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Post-Pandemic Public Engagement: Fragmented conditions to re-establish connection

The arts have a role to find connection. As we emerge back into public spaces on the “Road to Recovery”, how do we adapt our previous approach to create an environment for meaningful connection?

Laura Morelli wrote in the last blog post from the WE Hope ‘Art department’…

“Can we connect trauma to the possible plurality of viewpoints until we have no fixed point from which to look at things? The role of the arts is to ask questions that are often uncomfortable. The role of the arts is to find connections that flow into poetic landscapes.”

Can we also create the environments and responsive structures that allow audiences to experience these connections and translate them to their own lives, their own experiences, and their understanding across a spectrum of life experiences and intersectionality? A safe space for the ‘personal’ and ‘intimate’ human connections to be explored.

Public and shared civic spaces are impactful spaces that allow audiences to act with agency and authenticity. These communal spaces in our cities, our towns and our places are the place where we decide how we conduct ourselves, experience these spaces and curate our own experiences.

So then, when we consider engaging the public in cultural activities or experiences in this space, we must be guided by confidence in exploration and experimentation. Through observation and evaluation, we’re able to test and understand our assumptions, increasingly driven by data. Understanding of dominant characteristics of audience segments – for example, how they receive communications most effectively, the type of experiences and events that resonate most positively with them, what they gravitate towards and away from, what makes them feel welcomed and comfortable to engage with an experience. This “user-led” approach allows informed guesswork at the best environment to engage audiences, the best way “to frame the experience” and to increase reach.

A dialogue with the audience allows us to test these theories, take quantitative results that can help us test and refine further as well as explore the qualitative ‘grey areas’ that relate to the personal sphere of the audience member. Quantitative helps us refine the environment, qualitative helps us understand the impact and the connection, what Laura talks about as “questions that are often uncomfortable” from a place of democratic shared experience.

After a year of enforced lockdowns, separation, and ambiguous loss we don’t know the true impact on audiences. This can only unfold over time. One thing we do know is that the disparity and marginalisation that existed pre-Covid is widening further. We have to reset our benchmarks and commit to a circular dialogue that allows us to re-establish our connections with diverse audiences, to make sure that we can “find connections that flow into poetic landscapes” with audiences that are a true reflection of the make-up of our societies and spaces to connect the authentic testimonies , humanity and stories of WE Hope in a way that is respectful of the lived experience of those who inspire the project and those who experience the project.

This article was written by Samantha Lindley,

Director of Programmes of Threshold Studios


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