Artists confront the big issues: Nine UK-based artists highlight urgent social and political issues

Artists from around the UK launched nine Kickstarter projects in partnership with the Social Art Network (SAN), the UK’s largest collective of social practice and community-based artists. 
The nine projects are by artists working across the UK with their local communities in Essex, Sunderland, Southampton, Bristol, Newcastle, Stroud, Manchester and London. Their work addresses such pressing issues as Brexit and the UK’s fractured relationship with continental Europe, the effect of government austerity policies on marginalised communities, gender stereotyping, and the culture gap between London and the regions. 
 
In the UK and around the globe, artists, activists, community groups, curators and organisations use Kickstarter to engage and build connections through participatory arts projects. Social practice art — often defined as collaborative, community-driven work that engages with social issues — has emerged as a powerful approach for artists ​confronting the current political and social challenges of today, especially in the UK. 
 
As a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC), Kickstarter is able to focus on its mission—helping bring creative projects to life—and make decisions that consider the public good, regardless of the potential impact on profits. Given the alignment of their two missions, Kickstarter and SAN announced the partnership at a symposium at Tate Exchange. Kickstarter and SAN have worked alongside the artists, mentoring them in preparation for the launch of their projects.
 
Gemma Seltzer, Kickstarter's senior outreach lead for arts and culture in the UK, said: “Kickstarter exists for creators who want to make things happen. These exceptional artists are tackling some of the biggest issues in the UK right now—with boldness, urgency and a desire to enact positive social change. The projects are disruptive, provocative and collaborative but most of all they are vital to our national debate. We’re excited to see individuals and communities from all over the world engage with these projects and help bring them to life.”
 
R.M. Sanchéz-Camus, SAN co-founder, said: “What better way to help our sector grow and be resilient than to use Kickstarter’s expertise to help drive community-driven projects towards collective and collaborative financial success. This programme only begins with these artists as a pilot. We are aiming for long-term strategies that can help artists working in this field be resilient and self-sufficient and have their efforts be supported and shine.”
 
Projects launched on the site include: 
 
 
Rewriting the Dictionary: Portraits of an Essex Girl is a showcase of stories of women and non-binary people from Essex by photographer, storyteller and campaigner Edi Whitehead, aimed at challenging the stereotype of the typical ‘Essex Girl’. Today’s Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘Essex Girl’ is “a brash, materialistic young women of a type supposedly found in Essex or surrounding areas in the south-east of England”. Growing up in Brentwood, Essex, Whitehead felt at odds with this strongly held stereotype. Whitehead will showcase portraits and stories through a touring exhibition, billboards and posters across the country, and in a publication that will be sent to community centres and schools across Essex. Whitehead uses participatory storytelling to document lived experiences that combat stereotypes, previously working with female and non-binary footballers, UCL staff and students, residents of Peckham, and Hong Kong tower blocks’ elderly residents.
 
 
Shonagh Short will create Visible Dirt, an installation aimed at bringing attention to the effects of language that links poverty to dirt. Short is working with women from council estates across North West England to create customised ‘cleaning in progress’ signs, with slogans including “Social cleansing in progress”, “Linking inequality to morality distracts from inequality”, “Dirt is a social construct” and “I am more than the dirt I clean”. These signs, crafted from materials issued from advertising, politics and the media relate to working class women’s collective experience of “being treated like dirt”.
 
 
New Ways / Another Future from artist and filmmaker Ian Nesbitt will see Nesbitt embark on a pilgrimage along the 250 mile Old Way from Southampton to Canterbury – a medieval route for European pilgrims – on foot. At a time like this, when pervading narratives of division and hatred in the UK surround us, Nesbitt aims to uncover a collective vision of a positive future by meeting progressive communities and asking people to walk alongside him. On arrival in Canterbury, Nesbitt will invite all those involved along the route to share his findings. Based in Sheffield, Nesbitt is interested in landscape politics, walking as artform and community self-organising.
 
The Women’s Art Activation System (WAAS), created by artist collective Sharon Bennett and Sarah Dixon from Gloucestershire,aims to support, explore and promote women’s art by playfully appropriating models from corporate business, government, and healthcare. Bennett and Dixon are raising funds to bring their performance piece, ‘The Bureau for the Validation of Art’ to a major US art fair in 2020. During the performance, the artists will ask participants including artists, audience members and gallery spokespeople to undergo assessment in order to receive the correct ‘validation’ that what is on sale at the fair actually constitutes as art. The piece, previously exhibited at Art Licks in London and Social Works: Live in Manchester, comments on the limiting power structures of today’s contemporary commercial art world.
 
Small but Fierce Magazine is a new children’s magazine for and by children, created by curator and Nasty Women activist Michaela Wetherell and maker and drag king Lady Kitt. They are part of a collective of artists and activists based in North East England creating an 
international project disrupting, questioning and having fun with what a children's magazine can and should be. Disabled writer and activist Lissette Auton, and graphic designer and queer artist Danni Gilbert comprise the group. The collective has been hosting workshops for children and supporters around the world, generating content and creating pages for the physical magazine.
 
 
S.M.I.L.E. (Send Me Inspiring Loving Energy) by community-focused artist Kay Adekunle Rufai is a photography, film and poetry exhibition which involves Rufai travelling to the 27 member countries of the EU and photographing the smiles of strangers from diverse ethnic groups. The project will explore different people’s reasons for smiling, as well as the effects of smiling on mental health and overall wellbeing. The project is a celebration of diversity, and of finding common ground through smiling. Rufai’s artistic practice explores the intersection between culture, identity, racial emancipation and community cohesion through art, photography, educational workshops and public events. His current projects include S.M.I.L.E-ING BOYS PROJECT, a similar series of portraits charting the impact of smiling on the wellbeing of young boys of colour aged 13 to 18.
 
Kick Off is a social practice artwork exploring craft and collectivism within women’s football by artist duo Davina Drummond and Yara El-Sherbini. Historically, women’s football teams were at the forefront of women’s suffrage activism in the UK. Drummond and El-Sherbini are interested in how women’s football evolved alongside feminism, and the ways that equality within sports can influence the wider world today. The artist duo will work with two female football teams over a period of six months, at two National Trust Sites (Souter Lighthouse and the Leas, Sunderland and Osterley Park and House, London). Through weekly workshops the women will create the teams’ identities, collaboratively designing scarves, chants, regional pies and the footballs themselves. Two subsequent football matches will bring together the two teams as well as fans, family, friends and the wider public.
 
Wildfire Gallery, founded by creator John Davis, is a travelling pop-up art gallery that occupies empty storefronts on UK high streets, animating these spaces with affordable art and creative events for the surrounding community. Davis aims to bring Wildfire Gallery to more towns and cities across the country, in order to engage a wider community of people in the UK with art and the concept of original art ownership.
 
COLOUR WORXX by Cath Carver is a new magazine that will investigate colour and space, unveiling insights into how colour can be used to transform cities. The magazine will cover colour-centric art and experiences, collaborative spatial design practices, creative use of meanwhile space, community engagement and wellbeing. Carver is the founder of Colour Your 
City, a public art initiative and research body that brings colourful installations and redesigns to urban spaces around the globe. 

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Artists confront the big issues: Nine UK-based artists highlight urgent social and political issues

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Nine UK-based artists highlight urgent social and political issues

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