Community Activism: Art Works
3rd September 2020

In 2019 SAW released a publication. The publication was the outcome of many months of self reflection and careful consideration, within it’s pages we sought to explore and explain what SAW is, what it has been, and what it aims to be as an organisation. There are several essays within it that explore different aspects of our thinking and practise- here is one of them.

They shouted from the rooftops with the moon in their left hand
and the stars in their right.

You are organised, you are skilled, you all have vision.
They have taken your pubs. They have taken your churches.
They have taken your hubs. They have stripped you of space
They have stripped you of grass. They know the price of
everything, the value of nothing. Yet here you still stand
together united. So yes, be bold kick open those doors.
Paint all your pictures with the colours you hold

Poem credit: Sky Hawkins, I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of you, commissioned by Dwellbeing as part of Shieling Study Day, March 2019, inspired by Shieldfield community members.

As we move forward, our commitment to community activism will continue to be at the heart of our work and practice. We believe it is important to use our power, resources and influence as an organisation to bear witness to the challenges which are faced by community members and residents in Shieldfield (and beyond). We are particularly committed to collaborating with community members, leaders, residents and artists to seek the common good of our estate of Shieldfield. This community has experienced rapid urban redevelopment and the subsequent effects on the quality of life and political power of people living on our estate have been significant. As a Christian and Methodist organisation we believe that God is interested in empowering people who have directly experienced injustice to expose the unbalanced power dynamics of our current system of inequality and bringing that injustice to an end. As stated by St Paul in his letter to the Corinthian church in the 1st Century: 

Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong.”

1 Corinthians 1.26-7 

As set out by the Centre for Theology & Community, “it’s not enough to be a Church with a “heart for the poor”, rather, according to the New Testament, the poor are the heart of the Church.” 1

We are inspired by the ethos and aim to utilise the practices of community organising and Participatory Action Research . PAR, in particular, is a philosophy and methodology which was strongly influenced by Liberation Theology’s  emphasis on bottom up Biblical interpretation, liturgical practice and political organising. As theologian and educator Elizabeth Conde-Frazier outlines PAR is “incarnational” in that “uses a dialogical and hermeneutic approach that is more democratic, humanising, empowering… life enhancing. This is inquiry that collects data, analyses it, theorises, and comes to action as a result.” (Conde-Frazier 2006).

Participatory Action Research and Dwellbeing by Julia Heslop

We are committed to understanding the complex pressures, power structures and constraints that affect Shieldfield, the city and our political system and to use this knowledge to inform the programme and to seek long-term positive change, not just a short-term stop-gap. We want to continually listen to, understand the needs of, and empower the community of Shieldfield, using this to guide the direction of the organisation.

Encounter by Andrew Wilson

We believe that through this practice and artistic action we can acknowledge what has happened and respond to the present in imaginative ways. Art can envision and demonstrate alternative realities, showcasing new ways of living for individuals and communities. It can instil empathy and generate creative and critical thinking which can expose and address injustice in fresh and new ways.

Alison Merrit Smith

1. People of Power, How community organising recalls the Church to the vision of the Gospel, The Centre for Theology & Community, p.7

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