31_7_16_Kiss_BestFest_617At the end of the day, love and compassion will win. Terry Waite

In 2016, for the first time in our commissioning programme we partnered with a community group. As part of our 10 year anniversary, People United, in association with Newington Big Local commissioned an artist collaborative to create exciting and ambitious new work exploring the theme of kindness.

Throughout 2015/16 People United worked alongside local residents in Newington, Ramsgate in Kent to explore ‘the best of us’ through arts and creativity. We found stories of courage, hope and love and told these through a whole variety of art forms culminating in Newington’s first ever arts festival, Best Fest. During this first Best Fest, local people voted for the theme of the artist commission and they chose KINDNESS.

For People United, kindness is about both the intention and the action to help and benefit others. This concept of kindness arises from a sense of people being connected by force of our common humanity. It encompasses notions of compassion, social justice, neighbourliness and respect for others. People United believes that in order for us to live well together in our increasingly interconnected and complex world we need to strengthen our capacity for empathy, compassion, friendship, social connection and concern for others.

Artists Thor McIntyre-Burnie, Chloe Osborne and Kati Francis delivered a participatory project and interactive installation, built with and for the community, in order to share their personal experiences, experiment with new connections and catalyse future kindnesses. To do this they ran a series of play labs, each focussing on a different sense and set of mediums to explore how we can creatively and aesthetically express the connections we make whilst experiencing an act of kindness.

They worked with the local community in order to gain a better understanding of how Kindness was being manifested in the area and how it could be measured.  An investigative team called the Kindness Research Team was formed to undertake this research. Inspired by the high levels of community connection and support networks recorded in the area, the team a large community connections map on Newington Green. Enlisting local schools and families to locate hotspots within Newington itself, uncovering connection highways and highlighting people’s emotional connections to their shared community space, the map offered people the chance to see the place they live in a new light and to celebrate its complex, often unseen, support systems.

HugBag stills strip

The artists worked with Newington Residents to design a Kindness Investigation Sensory System (KISS) providing people with a sense of the power of this kindness hotspot.

Inspired by stories from members of the community in Newington about connections with other people through acts of kindness, the artists created giant bags which, when hugged, emitted sensory clues; grandma singing a lullaby, jokes, chocolate chip cookies, warm blankets…

31_7_16_Kiss_BestFest_502 Photo Ben Gold

The KISS System explored the sensory experience of kindness, unpicking the connections (both neural and physical) which it stimulates. Barbara Fredrickson, an American professor in the department of psychology at the University of North Carolina has discovered that moments of connection between strangers, together with a regular focus on kindness can strengthen the vagus nerve, which connects the heart to the brain and the nervous system.  KISS created a ‘hands on’ experience that made these micro-moments of connection visible and graspable.

31_7_16_Kiss_BestFest_358

 

By supporting people to explore how they experience kindness in their bodies, what it sounds like, looks like and feels like, the artists and researchers hoped to unearth new information about the power and long term impact that a ‘simple act of kindness’ can have on people.

This sensory interactive installation communicated the experience of kindness. Chloe Osborne described it as “a metaphor for the community as a giant nervous system. The more we practice kindness as individuals; the plasticity of the human brain allows us to develop kinder attitudes and behaviours.”

31_7_16_Kiss_BestFest_492

We absolutely loved it – every home should have a hug bag (KISS)!
Thank you ?

Mali, participant (via Instagram)

Congratulations on a lovely event, these things take a lot of work I know but it’s clear the impact the project has had on all the participants – wonderful. So impressed and I absolutely LOVE K.I.S.S

Hazel Stone, Sidney Cooper Gallery

Photos: Ben Gold

Funded & supported by:

The Artist: Thor McIntyre-Burnie, Chloe Osborne & Kati Francis

Thor McIntyre-Burnie is an Artist, Sound Designer and early pioneer of sound as a medium for public art. Thor's internationally award winning work responds to locations, re-awakening them as immersive tools for people to explore the role and potential of a space, a park, an orchestra, architecture or network. - He creates works to walk within.
He is the founder and director of Aswarm.

Chloe Osborne is an established participatory artist and creative producer who makes work designed to engage the public in issues that are important for social change. Working in collaboration and partnership with like-minded artists and organisations to design creative projects and arts experiences in the public realm

Kati Francis is a socially engaged theatre maker with an international practice who specialises in creating inclusive performance projects outside of formal spaces and high octane multi-sensory outdoor work.
She is the founder and artistic director of Beautifulmess Theatre.

Here's a short teaser of the film being made by Tim Knights about Newington and The Best of Us project. The film gives a small taster of what the creative champions have been up to so far but the story continues...

Filmmaker Tim Knights has been catching up with previous artists and People United about the Artist Commissions programme. Find out why they're important, what it's like to take part and about some of the legacies that have grown out of them.