A few years ago, the Arts Services of Mayo, South Dublin and Donegal County Councils came together to explore ways we could work together to support inclusive engagement in intercultural contexts.
As three very different and distinct geographic areas representing densely populated suburban spaces, small, medium and large towns, villages and vast tracts of sparsely populated wide-open territories, the challenges were wide-ranging. However, we felt
it was important to start the journey and see how far we got.
Even pre COVID-19, one of the partnership’s biggest barriers was finding a way to physically meet. We fixed on King House in Boyle as a central point and fittingly, our conversations took place in rooms filled with beautiful treasures presented by Heads
of State to Mary McAleese during her Presidency.
Our plans focused on policy, sectoral training, appropriate and accessible cultural services and possible models of engagement. For us, it was important to include as many cultural players as possible: artists, venues (arts venues, libraries, cultural
hubs), Local Authority staff, social inclusion teams, intercultural action groups and platforms. It was also crucial to map what work had previously been done, who lived in our areas, what existing resources we could tap into (Family Resource Centres,
Migrant Centres, Agencies working in diverse cultural contexts including Refugee Resettlement and Asylum Seekers).
As Dr Zoë O’Reilly (who researched an aspect of the project in South Dublin) says, “So much of culture is invisible; it is not found in galleries and theatres but in cafes, community halls, streets, churches and mosques and social centres.”
Our explorations and learnings are documented in the recently published Working in Intercultural Contexts: A guide for Local Authorities and Cultural Providers, setting out how to go about building relationships, which underpins all worthwhile
work of this nature. Creating connections, listening, providing space for conversation, sharing food, agreeing what might be of interest, being open and responsive to obstacles: being more human, less expert. We see this as a good starting point,
a way marker.
The journey was challenging, intriguing, rewarding, thought-provoking and multi-faceted. As in most contexts there is no one size fits all. The real value of this work pivots around meeting people who above all, are individuals with different languages,
life-experiences, perspectives and interests. This complexity is both wonderful and dizzying.
Working with other Local Authority partners was affirming and supportive. Together we achieved far more than we could have individually. The positive incentive of Arts Council support under Invitation to Collaboration funding, underpinned by expertise,
was pivotal to identifying and tackling shared agendas. We had many guides and pathfinders, without whom we would be still wandering.
Our greatest debt is to the over 500 amazing people who participated in conversations, engaged in pilot projects, attended seminars, answered questions and met us with patience and open hearts. We hope that we have reflected their wisdom and trust.
We also hope that other organisations and individuals will find the guide useful in their ambitions to work more in intercultural contexts. You can find it here.
“Society in its full sense… is never an entity separable from the individuals who compose it. No individual can arrive even at the threshold of his potentialities without a culture in which he participates” - Ruth Benedict
A/Head of Community & Integrated Development, Mayo County Council