Platforma Manifesto: A guide to good practice for the arts, refugees & migration.
Our times are marked by unprecedented levels of displacement and human flow. This has forced us to face many soul-searching questions about who we are and what kind of society we want to live in. Unsurprisingly, artists have had a lot to say on the subject. They’ve been engaging with refugee and migrant experiences on a scale that we have not seen before, in the UK and across the world.
In 2018 more than 100 producers, creative practitioners, educators gathered during the 4th Platforma Festival for a session led by Stella Barnes and David Nguyen to reflect on our experiences and creative practices and in order to produce a collective Platforma Manifesto on the arts by, about & with refugees and migrants.
We have attempted to pull these threads together here.
The Manifesto is primarily dedicated to those who are coming into the arts and refugees field now and those who will come after us. It is full of questions. We hope that you will question it further, play with it, improve it and perhaps even replace it altogether with a Manifesto of your own.
1. Displacement is not always only negative or heartbreaking. So don’t be afraid to be PLAYFUL, UNPREDICTABLE and CHALLENGING. This might help you stay away from presenting refugees and migrants only as victims. And might even make it easier for you to find participants or mobilise new audiences.
2. Allow time for RESEARCH AND SELF-REFLECTION. Get to know as much as you can about the place where you plan to work, the artists and organisations working there and the people you are planning to work with. Make visits. Listen. Resist making assumptions. Try things out in small ways. Get feedback. Speak to people who have done similar work before.
3. Map out an ‘ECOSYSTEM’ of people and organisations in the place in which you plan to work. Who needs to be involved, consulted, informed? Who will benefit and how? Where does the power lie?
4. Consider your ARTISTIC INTENT. Why this project now? Who might be the audience? Be willing to adapt and change…and even to conclude that you are not the right person for this place right now.
5. How will you EVALUATE THE PROJECT both on artistic outcomes and for the impact of the process?
6. Ask difficult ETHICAL QUESTIONS about working with vulnerable groups: Are refugee experiences being instrumentalised [used for a specific outcome rather than on their own terms]? Do participants fully understand what the project entails? What power do ‘subjects’ have over how they are represented? What space is given to ‘non-plight’ experiences? Whose voices get heard? What support is given to people recounting traumatic experiences? Whose responsibility is it to generate empathy? Who will benefit from any financial gains?
7. It is important to get PRACTICALITIES right. Can you pay fees and/or expenses to participants? How easy is it for participants to make a regular commitment? Can you provide food & refreshments? How will you document the process & what permissions will you need? What requirements do you have to make a final “product” & what will happen if the participatory process does not lead in the direction you anticipated?
8. Continue to consult and QUESTION THE PROCESS. Are people benefiting from the project as expected? Is everyone’s voice being heard? Are you being open about your intentions?
9. As you get closer to a final performance or exhibition, to COMMUNICATE WELL becomes even more important. Do participants understand who will see their work, or work developed from their content? Are they able to give meaningful consent…or withdraw consent? What expectations will the audience have? What kind of audience reaction might participants / performers be exposed to?
10. What LEGACY will be left behind?