Science-based projects can reach out to new audiences who wouldn’t normally engage with the arts. Claire Cowell describes a project that did just that

Girl draws rangoli designs with pavement chalks

Wriggling Rangoli was a collaboration between the University of Manchester, Manchester Development Education Project and Inspired Sisters, a group of Asian women and their children living in Longsight, which aimed to raise awareness of parasitic infections and global poverty.

The project activity was in three parts, one workshop and two outdoor events. At a Parasitic Infection Workshop, scientists talked to the women and their children about parasitic infections and how they affect people around the world, using posters and visuals to explain the science. The women were then invited to share their own experiences of these conditions, which led to a very interesting dialogue between the audience and the academics, with plenty of questions from both sides. Several of the women didn’t speak English but one of the research students was able to translate. The second part of the session involved participants drawing up ‘Rangoli’ designs based on what they had learnt about parasitic infections.

Some of the Rangoli designs created in the workshop were then scaled up and recreated as Rangoli in front of Longsight library. The Asian women came with their children and joined in creating a big Rangoli. Students from Manchester University and Longsight residents added to this, covering the length of the library with their designs. The final stage of the project was the Manchester Museum Courtyard Rangoli – a scaled-up version of the Longsight Rangoli in a city centre venue. This was open to the public: 184 people attended, with 157 of them actually participating in creating the Rangoli. Posters about the parasitic infections were displayed all around the area and University staff and students were available to talk to people and answer questions about the topic. When he saw the 10 foot long chalk drawing of the organism in the courtyard surrounded by Rangoli designs, Professor KJ Else said: “I have been working on this (Trichuris worm) for 20 years but I have never seen anything like this.”

This project has engaged a brand new audience which would not normally be engaged by Science Festival activities. The workshop and Rangoli activities took place in Longsight, which is a deprived area and not many science events would take place there. The scientists mainly work on the parasites and the parasitic conditions; they investigated the links to people being trapped in poverty for the project workshop. They also benefitted from hearing the group of women talk about their own experiences in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. These anecdotes will be shared in future lectures in the university. DEP works mainly with young people, students and teachers so this was a new audience from them to work with also. Both partners are more used to working in schools or school-related settings so this was a completely new experience. Perhaps most important of all, the Asian women enjoyed learning about the science and being able to do the activity with their families in Longsight during the half-term holiday.

 

Claire Cowell is Director of Development Education Project www.dep.org.uk