Identity, the human condition and the home are themes that regularly rise to the surface in my artistic practice. Some years ago I was invited to work with a small group of people in rehabilitation at Morning Star, a local residential charity supporting the homeless and those struggling with addiction. An initial taster programme has turned into eight years of contact with this charity over which time I have come to appreciate the immense value and complexity of each life I am privileged enough to be a small part of.
As my own personal work has moved further into film, a desire to somehow articulate the experiences people have shared with me has grown. Rather than confine this work to the pristine walls of the gallery space though, it seemed fitting somehow that it would be projected back onto the streets from where these experiences had come and so the beginnings of The Word on the Streets (Do I Know You) project was born.
Initially I began to seek out a poet who could work with me to draw out words which would in turn populate a series of short films but, somehow I just couldn’t find the right person. Working with composer Howard Moody on another project at the time, I realised he had just the right approach I was after and I was thrilled when he agreed to collaborate with me.
Funded by Arts Council England, an award from the Gane Trust, and support in kind from many other organisations, including Salisbury Cathedral and Salisbury Arts Centre, the project really kicked off in January 2016. With an intention to come alongside people experiencing homelessness, working with them through art and music, to draw out material for the films, we based ourselves initially both at Morning Star’s residential retreat and at the city centre Drop In in Salisbury, run by Alabaré, where food, washing facilities etc are offered throughout the week.
It quickly transpired that my experience at the retreat was a different ball game entirely to the Drop In, where people literally came in off the streets in all sorts of conditions and circumstances. Plans for structured sessions, evaluation forms, finished pieces, followed themes etc, where thrown entirely up in the air and both Howard and I began the slow, organic process of responding to what is a shifting, precarious and somewhat chaotic situation.
It has been though, the most life changing and life affirming experience and I (so far) have had nothing but kindness, politeness and humility from the people I have met. Creating artwork with them has been a delight and a privilege and in a rather haphazard way we have amassed a body of work and songs that are a wonderful testament to creativity in the direst of circumstances.
Right now the first exhibition of people’s work from the Drop In and the temporary accommodation provided by Alabaré is on show until Nov 6th in Waterstones bookshop in High Street, Salisbury, a place where everyone connected can access and feel comfortable visiting. The work will ultimately culminate in a series of street projected short films on 22nd February 2017, leading up to a discussion evening at Salisbury Arts Centre on 1st March which precedes the main film ‘Do I Know You’ which will be screened in Salisbury Cathedral in March 2017, to coincide with Alabare’s annual Sleep Out event there.
I could fill endless pages with the experiences we have had on this project but if you want to know more, please follow our progress at https://doiknowyoublog.wordpress.com/ and make sure, if you can, to drop into Waterstones to view ‘Starting from Scratch’, and if possible, leave the artists a comment to encourage them in their work.
Susan Francis, artist/filmmaker www.susanfrancis.com