Social Canvas: British Council launches public space art and design initiative

Wednesday, 30 July 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Sarah Hannan Social Canvas, a dynamic initiative conceptualised and deployed by the British Council in Sri Lanka launched its first phase on18 July at La Voile Blache, Mount Lavinia. The official launch of the project hosted a symposium and open dialog on how art and design can help address social issues in public spaces. British Council Country Exams Manager Harriet Gardner in her welcome address stated: “The aim of Social Canvas is to create a connection between artist and corporates. It is to portray issues through art such as what we have done with the mandalas in our office. It creates engagement with the audience.” The initiative aims to create new and sustainable working relationships between creative individuals and the corporate sector by creating public art that addresses pressing issues in the country including public wellbeing, safety, water shortage, waste management etc. “Social change is about lateral thinking, the spirit of playfulness and innovation. Art allows us to ask questions. We are not trying to make great statements about art but want you to think about the power of culture. Art can say and do many things,” speaking on creating social change, British Council Director Arts South Asia Shreela Ghosh noted. British Council Head of Art Poornima Jayasinghe-Thenuwara in her presentation featured collaborative work she had done with poets and other artistes. “I am interested in the process of creating an artwork. Collaborative artwork can be kind of a role play by providing participation and make the artwork come to life. They can experience it for themselves. Mediums can vary from drawing, digital artwork, interior, live projections and create a democratic language.” Speaking on social enterprise and social innovation British Council Head of Partnership and Innovations (Sri Lanka) Eranda Ginige stated: “Social innovation starts with social issues and how the society finds ways to respond to these issues. The corporate and public sector has immense responsibility in responding to social issues. It is time we changed the process and help create social change through art forms.” “I can’t dance, sing draw but I can take photographs. It helps you to challenge conformity and allows you to change outlooks. Art in its conventional status is overrated and will not have any value without a pedigree,” Octopus Ink Director Nalindra Godakanda stated. Godakanda also shared how digital technology is nowadays used to engage the public with interactive advertising. Centre for Poverty Analysis Senior Research Professional Vagisha Gunasekara on her brief speech focused on re-imagining development: “Technology has grown in such a short span of time. Life expectancy has increased education has grown. There is deprivation in poverty and food shortages. 14% of our young people are malnourished. The more you have the more you can have. Those who consume more are somehow more educated and powerful than others. Our spiritual well-being is never discussed but rather stay zombie. A woman is raped every 90 minutes. Our communities are struck by religious issues but we sleep soundly at night. Is this development? It allows us celebrate the diverse forms of human intelligence and value it in all its forms. Think more holistically about our world.” Academy of Design Program Head Graphic Design Alain Parizeau shared his experiences and learnings in creating public art. His advised that if you need to get the public to interact with your art you need to plan your work, try out materials before they use them and have a purpose or a call to action. “Make sure your message is sent across. The artwork we did on saving the sea was a conversation starter. There is an artwork on Kinross Street that most people never see which has created connections between the slums and art.” Raking Leaves Founder and Director Sharmini Pereira shared her experience about the ‘Open Edit: Mobile Library’ project; “Numerous books were brought down to Sri Lanka from Hong Kong. It inspired me to give back by creating our own collection here. We had a book exhibition in Jaffna where we took books from the North and the South and created a platform for it.” The symposium was followed by a four day workshop (19-22 July) which was headed by Modus Operandi Art Consultants (UK) Head Vivien Lovell and British Council Director Arts South Asia Shreela Ghosh. The program was attended by Sri Lankan artists of different visual disciplines who will work together on creating these installations on a large scale in spaces accessible to the general public in Sri Lanka. The installations will go in to production and aim to be ready before December 2014 in Colombo. The project will then go in to phases, delivering more education and creating more art in other parts of the island in early 2015. For more information and to find out how you can be involved in this project, write to or visit Pix by Lasantha Kumara