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Hooray! We are celebrating our 10-year anniversary in 2023! The celebrations will be themed around the future of arts.

Arts and Social Work: situating the transformative powers of the arts in mediating change in everyday lives, panel convened by Erik Jansen

This panel is comprised of a group of social work researchers who are integrating the arts, as a central methodology or “third pillar”, into micro and macro social work.  The arts are explicitly and intentionally used by social practitioners as a methodology to excavate silenced narratives, situate them within social contexts and enhance resilience, tolerance, and internal and external empathy towards others. The integration of the arts into social work practice utilises experiential knowledge and metaphors for negotiating change in times of individual and community stress and fragmentation.  The synergy of the arts within social work creates spaces and places for responsive and meaningful communication with others. This work encompasses the experimental and the aesthetics of the arts in everyday lives of marginalised groups to enhance human flourishing, foster social cohesion and promote resistance to marginalisation.  In essence, the arts are a methodology for social practice and embodied social change.

Levy, Susan: Cross-sectoral Working as a Foundation for the Arts Mediating Change in Precarious Lives  

This paper addresses the conditions for cross-sectoral collaborative working as a foundation for embedding the arts into the public sector.  The integration of the arts into the public sector creates opportunities to creatively change how welfare, healthcare and social care are conceived, practiced and experienced. This paper will present approaches to cross-sectoral and collaborative working between arts, health and social work practitioners.  Drawing on research from Scotland, innovative social care practice will be introduced and the spaces where artists are working collaboratively with people with disabilities and practitioners.  The paper will present approaches to using the experimental and experiential dimensions of the arts to give voice to the marginalised and silenced, to temporal re-imagining, the slowing down and stretching of time – of being in the moment – as a method to enter the world of people with disabilities and respond to individual differences.  This work engages in alternative ways of doing and experiencing social care and challenges privileged normative, ableist time and space which has been a barrier for people with disabilities and social work/health practitioners to fully engage with each other.  Understanding the conditions for cross-sectoral collaborative working are crucial for the successful integration of the arts into the everyday within the context of people whose precarious lives are mediated through social work and health practitioners. 

de Bruin, Paola & Jansen, Erik: What you see will make you stronger: Art, education and the existential

This paper pertains to a social pedagogical approach countering processes of marginalization with respect to ageing, the process of getting older, in the Netherlands. We study how art and education can methodically be combined in social work practices to enhance older people’s feeling at home in the world by using art images and existential questions. The rationale for this approach is that bringing different generations into (a) dialogue in relation to an artwork and thereby jointly deliberating how individuals relate to their environments helps individuals from all generations to gain a more existential world-orientation on their own ageing. This fosters a more positive stance on ageing instead of a regular deficit-focused perspective. In this way, the use of art in social work contributes to individuals reconciling themselves to reality when this may seem out of reach due to ageing-related life challenges. Our argument outlines how art contributes to wellbeing in diverse ways, and how the use of art in social work practice can rebalance epistemic injustice in the way in which ageing is framed in current European societies. We therefore argue that enabling social workers and social work students to use art in engaging with and addressing ageing-related existential questions should be seen as indispensable component of an holistic approach to empowerment and liberation of people in need of social support. The presentation will include a demonstration of the method’s application.

Huss, Ephrat: Using the Theory of Embodied Socially Embedded Aesthetics as a Theoretical Base for Socially Transformative Arts

Using social art to transform society is an emerging field that is approached from various disciplines and angles, both aesthetic and social: It includes grassroots, bottom-up innovative practices, that occur in digital and non-art spaces, but also in state and institutionalized, funded, and semi-funded cultural practices.  Arts have inherent aesthetic mechanisms that enable to excavate and socially situate silenced experiences, enabling to understand the connection between stress coping and context.

However, social arts form an interdisciplinary field that challenges and falls outside of the discourses of both aesthetic theories and psychological or political theories. Thus, social arts are often in uneasy relationships with both art and social practice.

This presentation will suggest how the theory of embodied socially embedded aesthetics may be a useful theoretical prism through which to conceptualize social arts. It will aim to create a deep connection between the mechanisms of aesthetic language such as the aesthetic tension between form and content, and between figure and background, and the aims of social action, such as excavating silenced narratives and situating them within specfici social contexts through spatial elements as compared to abstractions.

