This was a really lively session, with a lot of ground covered. As it is Talking Birds who has called this Assembly, we are only allowed to observe the proceedings and cannot join in with the discussion, in case we exert undue influence.

This evening’s session seemed, to us, to be the session where something really clicked – we are all ‘into the swing of things’ a bit more, the tech worked pretty smoothly and the participants all seem to really be leaning into the process of the Assembly now. There seems to be a deeper understanding of why we’re here and a feeling of camaraderie in our shared endeavour, which is hugely exciting and inspiring to observe!

Session outline

The format for today’s session was the same as the previous week – hearing from speakers, then discussing this in breakout rooms before coming back with questions for the speakers to address in a panel discussion format. Our loose theme was Change (what’s possible): Thinking creatively around a problem to imagine and explore what it might be possible to do differently. Looking at how people are doing things in our city, and other places – and seeing what can we learn, copy or adapt.

Expert Witnesses

The speakers this week dialed in from Coventry, Leeds, Norway and California and all are interested in this project and, in different ways, in using arts and culture to shape better futures. This Citizens’ Assembly is doing something no other city is doing (as far as we know), and as well as allowing us to find out what is happening in other places and to be inspired by ideas that we might be able to adapt for Coventry, another important part of inviting speakers from other places is to allow them to see how brilliant Coventry is for doing a unique and important project that involves citizens in decision-making about arts and culture!

Tarla Patel, our commissioned artist for this week, is an artist and archivist. Her art is the personal, capturing fleeting moments influenced by images of the past from her father’s photography legacy, to the memories she creates in the present moment. Her art reflects on aspects of culture, identity and migration through space and belonging.

Alison (Ali) Goldsworthy is CEO of The Depolarization Project and an advisor to the Conflict and Polarization Lab at Stanford. Ali has spent over 20 years active in politics and campaigning and is the co-author of Poles Apart. Her expertise is in understanding the things that drive people apart and what can be used to bring us back together. Ali used to think that public funding for the arts was a waste of money – but she changed her mind on this, which is one of the reasons we invited her to join us. What do you think about how the arts are funded? Are you happy that some of your taxes subsidise arts? Does the investment reach far enough? Do you think more should be spent on arts?

Chief Inspector Helen Kirkman is from the Coventry police, and she talks about how the police force in Coventry have been working with City of Culture for the last two years to use arts and culture to reduce crime in the city. In our first Assembly session we talked about the problems of crime we face in Coventry, and this also has echoes of our conversation last week where Hannah talked about how we might all benefit if arts and medicine were more integrated. Do you think arts and culture can sit alongside all of the other parts of society? And, if you think that culture is about bringing people together and bridging divides, how might we think about ways that we can do this across the city – not just in crime but in other sectors too?

Alan Lane is part of a theatre company in Leeds, called Slung Low. They have embedded themselves into their local community by taking on the running of their local Working Men’s Club, and spent much of the lockdowns operating a foodbank for their local community. In Coventry we have arts groups embedded in communities, but perhaps not in such a permanent, high-profile way as Slung Low. Are there things Alan talks about that might work well here too? Do you have artists living and working near you in your neighbourhood? What might the benefits or downsides be of having resident artists or an arts hub in your neighbourhood?

Cecilie Sachs-Olsen is an academic in Oslo and she looks particularly at the built environment and city centres – her research looks at how arts and imagination can be used to make city centres more alive and human-friendly. Cecilie has interesting things to say about how, with buildings, we assume things are just the way they are and we have no way of changing things – in the city centre, or our local centres – and about how using art is a good way to change things or try out new things. In Coventry, we have a brand new city centre, and the work of artists has been threaded through it – how might we use arts and culture to spread this and improve neighbourhood centres, for example?

Haiku by Liz Mytton, Assembly Writer-in-Residence

Our humanity
Demands that we ‘Build bridges!’
Instead of borders

It means we’re enraged
When small brown boys lay lifeless
For want of a hand

That we become fools
Unwilling to surrender
To our dark places

Goldfish Bowl Discussion

The full Art for the People Citizens’ Assembly Expert Witness video playlist (captioned) can be found here, and the BSL interpreted video playlist can be found here.

Art Coventry Culture – electronic zine

This electronic zine ‘Art Coventry Culture’ has been created and produced by using the words, images, and memories of those that attended the November 18th Citizens Assembly zoom. Citizens were invited to respond to questions about what they have enjoyed during the City of Culture, and what they would like to continue. Are there any areas in Coventry that they think would benefit from the input of artists and cultural organisations? The end result was created using both electronic and paper collage to create a bright and visual publication of their thoughts. This piece of artwork was produced by Tarla Patel, a Contemporary visual artist from Coventry who was called as an expert witness and commissioned to make a piece (this zine) that responded to the Assembly.

Making recommendations and what happens after the Assembly

The recommendations that this Assembly makes will be presented to the City Council and taken on by Talking Birds who, in early 2022, will produce some pilot projects to help test them out and add weight to them. We hope some of the Assembly members might be involved in some of those projects, or that test projects might happen in their neighbourhoods.

The Assembly’s Recommendations will need to be open enough to be be adopted into a Council strategy – so, for example, the Assembly might recommend that everyone should have access to arts and cultural activities within a mile of where they live; but couldn’t recommend something as specific as the library in Stoke hosting weekly craft sessions.

Through the Assembly we have heard again and again that art does not have to be an object or performance but can be the planting of a woodland, encountering a silent WW1 soldier on a station platform or, indeed, a Citizens’ Assembly! And although those things have all been given the label ‘art’, they may be made for very different reasons and serve many different functions.

To find out more & get involved:

Follow the arrow links below to find out more about the Citizens’ Assembly, and to have your say about arts, culture, creativity and imagination.