During the pandemic Beam, like many arts organisations and artists, has adapted its approach to engaging with the public in the process of project delivery. 

As an organisation which places people at the heart of delivery of arts commissions we have had to find new ways in which to continue to ensure that communities have a voice in artworks and creative projects produced for our public places. 

We have approached this in a number of different ways depending on local context, expectations of clients, artists and communities and of course always within the framework of the latest and evolving government guidance. As with all of us this is new territory and we have adapted and tested ways of working, often having to be flexible and proactive to best meet the community engagement needs of the project. 

For example, at Markham Vale we worked with our client Derbyshire County Council to deliver a virtual launch for a new phase of the Walking Together mining memorial featuring a short film and social media campaign as an alternative to the normal physical launch event held for 100+ guests. We endeavour to keep in close contact with volunteers as part of the project to make sure they continue to be involved and informed, even though we cannot yet physically meet again.

Working with Barnsley Council on new permanent commissions in the Stairfoot area we have taken our consultation and engagement activities online, recruiting artists through virtual interviews and a series of socially distanced site visits and conducting fully risk assessed distanced outdoor community engagement workshops to ensure that we could continue delivery.  

To deliver the Kirklees Council ‘HEART Your Town’ initiative we worked within government guidance to successfully deliver a series of temporary commissions by Kirklees based creatives within a short timescale between April – August 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and additional local restrictions, we were proud to facilitate opportunities for Kirklees based creatives during this time. The resulting works were designed to brighten up Huddersfield and Dewsbury and enhance public spaces to be enjoyed in a socially distant way.  

As part of our work as coordinators of the national Arts & Place Consortium we took a series of planned talks that would have taken place physically, online utilising Stream Yard software to live stream via Youtube, with advice and support from Arts Council England’s Digital Culture Network. This series of online artist talks titled ‘Arts and Place NOW’ was supported by Art Fund and aimed to highlight exemplar projects, amplifying the artists’ voice in place-making and exploring the future role of artists working in the public realm.  This online series of talks engaged more viewers than would have been possible through physical events and meant that both speakers and audiences were not bound by issues of geography. This meant we could engage international speakers including artists from the Czech Republic and Ghana. The full series of talks can be viewed here.

We are pleased that we have been able to find creative ways to continue to deliver our work and also to support the network of artists and creatives that we work with, Covid may have forced a change of approach, but we feel we are learning and growing through the adaptations we have made and encouraged that the opportunity to radically rethink how we do things is something which will have positive benefits in how we engage communities in our work into the future. We know that we are just one organisation in the sector adapting to these challenging times and we are always interested to share experiences with others, we’d be pleased to hear from you at contact@beam.uk.net if you would like to share and discuss approaches.

Image Credit: Beam, Stairfoot Steering Group Research Trip to Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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