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From 7–19 April 2020, Open House artists in residence for 2019-20, Wright & Vandame, were scheduled to host a display and series of events in the Ede Room at Kettle’s Yard, which celebrated and reflected upon the outcome of their year-long residency, Meeting Ground. Unfortunately, this display is unable to be realised in its original form due to the temporary closure of Kettle’s Yard in light of government advice responding to the Coronavirus pandemic.

We are delighted to invite Wright & Vandame to instead share their experience of collaborating with North Cambridge communities through our blog and social media platforms. Wright & Vandame will host a take-over of Kettle’s Yard’s Instagram feed from 17 – 19 April 2020, reimagine their meditation and artist talk events on Kettle’s Yard Facebook page on Saturday 18 April and share their thoughts, experiences and artworks through the Kettle’s Yard blog over the course of the week.

Meeting Ground opening, photo: My Linh Le

Five Things We Learned

As artists interested in collaboration between ourselves and audiences and then the additional layer of mental health and wellbeing, there’s a lot we learned from this intensive year and some invaluable lessons we are happy to share with anyone interested in the role of the artist or gallery in the community.

1. Resist the Tendency to Fetishise Mental Health.

One of the things we learned early on in the residency was how mental health and wellbeing are treated almost as a novelty in our popular culture. There are festivals and fairs where ideas of self-care and spirituality are intertwined and co-opted as consumer goods or luxury services, sometimes even at a discount! As an artist collective working with a visual language, the idea of co-opting these subjects can be seductive, amusing, and playful. It’s one of the things that initially inspired us to make the ICA Studio into a free gym. However, things have changed and it no longer seems appropriate to just make a room full of rock crystals and call it “art” or assert any claims on its power to heal people.

2. Change the Language.

Another key thing we learned early on with the residency was to change the way we spoke about mental health or wellbeing. When asking friends about their thoughts about its language, there was often this association with health juices, cleansing, and something elitist: you had to be rich to be healthy and take care of yourself. There was also the challenge that mental health could come across as overly spiritual or esoteric to a lot of people, almost cult-like. We realised that in order to make these topics accessible, we had to speak about it in another way, for example, casually asking participants what they like to do to relax or chill as a form of self-care. Ultimately, it’s about feeling good no matter who you are.

Meeting Ground, photo: My Linh Le

3. Areas of Expertise

One of the things we learned early on in the residency was to be aware of the limitations of the institution and, in turn, the role of the artist. Artists are not doctors or therapists. The gallery is not a hospital or clinic. Sometimes, this relationship can actually have an adverse effect on participants, especially if there is no structure in place or artists are not trained in how to deal with personal information shared by participants.

4. Increase Funding of Arts and Wellbeing.

While recognising the limitations of the artist and institution, there is clear scientific evidence that art can be a therapeutic act of healing for both the maker and viewer. Art gives people hope. Outside the gallery, the role of the artist to improve people’s lives and wellbeing is being more appreciated and developed through the innovative work of organisations like Hospital Rooms and it is important this relationship continues to be publicly funded and explored.

Meeting Ground, photo: My Linh Le

5. The Community Comes First

In this project, more than anything we have undertaken in the past, the community was fully at the heart of everything we did; there is even a community panel that selects the artist! As artists we naturally have our own interests and agenda which already focuses on collaboration and audience participation, but it was so important to include the many community groups and participants that we worked with in the decision-making for the final outcome and include them in the creative process throughout the residency and to find out what they would enjoy most. We were able to programme events and workshops that showed alternative uses for Nun’s Way Pavilion besides a sport’s pavilion and activities that participants could do at home to look after themselves. Not only did we get a richer project in doing so but we ultimately co-created a project that the community felt reflected them and something that they could take ownership of beyond the residency.

Meeting Ground, photo: My Linh Le

Thank you to our community partners who took part in the residency:

The Grove Primary School
Castle School
Arbury Primary School
North Cambridge Academy
Cambridge Regional College
Rowan Humberstone
Corona House
Cambridge Women’s Resource Centre
Centre 33
Turtle Dove
The Red Hen Project
Church of the Good Shepherd
Grovebury Ladies
Not Quite Over the Hill Club
Cambridge Community Arts
Mansel Court
Cambridge African Network
YMCA Reparations Project
North Cambridge Community Partnership
Japanese Toddler Group
Cambridge Film Festival

Thank you to the Kettle’s Yard Artist Facilitators who supported us:

Jo Miller
Jacqui Campbell
Ian Brownlie
Josh Bilton
Anu Templar
Rachel McGivern
Loreto Valenzuela
Iona McCuaig
Cathy Dunbar

Meeting Ground, photo: My Linh Le