The use of arts in shared reality groups to create critical understanding of social contexts, in participatory research to co produce knowledge, and in practices of creative place-making to enhance resilience will each be demonstrated using relevant case studies of the author.  A theoretical model for using arts in transformative social practice will be outlined. 

Yoshihama, Mieko: Inserting Women’s Perspectives into Public Discourse through PhotoVoice  

This paper examines the role of arts-based approaches, PhotoVoice in particular, in participatory action research, facilitating its three dimensions: social investigation, education, and social action.
 Rooted in critical race and critical feminist theories and emancipatory/liberation education, PhotoVoice enables participants—those affected by the social issue under investigation—to discover and analyze their lived experience; through critical reflection and dialogues, participants make connections between their personal experiences and the social forces affecting them. PhotoVoice, as citizens’ documentary photography, engages ordinary citizens, who use photography not only to record but also to analyze community and social issues important to them.

Using PhotoVoice methodology, this participatory action research project documents and analyzes the 2011 Great East Japan Disaster—a cascade of M9.0 earthquake, colossal tsunamis, and nuclear accident in Fukushima—from the perspectives’ of women affected by the calamity and advocates for more inclusive disaster policies and programs. In collaboration with local women’s NGOs, the project began in June 2011 in the three most severely affected prefectures—Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate. The project has since expanded and is currently operating in seven sites with over 55 members.
On an ongoing basis, members take photographs of their lives and communities and discuss their experiences and observations in a small group. Ongoing collective, critical analyses lead to uncovering political and socio-cultural mechanisms at play, exposing failures of disaster policies and programs and implicating the capitalism and neoliberalism. Through these dialectic processes, we explore and formulate visions for change. At various points, members create “voices,” written messages to convey their critical reflections, analyses, and recommendations.

To promote public awareness and improve social policies and programs, this rich and growing collection of photographs and voices are disseminated in print, digitally, or through exhibitions and public forums/presentations across Japan and abroad, including the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women side event. Members, women affected by the disaster, are the experts, not only creating empirical knowledge through photo-taking, group discussions, and voice writing, but also disseminating such knowledge to inform policymakers, practitioners, the media, and other citizens, prompting them to take action in their respective capacities. Clearly, PhotoVoice promotes cyclic processes of critical consciousness and action—praxis. Breaking the monopoly of knowledge creation by so-called “scientists,” the project inserts women’s perspectives into policy and scholarly discourses on more effective disaster policies and responses.

Bos, Eltje: Pictures and storytelling: reduce tensions and connect  

Arts-based projects can aim to reduce stress, humanize institutions, or engage active community participation. The arts and culture can become a methodology to enhance human flourishing, foster social cohesion and promote resistance to marginalization by others.
In this paper I will look at our European funded comparative study (Picture your story PiCS) of a newly developed method where various forms of photography/pictures and storytelling are used to connect youngsters of groups that have tense relationships and/or are in conflict. The project is conducted in North Macedonia, Lithuania, Estonia, Spain and the Netherlands.

In developing the method mechanisms of group identity, intergroup stereotyping, emotional identification and empathy are addressed. We developed exercises/activities to contribute to connecting processes where individual participants become more open minded to other persons.

Pictures have been used for a long time in stimulating conversations. Using pictures can help to give people voice in complex subjects, it also contributes to sharpen their memory and to reduce misunderstandings. This has been explained by the fact that certain parts of the brain that process visual information has been shown to be evolutionary older than the part of the brain that processes verbal information. Thus, the pictures can induce deeper more unconscious levels of the brain than words can.
A unique characteristic of sharing stories as a human phenomenon is that it is considered not only to reflect reality, but also to construct that reality. The combination of two other characteristics of storytelling were the bedrock for thinking about interventions with storytelling in contexts of segregation or tension between groups: 1) Storytelling is strongly related to empowerment on individual, group and community level and 2) Storytelling is the engine of social learning processes that communicate ideas, thoughts and shared values. The above characteristics touch upon two major challenges in our present societies: segregation and polarization. In the project activities using pictures and storytelling were developed and we explored how the state of mind of the participants changed, on individual- and group level.