community arts movement in the UK ( circa 1968-1985).
In reflecting on our preliminary research and ideas for the book, we realised a) that it would be impossible for us to interview everyone who was involved and yet b) an important principle of community arts was the wish to involve as many people as possible in the creative processes!
As one way of resolving this tension, we have set up a blog/website. it is designed to be immediate and participatory and we really hope you will sign up to receive posts and perhaps contribute to it,  either by commenting on posts or sending us thoughts and ideas for posts and or photos to upload.
 
 
Gerri is collaborating with Dr. Alison Jeffers of Manchester University on a preliminary research study into community arts. At present, they are focussing on the late 1960s and the 1970s.
They have been interviewing individuals who pioneered the work and developed new organisations in that period – just recently, Gerri has been speaking to Owen Kelly, whose book Storming the Citadels: Community, Art and the State is a classic account of the kinds of questions and issues facing practitioners at the time.
Alison and Gerri have been asking interviewees about their artistic, aesthetic and political influences, the models of practice they developed during that period, what they now think they might have done differently and whether they can see any influences of community arts thinking and practice in the current cultural context.
As part of a recent presentation based on this research, Gerri reflected on the ways in which her student experiences in the Drama Department of Birmingham University affected her praxis. 
She writes of the then Director of the Institute of Contemporary Cultural Studies: ‘Stuart Hall has been clear about the importance of culture as a ‘critical site of social action and intervention, where power relations are both established and potentially unsettled.’ 
He asks fundamental questions of all cultural activists, whether community artists or academics, artists working in participatory settings or leaders of cultural organisations, progressive funders or bloggers.  Does our work unsettle unequal power relations or does it confirm and support an unequal status quo? How can, how does our work ‘help marginal or sub-ordinate groups secure, or win, however temporarily, cultural space from the dominant group?’
These are questions I believe should occupy us as much in the 21st century as they did in the middle decade of the 20th.’
 
Alison and Gerri hope to publish a blog about their work later this year.

On Community Arts

Gerri has written

'I describe myself as a ‘community artist’ because my arts practice has been built around co-creation and collaboration. I’m interested in what can be achieved when we make enough space in our noisy lives for others to engage with us. Sometimes, I explore this through theatre, but just as often, I use my artistic practice in meetings, in conferences, in workshops and in my writing.

I describe myself as a ‘community artist’ because I have always wanted to use my knowledge and talents to help amplify the voices that find it very difficult to get heard. I want to help them to be the authors of the script, not the object of the documentary.

I also call myself a ‘community artist’ as a badge of honour. Community arts declared that all human beings were inherently creative at a time when this was considered threatening nonsense. Community arts called for diversity at a time when the cultural world was delineated in stultifying monochrome. Community arts pioneered methods of participation and engagement that have since been widely adapted in a range of creative disciplines. It did not act alone. But it was a vital element of an important continuum of cultural change.

I have never seen my work as oppositional to that of other kinds of artists. I have been lucky enough to work alongside great choreographers, musicians, architects, writers, theatre makers. But in Bolton, I worked alongside local authority officers who were a decade ahead of their time, in Derby, I worked with a visionary health service administrator, in Northern Ireland I worked with ex-combatants who were able to foresee a future that held more possibility than our past.  It takes many kinds of human ability to create long-term change.'

innovator, artist, trainer, consultant and storyteller