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‘Artists of Change’ take up residence in Lewisham Council

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Lewisham based, site-specific theatre company Teatro Vivo and London-based Arts Curator, Dima Karout, have taken up residence at the heart of Lewisham Council.

As ‘Artists of Change’, they will work directly with people on the frontline of some of today’s most locally and globally pressing issues: Teatro Vivo on the Council’s call to action around the Climate Emergency and Dima with those delivering Lewisham’s vision as the UK’s first Borough of Sanctuary.

The programme, which is running in partnership with Counterpoints Arts, has been designed to open up two-way conversations between the Council and its diverse communities. It will capture different perspectives and provoke new ways of thinking, highlighting the power of creativity to bring about change. The residencies will culminate in artistic work, co-created with communities and presented in Lewisham to coincide with Refugee Week in June 2022. These outcomes will amplify voices of residents and spark conversations around migration and climate justice.

The ‘Artists of Change’, who have been selected via an open call, will act as provocators, responding to two key themes of Lewisham’s year as London Borough of Culture – the climate emergency and welcome. Working concurrently, they will shadow policy-makers to observe and comment on how decisions are made, with wide-reaching consequences for Lewisham’s communities and beyond. They will test new ways of connecting residents with Council policies; explore the intersections of climate, migration and democracy; and encourage thinking from different perspectives to inform a fairer and more inclusive service.

Working with those delivering Lewisham’s vision as the UK’s first Borough of Sanctuary, both inside and outside the Council, Dima Karout will explore existing conversations with its diverse communities, and aim to create new ones. Her residency will open up a creative investigation into places that are meaningful to Lewisham residents; spark borough-wide community conversations about how the places we inhabit contribute to our identity; and reflect on how we create “Places of Sanctuary”. Open to all those that call Lewisham home, printmaking workshops in libraries will bring locals together to reflect on their connection to and experiences within their neighbourhoods. The workshops will encourage new and meaningful connections and gather insights of what a ‘welcome’ to Lewisham means to both those offering and receiving it. Inspired by the results of these conversations, stories and encounters, Dima will design a collective art installation with a public exhibition opening in June 2022, which invites visitors to add their voices to the conversation. At the end of the project, pieces of the final art installation will be offered to local libraries to stay in the borough as a symbol of unity.

Working with the Council’s Climate Emergency team, Teatro Vivo will attend meetings, run workshops and gain an overview of strategic policies as well as the team’s day to day activities. They will also connect with local people and community groups across the borough over spring 2022, bringing The Lewisham Usherettes onto the streets to ask residents about their environmental concerns and hopes for the future. Their findings will feed into the creation of a performance, which will take place on the streets borough-wide over two weeks in June and feature a cast of professional performers working alongside local community groups. The script will also be made available for schools and community groups to perform in their own places of play or work, leaving a lasting legacy.

Dima Karout said “In a world shifting balance constantly, it is important that we ground ourselves within a vision of solidarity and welcome. This collaboration with the Council and communities will shine a light on the voices and actions of different local residents and groups working to make Lewisham a “Place of Sanctuary”. Together, we will reflect, exchange knowledge and cultivate our collective intelligence. We will work to adopt and empower a culture of generosity and inclusion.”

Mark Stevenson and Kas Darley, Joint Artistic Directors of Teatro Vivo said: “The Climate Emergency can seem overwhelming. Where do we start trying to tackle it as individuals and a community? We want this project to empower the residents of Lewisham to discover what is already being achieved and use the collective knowledge of the Borough to push for more, to share how people can get involved and finally to create a performance that shows local peoples’ aspirations and hopes for the future of Lewisham.”

Cllr André Bourne, Cabinet Member for Culture, said: “This exciting project will engage our diverse communities, provoke new ways of thinking and help identify creative local solutions to complex global problems. Tackling the Climate Emergency and creating a Borough of Sanctuary for all are both key priorities for the Council and I look forward to seeing how our Artists of Change can work with residents to inform our decision-making in these areas.”

Counterpoints Arts said: “We’re delighted to be working in partnership with the Lewisham team to consider what change we can imagine when designing a project that brings together artists, neighbourhoods, community organisations and local civic bodies. What we’re seeing already is that the Artists of Change programme, led by the work of Teatro Vivo and Dima Karout, has started developing entirely new collaborative approaches and ways of reflecting on how urgent global issues are experienced on a local stage.”