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  • Writer's pictureKatharine Wheeler

The Embers Handbook…a publication to support community-led change

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

Wheeler, K (2023) Landscape of Creative Placemaking, Embers Handbook

For the last few years (as part of a master’s in Arts and Social Practice) I have been looking into creative ways that encourage us to come together with others to think and see the places we live differently. What spaces, activities, tools, games, can inspire us into action, support us towards exploration and in taking a more active part in the ways we engage with, create, and develop our communities and the places we live? Specifically, I have been interested and intrigued by ways in which creativity can be used to bring people together, reaching all parts of our communities, to explore and enact ideas of change.

I have been looking at the power in storytelling and sharing to connect, learn, and project ourselves into alternate possibilities; the role of creative play (role play, games, physical activities) in supporting more imaginative explorations of ideas and uncovering questions we can ask of ourselves, we can ask within our communities, and we can ask of the powers and structures that govern us; and I have been thinking about how we can share more accessible and creative approaches to take part in creative exploration of issues and ideas, particularly for those who do not see themselves as creative.

Sketchbook work, Imagination Sundial (2020, Rob Shorter) and Place Standard Tool (Scot Gov)

For this we need to think of creativity as wider than ‘art making’ and inclusive of the expressive ways we gather around culture; the rituals, celebrations, acts of expression (song, dance, sports events) that bring us together. These are the activities that under-pin the building of connections and relationships within our communities, are the places we share experiences, food, offer hospitality and I would say the diversity and inclusivity of which are the measure of the health of a place.

There is an ongoing exploration here for me around how an artist, creative worker, can play a more civic role in our communities, meaning one that is an active part of place development and creation. I see a major part of this as being a creator and facilitator of these gathering spaces and activities, bringing the tools of creative expression and exploration into shared spaces with others so that ideas can be developed together around the positive changes we would like to see and could work towards.

As part of my study I started to create tools that could support this exploration; a series of dice to shape questions; a set of cards to consider different perspectives in these questions; activities aimed at prompting us to think about buildings, spaces, the land around us and what it might need. This is work that blurs the lines between art practice, community engagement and place development and is part of what I call creative placemaking.

With the Embers Handbook I wanted to create a guide / publication that could be used by anyone, community workers, groups, organisations, in the creative exploration of place development through creative placemaking – the use of creative activities to bring people together in a community and find collective ways of exploring and shaping ideas about the future of our places in ways that benefit all involved.

Embers Handbook Advisory Group, 2023

I was lucky enough to be able to pull together a brilliant group of people to support me in this and form an Advisory Group: Adrian Sinclair, Galina Koretskaya, Levinia Jones, Lynsey Smith, Paula Silva, and Gerri Moriarty. This group brought experience in the fields of creative economies, community art, placemaking and activism from around the world using arts and non-arts-based activities working towards social change. We talked about trauma and conflict and its impact on the ability of communities to come together, heal and move towards more positive futures. We talked about the relationship between insider and outsider, old and new, and how inclusive community work needs to be able to embrace the new as well as respect the old. We talked about the role of the facilitator, the less visible but vitally important role of holding spaces and supporting exploration without leading the direction or being the face of the work. We talked about the need to recognise and support conflict in these spaces, the challenges that arise when diverse perspectives are brought together. Maybe most importantly we agreed that there is no one way to do this work but that the best way to learn is to share and listen to the stories of those who are active in it.

I started collecting stories from people who collaborate within communities using creative action. I asked people about the ways they have addressed challenges and the lessons and considerations they have learned from their work; what would they say and share with others? What would they highlight for those wanting to start working with creativity in this way? And I started to create Tools to go alongside the Handbook that could be used as part of starting to work within a place through a creative placemaking approach.

The result is a publication that aims to guide you through what creative placemaking can be and what it needs, looking at the values and principles of working, sharing examples from people and projects as well as ideas and Tools of working. It is not a set of ‘how to’s’ but a way to understand how creative placemaking can work for each of us.

My hope is that it inspires others to start to work with creativity in this way and plays a small part in this approach to working with creatives within our communities. Please do get in touch if you want to ask questions or share your experiences of this way of working…the collection of stories continues!

The Embers Handbook is available to download HERE

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