1mile² - exploring the meaning of community via cultural intermediaries

In 2009, Visiting Arts launched an innovative new programme that asks artists and communities to explore the natural and social ecology of their cities. To date, 42 artists, 18 ecologists, 14 creative organisations and over 13 500 people have participated in 10 countries.


To read an overview of the pilot programme see http://www.visitingarts.org.uk/content/1mile2-2009-report-summary-0 The exploration of 1mile² as a way to better understand community was made possible thanks to a development grant from the AHRC's Connected Communities programme in collaboration with the University of Birmingham and the SURF Centre at the University of Salford.

Images & video courtesy of the artists.


The inspiration

1mile² was inspired by our research into sustainable communities during 2007/8 and a television interview with the Ecologist Patrick Roper who has been observing the biodiversity in a single square metre of his garden since September 2003.


Working with artists

In exploring community, the work of artists is particularly valuable in that it can ask questions of the participants and prompt them to ask questions of themselves. Cultural intermediaries can challenge perceptions, what we think we “know” about our immediate world, and the relationships between things and people.


Perspectives and identity

In 1mile² Bradford, a sense of disconnect between the people and the city has emerged as a point of investigation. Amongst participants, it was common for residents of the city not to consider themselves citizens of the city. The expression of cultural identity being seen as a reinforcement of belonging to a country of origin, even for those not born overseas. Enabling a shift from a singular perception of community identity to recognising the multiplicity of identities of individuals has been a first step in understanding this disconnect.

Interdisciplinary collaboration

1mile² is designed to maximise the learning potential of interdisciplinary collaboration. By looking at culture, environment and community as interwoven strands the programme increases dialogue between the elements that make up communities and explores how they interact. In challenging the edges between arts and ecological practice, the programme creates new meeting points which in 1mile² Smethwick were fundamental to exploring common ground and places of difference, both within the physical square mile and for participants examining their own and others cultural identity and expression.

Making connections

Public interventions are key to the success of 1mile² where humour, mystery, intrigue, play and surprise create a space in which challenging the social and cultural barriers between people becomes possible. These interventions engage a broader participant base and establish a dialogue about local and global ideas and issues providing a context of shared experience and shared understanding between people within communities and between communities themselves.

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