The Importance of Community & Co-Creation - Interview with Derby Rises' Lead Artist Leo Kay (Part 2)

On Sunday 27 September, Derby Theatre will host its first event at the Theatre since March as part of the community project, Derby Rises. In this second part of a two part interview, lead artist Leo Kay discusses the importance of co-creation and community projects in the theatre industry.

Can you explain how integral and invaluable it is to involve the community on projects like Derby Rises?

Derby Rises is a community arts project. The roots of the practice are based in a desire to nurture healing communication, to allow communities space to have a meaningful dialogue, to digest together and to allow for emergent ideas to arise from this interaction. Whether that community be within an arts context or within a culturally, socially or experience specific context, the aspirations stay the same. 

The fact that the communities that we are engaging with in this specific process are not often afforded space to be seen and heard within contemporary urban culture, makes their engagement all the more important. On a recent episode of the podcast ‘How to Survive The End Of The World’ the writer and activist Autumn Brown said: 

It is the people who are on the margins of society, who are already surviving on the margins, who have the solutions that we need. Because they are already having to survive within space that was constructed without them in mind or actively constructed to get rid of them.

Therefore, the question for me is not: what the opportunity to engage in collective creativity and dialogue can do for those who participate, but more poignantly: what emergent solutions for our society at large can come from hosting contexts where silenced and marginalized communities can find their voice, express their visions and dream our futures?

I believe this movement from centralising my own situated creative voice to hosting and listening to others is a key and vital shift within my art practice expressing my desire to contribute to the societal transformation that must occur if we are to survive as a species. 

Can you explain the benefits and importance of co-creation and co-curation?

Derby Rises is about inspiring and enabling conversations within and across various different communities in Derby.

It’s about local artists strengthening their connections with the communities they make work with and for.

It’s about sharing creative practice and life experience in search of better ways to move forward together as we continue to face the challenges posed by Covid-19. Whilst developing Derby Rises, what has been brilliant about attempting to co-create and co-curate has been the opportunity to learn from one another, to share ideas and experience and know that it’s ok not to have all the answers, because someone in the community will.

We’ve been collaborating on lots of different levels, with lots of different people and working like this means that we move away from any sense of hierarchy and towards a space where everyone is valued for their contribution.

What impact do you envisage Derby Rises will have on Derby Theatre, the project partners, artists and the communities it serves? What do you hope will be its legacy?

Derby Rises is part of the longer term Derby-wide arts development initiative called Derby CAN. Sarah Brigham was enthusiastic about The Bakery Of Slow Ideas as the basis for Derby Rises because she saw it as a platform for exchange, dialogue and co-creativity with the aim that it could service Derby CAN’s vision to develop, deepen and expand the citywide creative collaborative networks. Myself and Sarah explored ways in which the project partners, associate artists/companies and specified communities could collaborate. 

Derby Rises has three stages to it.

1) Throughout September there will be community held day-long Bakery Of Slow Ideas and Sauerkraut Spell Making processes working with associate performance companies:  Maison Foo,  Milk Presents and Not Too Tame and working with their target communities.

2) Within this process there will be three commissioned local artists who will make a creative response to the processes

3) On Sunday 27 September, 2020 there will be a socially distanced performance event at Derby Theatre where all participants of the workshops will be invited to break bread together and watch these especially commissioned works inspired by the workshops they participated in. 

The current vision is that these individuals and their wider communities will then be invited to engage in the construction of a co-created piece of participatory art in 2021.

It’s exciting to be a part of a larger project which prioritises a longer and deeper process of engagement with both professional and non-professional collaborators who make up the creative network within Derby. I believe that this spider-like approach to nurturing local art will help enrich the creative culture of all involved.

Read part one of Leo's interview

Read an overview of Derby Rises by Sarah Brigham