Knowle West Media Centre is an exemplar organisation negotiating the complex intersection of community, art and social/ economic regeneration. Knowle West (an estate of 6,500 households) is an area of Bristol, which, according to KWMC’s Annual Report, faces high poverty, unemployment, poor mental and physical health and educational under-achievement. KWMC began in 1997 as a temporary photography project and has since developed to become nationally recognised; personally, I felt one of its strengths lies in employing some of its staff from the area, deepening the sense of engagement and understanding of the local context.
KWMC is now housed in an award winning, purpose built centre designed by local young people. KMWC’s team involved the community as much as possible during the planning process in order that they didn’t become isolated by the changes; with a new, larger- scale building on the community’s doorstep, they wanted to avoid the perception that the centre was ‘no longer for them’. The building, made with eco-friendly materials, is a huge asset to the terrific work of the centre: with extensive space and production facilities for exhibitions, video, sound and learning.
We had the opportunity to meet a number of staff members who gave their time to explain the operational/artistic arrangements at KWMC. There is a vast range of work being carried out, and it is obvious that as well as delivering a very strong education and arts programme they also have an enterprising spirit, which reflects the history of the centre. Only recently it was announced that KWMC would become an Arts Council England portfolio organisation, highlighting that KWMC has been very proactive in identifying ways of earning income. They have been sustaining themselves since the outset, adding to project grants through office space hire, doing web/ graphic design, consultancy work and workshops/ courses for schools.
Carolyn Hassan, the centre’s Director, told us about the new 6-month training programme for staff, named Somewhere Else. Born out of supporting the transition to an ACE portfolio organisation, it was deemed necessary that staff felt confident in the language and debates associated with the arts. With many staff not coming from a ‘traditional’ arts background it was decided that a bespoke series of talks and discussions was needed to promote confidence within the team. The programme will also lead towards the creation of a 3-year arts strategy; gathering input from across the organisation, as they feel a non-hierarchical approach is particularly important to KWMC.
The diverse arts and education programme at KWMC is very interesting. One of their obvious strengths is the wide variety of partners they have developed, including with Arnolfini, Watershed and Pervasive Media Studios, University of Bristol and also the University of West of England; alongside Local Authority, regional and community organisations. While we were at KWMC various members of staff told us about the youth programme, the recording studio, exhibitions, Green and Digital Neighbourhoods- a programme promoting the social, economic and environmental benefits of digital technology; Whose Data?- a project exploring new and innovative ways in which ‘live’ data can be represented to benefit local people; as well their recent project with internationally renowned artist Suzanne Lacy known for her exploration of social and urban issues .
There was some obvious links with Street Level’s Red Road Community Studio; (include live link –
as well as similar challenges in how you move between notions of activism, ‘high-art’, socially engaged practice, community cohesion and regeneration agendas. These challenges are also evident within the funding frameworks, especially as both KWMC and RRCS work across sectors, i.e. both within an arts and community context straddling the myriad of aims and objectives their funders require to be fulfilled. KWMC made the point that learning the language of the different sectors is ongoing and can make monitoring, evaluating and reporting complex. Interestingly, they have recently spent a great deal of time developing a project management system that will help them more expediently assess their core indicators of success.