Event report by Tamsin Bishton, MSRM student, University of Brighton

The first sandpit event took place on 20th April 2023 and through a varied programme of talks, reflections and group discussion (online and in the room) took a rich and deep dive into four thematic provocations:

  • What is the role of everyday creativity within creative research methods?
  • How can creative research methods be mobilised to engage and empower communities?
  • What would it mean to decolonise creative methods in this context?
  • How do creative research methods speak to themes around health, wellbeing, the home and placemaking, and arts, science and technology?

Setting the context

Host, Helen Johnson, opened the event with a context-setting introduction to the idea of “everyday creativity” – the sort of creative activity that people engage with in their daily lives: from telling jokes to gardening, knitting or getting involved in citizen science projects. She gave an open invitation to academics, students, practitioners and others to get involved in helping to explore how everyday creativity might open up new pathways for people to have better mental health and wellbeing, connecting with the natural world and what it means to be alive in 2023 alongside democratizing knowledge and the arts.

Embodying the invitation, Helen shared a poem: Why We Create.

Provocations from the speakers

The next 90 minutes brought a dazzling diversity of perspectives from the invited speakers who shared their responses to the provocations of the event. The ideas, inspiration and creativity began to spark.

Jane Willis shared her experience in the room of using creative methods in the health context, pointing to the reciprocity that can be found at the heart of creative methods which create a safe space for insight and meaning making to be shared. “Creativity needs an open question, a safe space, and for everyone to feel there’s no right or wrong answer – you can’t get this wrong,” she said. This requires empathic and careful facilitation, an important part of the creative methods skillset.

Jane Povey, speaking online, continued the reflections on everyday creativity in the context of health care and particularly her work as a GP in the NHS. Her inspiration comes from her own love of music – she plays the flute. She sees huge potential for creative methods to be integrated into healthcare which might help heal a struggling workforce, positively influence leadership and culture in health services and reach people who might otherwise avoid contact with the health care system.

Elma Brenner from Wellcome explored a specific aspect of the therapeutic potential of everyday creativity by sharing her research looking at the role of textiles in therapy. Drawing inspiration from the beautiful medieval textiles in the collection at Wellcome she reflected how working with these materials “Got me thinking about textiles, expertise and what that might mean for a person of the time involved in that production.” She pondered the lived experience of a woman embroiderer from 15th Century Europe, and connected this with the present day art of Poppy Nash and Ezra Miles.

Pamela Burnard next began by playing music via a Brian Eno app on her phone, which she then handed to Tony Kalume in the front row to continue adding his own soundtrack to her talk. Pamela mused in a mind-poem style of delivery on how everyday creativity might be a thread of interconnectedness between us, more-than-human life forms and technology, making the point: “We are not here alone – we are always in intra-action. … Being, knowing and doing are inseparable. We need to flatten the processes that put human knowledge and experience at the top of the hegemonic hierarchy.”

Sandra Faulkner added the voice of her muse via zoom from her location in New Jersey. She shared her experience of everyday creativity through knitting, baking and writing poetry. She pointed to the way that knitting can help with consideration of patterns and problem solving in research, how baking

allows you to bend rules and push boundaries. “The mundane, everyday interactions are often more telling that the big moments,” she reminded us, before sharing The Overachiever Poems which she wrote during a particularly stubborn bout of insomnia recently.

Liz Mackinlay also joined us through the virtual connection and introduced us to the creative wisdom of My Gal, The Thinker. This creative writing based intervention, born in part via the work of DRAW – departing radically in academic writing –  asked an essential question: what’s love go to do with it? The resounding answer: everything. “I love, therefore I think and I am,” she confirmed.

Laharee Mitra, Chantal Spencer and Queenie Clarke, postgraduate research students, shared their reflections on everyday creativity, highlighting how being a researcher is also being a maker, how creative approaches can support deep empathy with the needs of, for example, “crip culture” participants, how being a research means building relationships and this is a form of everyday creativity along with the problem solving and boundary dissolving demands of finding pragmatic ways to gather data.

Group conversations and discussion

With the muses now singing loudly for us all, we had space to join smaller groups and consider what we’d heard and share reflections on the four provoking questions of the event. Groups met online and in the room and talked and shared.

The fruits of these conversations were bountiful and diverse, with questions and ideas expressed such as:

  • Is it ok to fail?
  • Are we over-thinking it?
  • What is everyday creativity?
  • We shouldn’t over-romanticise everyday creativity, sometimes it helps us express negative things not just positive.
  • It’s important to think about the process or set of processes.
  • The need for temporal immersion in order to engender a creative approach.
  • Having enough time and space for creativity and the process.
  • Creativity happens in sparks, flashes and brief moments and we have to hang on to these – they can have a deep impact.
  • We should probably let go of binary thinking on big C and little c “creativity”.
  • Is creativity everything? Are there any limits?
  • Why do we need to put limits on things?
  • Defining “everyday” should probably be done by the people being creative rather than the gatekeepers or researchers.
  • Scientific method can be creative – is this part of everyday creativity?
  • Perhaps we need some principles for all of this?
  • PGRs need support and mentorship with people who are more experienced to build their creative methods and relationships.
  • The meaning of creativity needs to be localised because there’s a tendency that creativity comes from a very colonised space.
  • Methods need to be led by participants and we should be using their words to empower them rather than to put them in a box.

Rounding up with a Q&A

In the final part of the session as we began to close the circle of our creative space, we heard from the panel – Owen Evans, Louise Mansfield, Sonia Contera, Norma Daykin, Tony Kalume, Laharee Mitra, Nick Ewbank and Helen Johnson – answer questions.

Tony Kalume spoke from a place of deep experience about the absolute possibility of “reaching hard to reach communities”. As he eloquently put it: “We can absolutely reach these communities. You just have to reach. Use the right language, be specific, include young people.”

Gabriel Hoosain Khan made the challenging and clarifying point that decolonisation “is going to be difficult and troublesome. We need to move from a safe space to a more dangerous space.” He challenged organisers to make more space and time for this subject and work – even though it might make things “messy”.

Picking up the theme Laharee Mitra shared an example from her research at a museum of how genuine community participation and engagement involved letting a different kind of museum interaction happen – one that leads to a “messy engagement with the museum space”.

Helen Johnson closed with her found poem from the event:

This felt like the right place for the sandpit to pause its creative inquiry. It could be a fruitful place to start the next one?