During the first week of March 2020, members of the Co-Creation teams at the University of Bath and the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) met in Bath to explore together how Co-Creation can be used to support processes of democratisation and promote the inclusion of non-academic groups from the Global South in practices of knowledge production.
Funding from the University of Bath’s International Scheme enabled the organisers to invite two UNAM researchers from the Faculty of Political Science, Karla Valverde Viesca and José Luis Gázquez, and a journalist-practitioner, Samuel Mesinas, who currently works with the City Council of Tlalpán, to spend a week in the UK. Over the five days of their stay in the city of Bath, the three visitors and their hosts engaged in a critical reflection about the role of the State and groups of local residents who contribute to Co-Creative practices at neighbourhood level.
After visiting Bath’s emblematic heritage sites and reviewing some of the local Co-Creative practices, members of both teams contributed to a half-day symposium at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution on Monday 2nd March which brought together ten speakers from Bath and Mexico City. Delegates tackled the potential of arts-based methodologies to generate ‘places of dissensus’ where dominant discourses can be disrupted and challenged. The seven presentations explored through a series of case studies based in Bath, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City how Co-Creation can create agonistic spaces and open ‘cracks in the system’ by prompting shifts in the participants’ spatial imagination.
After an introduction by the organiser Christina Horvath (University of Bath) summarising some key conclusions of the book emerging from the project, Co-Creation in Theory and Practice (Policy Press, forth-coming), Andres Sandoval, Joanne Davies and Eliana Osorio (University of Bath) drew lessons from a poetry and graffiti workshop they initiated in secondary schools in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. The third presentation, by Ben van Praag, explored how graffiti can promote language learning and become a tool of international communication helping artists from the periphery break their isolation and become active contributors to innovative international networks.
José Luis Gázquez (UNAM) reflected on drumming workshops in West Africa as Co-Creative practices designed to provide not only music and dance education to Western students but also to build an immersive space where embodied, practice-based knowledges can be experienced first-hand. Artist-scholar-practitioner Richard White (Bath Spa University), highlighted the importance of walking-with as a way to engage local audiences and visitors with the reluctant history of slave ownership in and around Bath. The penultimate presentation, by Karla Valverde (UNAM), addressed top-down initiatives that use the strategy of participatory budgeting to encourage co-creation at community-level and promote citizen participation in Mexico City. The last talk, by Samuel Mesinas, complemented this focus on State-approaches with a focus on bottom-up initiatives that seek to create public space illustrated by his recent project, ‘Peatonal arte público’.
This public engagement event created opportunities to share outcomes emerging from the Co-Creation project with local audiences and discuss with practitioners to what extent Co-Creative projects involving grassroots movements, local associations, national and international NGOs and State actors can promote decolonial perspectives and the creation of a new public sphere. Delegates concurred that to balance power inequalities between different participants, academics must adopt a compassionate approach and be flexible about their research agendas, methods and favoured outcomes.
The last two days of the visit were dedicated to the dissemination of Co-Creation projects and innovative, bottom-up methodologies from the Global South to staff and students at the University of Bath. Members of both teams also explored future avenues that would allow them to extend their collaboration around Co-Creation by engaging with some of the emerging global challenges and strategic priorities of their institutions, including the areas of urban inequalities, vulnerable youth groups and civic education in contexts of high socio-economic polarisation. They agreed to draw on a range of practical experiences in the Global North and Global South to investigate Co-Creation’s potential to produce new synergies between academics, artists and communities across disciplinary boundaries.