The impact of participatory art on the experience of new migrants and their interaction with a new cultural environment is now the subject of a European research project. Nancy Hogg explains.
An increase in labour mobility across Europe has led to a significant growth in the number of migrants, which now stands at an estimated 69.8 million. While their paths and experiences differ greatly, migrants face some common challenges, often including stress, anxiety, loss of self-esteem, and loss of social network. As a consequence many in Europe remain segregated or even marginalized. To understand the impact of the participatory arts on the experience of these migrants, Momentum Arts has been working with European partners from France, Hungary, Greece, Spain and the UK as part of ARIADNE, a project which seeks to research and disseminate the impact of participatory art on the cultural adaptation of new migrants. Eleven 30-hour arts ‘pilot’ workshops were developed to explore the impact of different approaches.
although glad to come to the UK, they had experienced feelings of loss and culture shock
Migrants, largely from Eastern Europe, now make up nearly a third of the 20,000 population in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, and working with partners there, Momentum Arts ran two thirty-hour pilot workshops with two migrant groups. The creative activities explored the stories of the participants using visual art and creative writing. For example, one activity saw participants create English Heritage style Blue Plaques celebrating the name of someone who had helped them on their journey, be it a friend or member of a community organisation. Qualitative research then explored changes in the personal outlook of the participants. Many said that, although glad to come to the UK, they had experienced feelings of loss and culture shock. Few had ever been asked how they felt about moving to another country, often leaving family behind, in order to attain ‘a better life’, and they welcomed the opportunity to engage in creative arts.
Throughout delivery of the pilots we liaised closely with our partners sharing in their successes and learning from their challenges. Greek partners, Osmosis, used forum theatre, culminating in a performance that communicated frustration at the immigration process. In Hungary, Artemisszio Foundation used filmmaking to encourage participants to re-contextualize their memories; the University Complutense of Madrid used visual arts to explore the emotions of asylum seekers at an immigrant shelter; TAN Dance in the UK worked with migrant families on an intergenerational dance piece; and Élan Interculturel in France used concrete poetry to explore cultural identity. Outcomes were wide-ranging but indicated that the participants found engagement in the creative arts a valuable tool with which to communicate their stories.
ARIADNE is the first European project that Momentum Arts has partnered in. Meetings have been held across Europe and have been an enriching part of the project. The partners work collaboratively with on-going discussion via Skype and online forums feeding into a structured but flexible model of delivery. The project has provided an opportunity to learn about the different methodologies employed by our European peers and, with participatory arts projects these days often driven by pressure of achieving participant numbers, it has been valuable to be given resources to examine the experiences of our participants in depth.
ARIADNE has enabled Momentum Arts to diversify its funding and expand its creative offer, both in the UK and at an international level; and at a personal level we have benefited from sharing in experiences outside of our own cultural understanding. More broadly, the project will leave a legacy by creating a web portal dedicated to methods of improving cross-cultural adaptation through art. This will provide a manual of good practice and related training resources, based on the outcomes of the pilot projects, the underpinning research into good practices in different countries, and the methodologies that inspire this type of participatory work across Europe.
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This article reflects the views of the author only, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.