World Community Arts Day
A worldwide celebration of community arts has its roots in 1970s Edinburgh
On Tue 17 Feb the eighth annual World Community Arts Day (WCAD) will take place. The event seeks to promote the value and impact of arts within communities, and while previous events have attracted participants from Israel, Canada and Australia, the roots of the festival lie firmly in Craigmillar, Edinburgh.
WCAD is inspired by Craigmillar’s Festival Society whose members turned a deprived and neglected suburb of Edinburgh into a cultural hub in the 1970s. The CFS wrote and staged their own political musicals, commissioned major public artworks in Craigmillar and created the hugely influential planning document The Comprehensive Plan for Action which proposed that the arts should be the catalyst to regeneration. In 1976 the CFS secured a £700,000 anti-poverty research grant from the European Commission, which gave it the financial boost it needed to make a big impact. People from across the world started visiting to witness community art in action, including the American Ambassador in 1976.
Andrew Crummy, co-founder of the Craigmillar Communiversity which organises WCAD and son of Helen Crummy, who set up the CFS in the 1970s, explains: ‘The Craigmillar Festival Society was part of a global Community Arts Movement. Art was being used to raise awareness of issues in a positive and caring manner,’ he says. ‘The Craigmillar Communiversity was setup in response to the many who kept visiting my mother, the late Helen Crummy, to learn about the Craigmillar Festival Society and after the death of the inspirational Reg Bolton, who was the first artistic director to the Craigmillar Festival in the 1970s.’
Crummy is aware that many people now see Community Arts as irrelevant or unfashionable, but it’s a view that he and members of the Communiversity refuse to share: ‘Many people would say "Community Arts is dead", "nobody does that sort of thing anymore", "the world has moved on", etc, but we knew this was not true. So we set out to prove a point: that Community Arts is alive and thriving.’ This year WCAD events include an arts and music fusion jam at the JamJar, Dubai, Art Workshops at Cockenzie House and a large scale, mixed media drawing at Box Hill Community Arts Centre in Melbourne.
‘What I am excited about is the range of projects globally that have happened since we began, which proves that Community Arts is alive and thriving. Many people worldwide realise that art can be used in social context, proving a positive focus to move forward,’ says Crummy. The Internet has been a way of encouraging groups to participate in WCAD and a means of collecting and archiving all of the activity the event has nurtured; Crummy stores everything on a blog. ‘It is clear that the Internet has opened up global communication and fits very well with the Community Arts ethos,’ says Crummy.
One highlight for Crummy this year is the display of his self-initiated community arts projects, the Great Tapestry of Scotland and the Battle of Prestonpans Tapestry, which were stitched by over 1,000 people. The works will be displayed at Stirling Castle and New Lanark Heritage centre respectively. ‘Last year,' says Crummy, 'the Great Tapestry of Scotland attracted around 200,000 visitors. I hope this helps to show that Community Arts can be a catalyst, attractive and interesting to many people. What Community Arts should always say is "lets get creative".
‘Community Arts is important because it states that everyone is creative. It is a global Arts movement that is growing, evolving and thriving,’ says Crummy. ‘It's maybe a rather grand statement, but it is worth stating a favourite saying the Craigmillar Festival Society always used: “We can either react in fear or anger to the state of our world, thus becoming part of the problem, or respond creatively and become part of the solution.”