We know that arts and cultural activities can evoke empathy, compassion and understanding – to the extent that perhaps we just take it for granted. Expressing just how it is that they do this, and capturing the value of it in some way is quite a challenge: our project addresses that challenge! It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of their Cultural Value programme.
Empathy and compassion are hugely important issues to society as a whole. We only have to look at how often they are discussed in a wide range of contexts – for example, healthcare, journalism, politics, and education. They are at the very heart of our relationships with other people in the world, and developments such as the widespread use of social media constantly raise new questions about the extent to which we feel and express empathy, compassion and understanding.
Since very little has been been written specifically about arts & culture and empathy, compassion and understanding, we believe that we can learn a lot by engaging with academics from a wide range of disciplines to explore THEIR understanding of the issues, and how they apply this to their own practice. Our project also involved a diverse group of artists and creative practitioners, who took part in interviews and focus groups to explore how they address and evaluate these issues in their practice. The focus is on story-telling approaches in the contexts of community and participatory arts projects and museums and exhibitions.
The two BIG questions that we have addressed are:
1) Why would we choose the medium of arts and culture to link distant geographical communities in ways that foster empathy, compassion and understanding.
2) How can we design and evaluate arts and cultural activities in ways that better recognise and demonstrate their value in terms of empathy, compassion and understanding.
Through drawing on such rich sources of knowledge and understanding, we are have developed new insights into our research questions. A working group of academics and creative practitioners applied these insights to the development of new resources for the design and evaluation of arts and cultural activities, that will better demonstrate their value in terms of empathy, compassion and understanding. Some of that team visited Lidice in June 2014, to attend the annual commemoration of the tragedy there. The resources are now being piloted and we are working on a proposal for a new arts project, informed by the research and involving creative practitioners in Stoke-on-Trent and Lidice.