In-Common Sites seeks to investigate how participatory arts and performance methods can generate a space for exploring, documenting and sharing lived experience use of urban commons and local residents’ processes of place-making, which are crucial to understanding and enacting community stewardship.
The study is part of a wider research project, 'Wastes and Strays: the past, present and future of English urban commons', carried out by the universities of Newcastle, Portsmouth, Exeter and Sheffield. The project is funded for three years by the Art and Humanities Research Council.
In-Common Sites responds to two mutually informing priorities of the Futures strand of the 'Wastes and Strays' project. Firstly, to work in partnership with local people to (i) trace and record existing usages and popular perceptions of urban commons and (ii) generate ideas for the future of their own commons. Secondly, to trial new methods of engaging communities with commons’ history, legal status, and vital health and cultural potential. In this way, the work combines an analysis of the behaviours and perceptions of city dwellers around their urban commons and develops methods and methodological knowledge of applied performance and arts-based methods in participatory research.
In-Common Sites uses participatory arts, performance and design-based practices to collate and understand a range of cultural interpretations of urban commons and to gain a better understanding of how a creative co-inquiry approach engages different communities in research as co-producers of knowledge. It takes a participatory action research (PAR) approach. Community participants engage in a series of creative fieldwork tasks that enable them to explore their urban commons in their own time while maintaining social distancing. The creative inquiries invite participants to walk, observe and interact with their urban common field sites using creative tools such as map-making, storytelling, sketching, the re-enactment of historical and everyday practices, creative writing, reflection, photography and field-recording. Each inquiry is themed; it draws upon an aspect of the historical development, current status or popular perception of the urban common to prompt playful investigation and interpretation. Themes pay attention to (i) issues raised by local citizens in community-based walking conversations, (ii) research into the urban commons’ histories (enclosure, protests) and legal status (byelaws), and (iii) current theories of ‘commoning’ (conservation, stewardship). Taking a thematic approach aims to amplify the potential for participants to reflect on commonalities and differences across the four urban commons field sites and their lived experience. It generates ‘collections’ of interpretative responses, which will be collated into a series of artworks for exhibition.
In-Common Sites is a creative participatory research project celebrating the rich social, cultural and ecological value of English urban commons. In collaboration with inhabitants in four cities - Bristol, Norwich, Newcastle upon Tyne and Brighton - the project charts on-the-ground experiences of urban commons and co-creates visions for their possible futures.
For In-Common Sites, community participants engage with a series of creative tasks and co-inquiries to explore their local urban common - its history, habitat and community assets. The creative inquiries invite participants to observe, record and interact with the urban common field sites using creative tools such as map-making, storytelling, sketching, reenactment, poetic writing, photography and field-recording. Each inquiry is themed, drawing on an aspect of common’s history, ecology and popular use, or the notion of commoning, to prompt playful investigation and interpretation. Participants are encouraged to document and share their explorations. The stories, traditions, unique habitats and re-imaginings captured by participating ‘commoners’ will be collated into a series of artworks. In this way, the observations and insights participants generate can be networked together across the four urban commons.