Dramaturg Ruth Ben-Tovim is the Co-Creative Director of Encounters Arts, an arts initiative that promotes community engagement and discussion. Their current project, A Little Patch of Ground, encourages participants to grow their own food, eat together, and find creative ways share their experiences. She tells us about her work and why it matters…
How did A Little Patch of Ground develop?
A Little Patch of Ground combines food growing, eating and raising awareness about the resources of the planet and our role within it.
My background is as a theatre director. I’ve developed this project with Anne Marie Culhane, an artist who also specialises in food and permaculture. We were feeling the imperative to respond to climate change and the breakdown of the system that we’re in. We’ve spent time working in communities, feeling the gaps between different backgrounds, ages and areas.
We can’t separate ourselves from each other and from the natural world. With artists, we wanted to create a place where we could see ourselves in a way that’s more interconnected and sustainable.
So creating a focus for the community is a driving factor in your work.
Encounters projects are about bringing diverse groups of people together. A Little Patch of Ground was initially about bringing people together from across Liverpool [for the 2009 Capital of Culture] to meet each other, grow food and create a relationship with where they live. It’s called A Little Patch of Ground because one participant from another project said that we’re all attached to our own patches of ground and we never look to anyone else’s.
What would happen if we tried to target a group of people from across the city, who in some way represent what that city is about? My idea was that through performance, which involves all of the participants, you’d see a reflection of that city in front of you.
We draw on permaculture principles. Permaculture is a way of growing but also a philosophy. Three values underpin it: people care, earth care and fair shares.
What’s shaped your attitude to the environment and how creative projects can facilitate change?
My passion is around people, place and community. In the last five years, theories and documentaries have got me to contemplate that we’re at a tipping point in our world. I feel an imperative, as an artist and a human being, to get people to look at living sustainably. An internal change needs to take place as well as a change in our actions.
How does creative performance relate to campaigning?
Arts are a way to bring people together. Artists engage with the imagination and allow us to experience new stories to live by; I don’t just see art as a tool for awareness raising. Performance is a ritual and we’ve lost a lot of those: it’s where a group of people can come together and mark and express something that needs to be expressed.
What can people expect from the performances in autumn?
It’s a performance that’s professionally directed. There’ll be movement, projection, interaction with the audience, personal storytelling – different ways of people sharing the ideas that have come up in this process.
How does the project benefit individuals?
People in London volunteered because they felt they’re living in a diverse community but weren’t actually engaging with people. The challenge is: how do we meet each other and have a dialogue about our differences? This project is creating a place where people can come together.
What’s been the biggest challenge in running this project?
It’s an ongoing dialogue between my vision of the project and the reality of the people’s lives that I’m working with – it’s in that intersection that the really interesting creative work happens.
The creative work developed through A Little Patch of Ground will be performed in London and Devon across September and October. Find out more.
If you’ve got an idea for how to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of your community, apply for our Wellbeing Fund.