For our 10 year anniversary, we commissioned an artist collaborative to create exciting and ambitious new work exploring the theme of kindness in association with Newington Big Local. For the first time in our commissioning programme we are were commissioning with a community.
Throughout 2015/16 People United has 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 – amongst others – and have told these through a whole variety of art forms culminating in Newington’s first ever arts festival, Best Fest, in October 2015. During Best Fest, local people voted on a theme for the 2016 commission and they chose to explore KINDNESS.
For us, 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.
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. 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. The laboratory format allowed an accessible, inclusive and safe space to do this, understanding that a place to play and explore is vital for stimulating the imagination, discovering new ways of thinking and prompting new ways of connecting with people.
By July 2016 the artists’ first discovery was that Newington is a Kindness Hotspot, one of the kindest communities in the UK! They worked with the local community in order to gain a better understanding of how this Kindness is being manifest, how it can be measured and what we can learn from this phenomenon. Their aim was to learn from what’s happening in Newington so that they can help to inspire other communities to become Kindness Hotspots.
An investigative team called the Kindness Research Team was formed to undertake this new and innovative research. Inspired by the high levels of community connection and support networks recorded in the area, the team created the UK’s largest ever 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 hotspot. The system, code named KISS, was installed at the hugely popular festival Best Fest on 31 July 2016.
The KISS System explores 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. The UK’s KISS, created a ‘hands on’ experience that made these micro-moments of connection visible and graspable.
The 10 year anniversary artist commission KISS (Kindness Investigation Sensory System), was extremely popular at Best Fest. Inspired by stories from members of the community in Newington about connections with other people through acts of kindness, the artitsts created giant bags which, when hugged, emitted appropriate sensory clues; grandma singing a lullaby, jokes, chocolate chip cookies, warm blankets…
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 communicates the experience of kindness. Chloe Osborne describes 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.’