In 2017 People United rolled out it’s brand new arts and kindness mentoring scheme. The scheme is a unique 6-month personal and professional development programme supporting individuals living or working in Kent to make a positive difference in their communities through creativity. Below we read the reflective account of one of our 2017 mentee’s Sonnia.
Can we create positive change through the Arts?
That was the on-going question that kept coming up during my mentoring journey. Having heard the news, ‘mugging of an old lady on a nearby rundown, derelict foot tunnel’ – a place also subject to fly tipping and antisocial behaviour – I dreamed of finding ways to transform that space through art. I decided to seek support from Kent council in 2017 and we were able to encourage members of the community to paint a mural in that forgotten space.
But was the mural painting really forceful enough to change people’s mind-sets? Measuring the impact was a difficult question frustrating my vision for discovering possible solutions but I appreciated the great mentoring one to one and group sessions, which provided me with opportunities to think critically about my art practice, my deepest motivations and my guiding values.
I asserted once again that the desire to make the world better through the arts starts deep inside, in a kind and powerful place and it is important to change ourselves or our actions first and focus on the vision we wished to see, not on the issues that we would like to eradicate. Abraham Lincoln said ‘the best way to predict our future is to create it,’ and we all have a part to play. As an artist I have understood this, if we do things from our inner instinct then the arts can be used as a gentle messenger of love, respect, kindness and solidarity and that can make a genuine difference.
Through the mentoring, I was inspired to develop a kindness project rooted in creativity with children. This was why I developed the Bunting project. The bunting project aimed to engage the Y6 children from the local primary school to design a piece of wood using acrylics and messages to brighten up the Tunnel. The Arts society supported the idea and I was able to work with the Grand and Sarah, a local neighbour, who kindly cut and donated the pieces of wood.
During the workshop we walked to the Tunnel where the children reflected about the social issues surrounding the tunnel, for this activity I hung questions, quotes and provocations through the railings surrounding the tunnel and the children joined the conversation and thought of creative ways to make the space more appealing.
The children had many interesting creative ideas like “I would change the look of the tunnel and I would paint the tunnel black then put stars and different colours to make it look like a galaxy and draw planets” and “I would paint the whole tunnel and add more life with the help of my family…” These conversations alone showed that our questions were encouraging creative thinking and the consideration of values.
Back in school we ran a relaxation session and creative task where the children responded and engaged well, producing beautiful pieces of bunting. Behind each piece there is a sense that someone is caring for the community and it is the hope that the bunting consciously or unconsciously inspires others and it helps to bring humanity together. I recall a quote from Desmond Tutu: “my humanity is bound up in yours for we can only be human together,” as I believe art can only be art and become real when is shared and bound in the mind of another human.
The next step in the project is to explore the creativity of gardening. I am hoping that it will help once again to raise awareness about safety and social responsibility, and how we can make that particular space environmentally sustainable and a place of inspiration, especially for the children and young people who use this route on a daily basis.
Art helps us to envision the world in which we want to live, a kind place; this was the spirit that led through the mentoring. I was always surprised by the incredible activities, the learning opportunities, the kindness and generosity we were given. The mentoring in general meant much more to me that I could express in this piece of writing. I felt the urge to keep a dairy as every session opened doors to curiosity and inquisitiveness; the desire to continue striving to be a better version of myself (the never ending learning process) by making small positive changes every day and being more mindful in how I interact with others with real care and love the people and the planet we live in. The mentoring has certainly inspired my journey to continue exploring ways to create positive change and achieve a better world through creativity.