Voices in Focus

Lucy Crompton-Reid

Submitted Entry for 2015 Competition


Voices in Focus is a cross artform project to encourage the use of visual media as a stimulus for creative writing and performance, with a particular focus on poetry and spoken word. For this project, the partners would use the British Library’s online Flickr collection as a starting point, delivering a series of masterclasses for spoken word artists on the use of digital images as a stimulus or provocation for new work, and producing a public event showcasing the new work created.

The workshop programme would be designed and led by Kerry Featherstone, in collaboration with Apples and Snakes and other spoken word artists as appropriate, as well as with input from the British Library Labs team. We propose a series of four workshops with a group of emerging spoken word artists, starting at the British Library with an exploration of the images, and training on how to discover themes and locations. Following this, the chosen artists would be supported in using the images to tell stories that are important to them, creating new pieces of work for performance.

The workshops will also explore the ways in which this approach can be applied to educational settings, with Kerry and other facilitators encouraging and supporting the artists involved to incorporate these techniques and approaches into their ongoing participatory practice. This would enable children and young people in schools and informal education environments to benefit from the project and to use the British Library’s online images, expanding the reach of the project and of the collection.

Kerry is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Loughborough University with extensive experience of using photography as a stimulus for creative writing and of working with emerging writers to develop their craft within this context. Apples and Snakes delivers a year round programme of workshops and masterclasses for spoken word artists in London and nationally.

We envisage a sharing event towards the end of the project at which the emerging artists involved in the workshop programme would perform their work to a backdrop of the images from the collection, or using the images in another way within their work. We would also potentially be able to involve young people and members of the public with whom the artists have used the collection, either as performers themselves or as audience members. As part of the project we would also develop teaching resources which would showcase the collection, and the creative ways in which writers, workshop facilitators and teachers can make use of it.

Assessment Criteria

The research question / problem you are trying to answer

Please focus on the clarity and quality of the research question / problem posed:

How can the British Library's collection of images be used as a starting point for telling personal stories, and for developing new writing, either for page or performance?

Please explain the ways your idea will showcase British Library digital collections

Please ensure you include details of British Library digital collections you are showcasing (you may use several collections if you wish), a sample can be found at http://labs.bl.uk/Digital+Collections

The workshop programme would introduce the artists to a range of the collections, and introduce search skills, enabling independent creative engagement with them. The project would certainly make use of the Flickr collection of images, and, depending on the heritage of the artists involved, might also use the Asia, Pacific and Africa, and India collections.

Kerry Featherstone would work with the British Library team to select images for the first workshop, which would introduce the collections and show participants how to navigate the collection, and explore ideas for how writers can work creatively with images. The following three workshops would involve the same group of participants selecting their own images, depending on the stories that they want to tell, and then being shown techniques for making use of them in their writing and supported through the creative development, writing and editing process.
An event showcasing the collections as well as the creative work would demonstrate to a wider public one of the ways of engaging creatively with the collection.

Please detail the approach(es) / method(s) you are going to use to implement your idea, detailing clearly the research methods / techniques / processes involved

Indicate and describe any research methods / processes / techniques and approaches you are going to use, e.g. text mining, visualisations, statistical analysis etc.

The methods would involve introducing the artists to browsing and searching the collection, including an understanding of what tags and meta-data are available. These would be transferrable skills that the artists would be encouraged to use in their own participatory work, thereby enlarging the number of potential users aware of the British Library image collections and how to access them. We would evaluate the project thoroughly, engaging participants of the workshop programme in this process in order to be able to respond fully to our research question, and to make adjustments to the programme as it developed.

We anticipate that the final sharing event would involve straightforward presentation of the images as a backdrop to the performance, rather than any text mining as such. However, through the workshop programme the participants would be encouraged to see the collections as a resource which could enable a multi-faceted creative response to a subject by allowing for different views, images and impressions of a given subject matter or location.

Please provide evidence of how you / your team have the skills, knowledge and expertise to successfully carry out the project by working with the Labs team

E.g. work you may have done, publications, a list with dates and links (if you have them)

Apples and Snakes is the leading organisation for spoken word and performance poetry and is increasingly working across different artforms, facilitating collaborations between spoken word artists and those working in the visual arts, music, film and other disciplines. The organisation has a thirty-year track record of innovative work in the field of spoken word, and has also supported artists in a range of interdisciplinary projects involving film, dance, graphic novel and music. Apples and Snakes also has a strong track record in participatory work, and in sharing artists’ skills with other groups and individuals. These are the approaches that would be brought to bear on this project: encouraging innovative new writing, and facilitating new participatory work based on news skills and resources.

Kerry Featherstone has several years’ experience of leading writing workshops in a range of contexts. Ekphrastic writing is a technique that he has used widely; in 2008 he co-edited Words and Things, a guide to using museum objects and artworks in creative writing. Several of his students have become interested in this approach to writing; an example of his own writing, based on an image of a woodcut, ‘Gravure sur Bois: Wartime’, was recently published in the Journal of American, British and Canadian Writing.

Please provide evidence of how you think your idea is achievable on a technical, curatorial and legal basis

Indicate the technical, curatorial and legal aspects of the idea (you may want to check with Labs team before submitting your idea first).

This involves introducing artists to the collections, and training them about what is available and to make effective use of them. As the collection itself already exists, there are few technical implications involved.

Kerry Featherstone would work with the British Library Labs team to make curatorial decisions about the images used as the stimulus for the workshops; and the workshop programme would also help to develop the curatorial skills of the emerging artists involved. The creative team at Apples and Snakes would lead on the curation of the final showcase event, in collaboration with the artists and Kerry.

We do not foresee any legal issues that would affect the project, although would need to clarify any copyright issues with the images. The copyright of material generated by artists as a result of the workshops would belong to them however Apples and Snakes would retain the right to present this work online as appropriate.

Please provide a brief plan of how you will implement your project idea by working with the Labs team

You will be given the opportunity to work on your winning project idea between June 2015 - October 2015.

We would like the team’s help with the initial exploration of the collections with the artists, so that they have as much understanding as possible about what is available, how it is available, and how to find material that will respond to their individual creative practice. An overall timeline for the project is as follows:

June - Recruit emerging artists for the workshop programme

June/July - Work with the British Library team, Apples and Snakes and other spoken word artists to develop the workshop programme. Plan dates and venues for the final event and the workshops.

August/September - Deliver the workshops, ensuring ongoing monitoring and evaluation and adjusting the programme accordingly

September - Develop plans for final sharing event

September/October - Artists involved to test out new approaches and techniques in participatory workshops in education and community settings

October – Deliver final partnership showcasing event