An interview with the NCN around art and community
Why were the Art & Community project(s) initiated?
The initial questions that lead to the creation and establishment of the Newcastle Creative Network was the one of who is doing what and how and for how long in Newcastle and how do we make these actions visible. These stemmed from a feeling of stagnation and isolation of cultural activity in the otherwise culturally and historically rich region of Northern Natal.
The idea of creating a database of existing organisation, artists groups etc. and to map them out and then involve them in a shared situation of discussion and exchange about the kinds of objects they were producing and how to engage the immediate community in the distribution and consumption of their production.
Additionally the idea was to create a supportive network and ecosystem of sharing information, that can lead to more stable situations of self sustainability and generate its own localised audience; and to align relevant groups and individuals to the relevant resources.
The research into the particularities of the city of Newcastle and its relationship with the cultural life of its inhabitants formed a fundamental part of the project and the direction of its engagement which encourages a brand of place making based on a desire to unearthing of repressed histories, provided support for greater visibility of marginalized groups and issues, and initiated the rediscovery of “minor” places up until then side-lined by the dominant consumer culture.
A Community within itself
Who is/are the artist(s)?
One of the first and on going activities of the Network has been to establish and continuously revise precisely who its members are and how they are to be defined and engaged. In this regards we have undertaken research to create an artist database, working with the records kept by the Carnegie Museum and performing studio visits, and placing a call for all creatives’ who would like to be included in the database. We have been able to identify over 15 artist collective which have formed at some point but have mostly disbanded and have meet key people in the crafts sector and the performing arts both sectors dominated by women who are also the heads of house holds and young men respectively with an interest in ‘street culture’.
There are no points of congruency or convergence for the trends that have been identified in Newcastle in to the point of no point of connection between academically trained artists and self taught artist.
The database it meant to serve multiple functions the first is finding out the number of people in each sector and their level of competency in their chosen regard, and the dissemination of targeted information for the development of each identified sector and lastly being able to co-ordinate and facilitate events where the parts work together to penetrate the creative industries through a unified voice.
Another aspect of having a of existing and working visual practitioners in Newcastle and its peripheries is the on hand information when creating platform that provide exposure of the artist work to the greater community and to make practitioners aware of each other and not function in isolation. This will can be achieved through the development of a structure for the dissemination of relevant information of events taking place nationally and even internationally, facilitated knowledge sessions and workshops around individual practice; events where local artists meet each other around platforms to expose their work; and to open their work to a much wider audience through a website where the database is open to the public.
Art as a Community Development Strategy? Why? Do you see it in any other way? Please give details.
Through preliminary research it was identified that cultural participation initiatives, which include youth, women and the physically challenged were particularly lacking, and where some organizations exist, little or no information is available about them. The need to generate new information about existing resources and opportunities that stimulate the promotion of youth to youth exchanges is necessary in identifying how this section of the population can and will contribute significantly to cultural and economic growth. Also in order to make ourselves attractive to funders and receive access to fund we have to orient ourselves in a particular way. So in practice, our solutions orientated approach to art as tool cannot escape the intersections with the cultural development agenda whether in the production of temporary interventions, performances and large-scale pubic art programmes of cultural democracy. Aspects of the activities undertaken by the Network appear to have a concern to “integrate art more directly into the realm of the social, either in order to redress- in an activist sense- urgent social problems or more generally in order to relativize art as one among many forms of cultural work, current manifestations of the projects tend to treat aesthetic and art-historical concerns as secondary issues or non issues.”
So it does really does bring to mind the questions of art as social work and problematic of appearing to be providing a service that is actually a responsibility of the government since we don’t look to divorce cultural production from economics. Also in the long term the activities of the Network will be far more solutions based and far removed from the current workshop model that we currently run on.
Do you see your Art & Community projects linked to specific discourses? Theories? Please name them.
I have strongly referred to the utopian concepts of community forwarded by Jean Luc Nancy and his notion of what constitutes ‘being in common’ which is strongly influenced my Marxism and communist ideology. His writing brings forth an understanding of particular kinds on collective identification as pertinent to the broader discussion of how one can approach and imagine a “democratic public sphere” with the potential to overcome social differences and debate issues of common concern with “collaborating” public, partners and or audience members, democracy being the dystopia.
Of particular interest to has been the theorization of a shared space, the socio-political dimension of collaborative creativity, which, among other involves perceptions of a crisis in community and collective responsibility that many artists and curators have tried to resolve with greater lenience toward participatory practices which are generally believed to produce a more positive and non-hierarchical social model in a ‘unified’ public sphere.
Being in common, theorising a shared public space
In the “Inoperative Community” Nancy paints community as dissolute rather than homogeneous and redefines the idea of community as a shared experience of this dissolution. The creation ‘imagined’ communities is utopian in Nancy’s writing and he positions the definition of the term community as a linguistic flaw, in that words like communism or community suggest something held in common, while they carry something completely other than what could be common to those who would belong to a whole, to a group.” This statement falls amongst the many reasons granted for the scepticism around “essentialist models of community that require the assertion of a monolithic collectivity over and against the specific identities of its constituent members, and those who are seen as outside its (arbitrary) boundaries.”
The ideas of a homogenous community have been replaced with the multi pluralistic alterity of many separate communities in which, community is not an ‘intimate’ communication between its members but also the organic communion with its assumption of commonality, be it site or any other manifestation. With this understanding in mind, a community is not a project of fusion or in some general way a productive or operative project.
Which community is involved?
The Newcastle Creative Network has been about actually creating its community and people can choose along which lines they participate and at which level and
 [Cit. 13] Jean-Luc Nancy. 1991. Inoperative Community (Theory and History of Literature.) 1 Edition. University of Minnesota Press. Finitude: the limits of community, the death of the individual subject at the point of being part of community, the sacrifice of democracy etc.
 [Cit. 13 pp. 42] Original emphasis
 [Cit. 11 pp.11]