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.
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…
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.
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.”
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