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Guest Blog – Contemporary communities (and a camel)


As part of the Learning Team at Nottingham Contemporary I’ve been doing a lot of work with communities.

We have been doing “outreach and inreach” projects, which means we arrange visits by artists to go out into communities and work with them on their own turf, as well as bringing groups into the Contemporary to work with us there.

Over the last few years I have worked with diverse communities including a friendship group in Bilborough (who I’m due to work with again soon), family groups as a creative summer school, users of mental health services, schools, I’ve been working with a group of visually impaired people for over a year, and last year I worked with groups as part of Refugee Week.

Working at Bilborough Community Centre last year

I have just started a new project, building up to Refugee Week this year, which promises to be a bigger event for us than before, so I’m really excited about it!  Refugee Week involves a number of partners across Nottingham including the City Library and Homework Clubs, and is coordinated by Beyond Borders as part of the national Refugee Week Festival.  Being involved really links Nottingham Contemporary with lots of diverse communities.

I’m working with another Associate Artist, Gillian Brent.  We are currently running some evening workshops for people who are either artists themselves or work with people in groups and who want to make a project for Refugee Week.  Our first workshop was attended by a fantastic range of people, with a good contingency of Nottingham folk but also people originating from Spain, Italy, South Africa and China.  The group also represented a range of art forms, including a poet, a photographer, a theatre practitioner and visual artists.

We are using the current exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary as a starting point for inspiring projects for Refugee Week.  We took our group through some creative activities, working in the galleries with the exhibitions, to start off their thinking.  Giving each of them a seemingly random object (though in fact we had given special thought to choosing them!) – a toy tree, a packet of seeds, a plastic bird –  we asked them to make connections between the object and the exhibition, which worked really well in opening up conversations!  I particularly liked the group who were given a toy camel, and connected the idea of the camel as a nomad who wanders without borders or territory with some of the ideas in the Decolonizing Architecture exhibition about the territorial lines drawn to separate parts of Israel and Palestine.  This opened up some great discussions about people moving across borders and how borders affect people’s lives, which could inspire some interesting projects for Refugee Week.

We also got the group building their own cardboard architectural constructions in the middle of the Thomas Demand exhibition!

We hope that, as a result of these workshops, the participants will then carry out projects with other people in Nottingham.  Our aim is to hold an event at Nottingham Contemporary on 16th June celebrating all the outcomes of people’s projects as part of Refugee Week  and later as an exhibition at at the City Library.

Our Journeys display at the library last year

Click here to read more about Refugee Week and Nottingham Contemporary last year, as well as some of the other projects with communities by Associated Artists.

To find out more about Nottingham Contemporary’s work for Refugee Week, please contact Saima Kaur at Nottingham Contemporary, email or tel. 0115 948 9783.



About Joanna:

“I’m an artist working in the public realm.  I undertake commissions, generate my own projects and am involved in arts education.  I’m interested in mapping, walking, connections, public space, modes of travel, change, sense of place and looking sideways, using a wide range of media for temporary and permanent artworks.”



Twitter: @JoDacombe

All images by Jo Dacombe

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