Over the years I’ve been involved with a wide variety of community art projects both as a volunteer and as artist-director. My initiation experience was the inimitable Leeds Tapestry 2000 project conceived and run over a ten year period in inspirational fashion by Kate Russell, a Leeds-based textile artist.
In those early days, the volunteers would meet up in Kate’s Chapel Allerton studio to stitch, drink tea and enthusiastically plan future panels. The panels were so large and the workspace so small that assembling and appliquéing the worked pieces involved running underneath the work to pass from side to side in the cramped conditions. Nobody minded; there was a sense of excitement and anticipation at what was being produced.
Since then, I have had opportunities to direct my own projects, which I really see as ‘children of Tapestry 2000′ because I learned so much from that first experience. Most importantly, I learned that beauty can be found in anything, and that it is always possible to find a way to include work made with passion, enthusiasm and integrity. Little pieces carefully stabbed with running stitches by five-year olds; sampler items created by adults who have rarely held a needle: it all works at some level, and I’m not sure I would have believed this so strongly without the Tapestry 2000 beacon.
From the volunteers’ perspectives, there is a huge sense of achievement, pride and satisfaction in seeing a large textile piece emerge in a way they found impossible to foresee. I think that when looking at the little scraps to be assembled, it does require some imagination to envisage future success, and this isn’t always easy if you have little experience working in an open-ended, exploratory manner. The group I am currently working with is one I have been involved with now for many years, and even with their past success, they start off doubting the outcome of each new project. “Yes,’ they say when we discuss the little items they are working on, “but how is this actually going to WORK?” I just smile knowingly (and probably irritatingly) and say, “Trust me, I’m an artist! It just will.”
And it will.