Compass Festival: Community Art

Compass Festival bursts onto the streets of Leeds every other November, bringing live art and interactive encounters to cultural venues, civic buildings, local businesses and the city streets. Would Like to Meet (WLTM) is a new project from award-winning artist Scottee. After 30 years of living on a council estate and moving into a terraced house this year, for the first time Scottee has found himself isolated from his neighbours. Responding to this, he has created WLTM, addressing urban isolation and community building.

A What can audiences expect from this year’s Compass Festival and how has it changed from 2016?
S: I’m just one of many commissioned artists at this year’s festival – there’s alot on! Some things that have caught my attention are the animal court of justice, journeys on the river, making sculptures with strangers in Leeds bus station and a mobile, wood-fired sauna at Leeds Dock and it’s all 100% free!

A: How do you think Compass engages with community on a wider level?
Work like Measures of Us by Redhawk Logistica is probably the widest reaching artwork in this year’s festival – they are expecting thousands of people to take part. Over the course of a year they’ve been working with communities in six different neighbourhoods where answers to a series of 5 daily questions will be posted upon results boards.

In each suburb they’ve worked with five further local businesses, gathering hubs to host the electric voting machines through which local people can express their answers. The questions Redhawk are asking don’t seek opinions, facts and stories, but poll feelings and outlooks. They are then inviting participants into the city centre for a final comparison of all six results boards and bringing neighbourhoods that are geographically separated close together to explore their differences and similarities.

A: What is the importance of audience participation in the festival?
: It’s at its heart! My work collaborates with streets to create artificial togetherness – without them wanting to get involved there is no work! In other parts of the programme – viewers are asked tot hink about the very personal changes they’d like to make to change the future of the cityscape.

A: How do you think live media art is changing and how does the festival engage with this?
S: Performance, theatre, live work is unable to ignore the political landscape – to do so is painfully ignorant of the turbulent times we’re living in. This means work that is “for the sake of it” is looking dusty – finally. Compass has always gone beyond the political – finding small, accessible, exciting ways of us learning and understanding what it is to be alive now, where our common ground is.

A: Many of the projects this year engage with society and individualism as themes, such as Would Like To Meet. Can you expand on this?
S: Would Like to Meet is a response – I grew up in social housing. I left living in a substandard council flat only 2 years ago. I moved into a street, a road, with houses and cars and went from a community of people who spoke to each other, cooked meals for each other, put on parties and into a street where no one speaks to each other. As public authorities cut social provision and urban isolation increases what happens when we create communities that know about each other – that looks out for each other. Would Like to Meet is asking each home to step out of its individual identity and think of their road as a community.

A: How do you think this project reflects the positive influence that media arts can have on communities?
It might not. I’m not sure if it’ll work. We’re being met with some resistance – four homes don’t want to be involved … and why should they? Why should folk believe in the arts as a route through the current political landscape? I think the bigger question here is how does the sector prove to the wider world that we’re worth the subsidy we receive?

Compass Festival runs 16-25 November. For more information about the festival, click here.

1. Courtesy of Abstrakt Publicity and Compass Live Festival.