So, why do we do Creative Advocacy?
Advocacy is not a new phenomenon. It happens every day when a person speaks up about what is important to them, supports the views of a friend or family member, or gets together with like-minded people to support a cause. However, where someone is unable to speak up for themselves and have no-one else to do this for them, that’s where independent advocacy comes in, by matching up someone who needs advocacy with someone who can provide it.
AIMS Advocacy was set up in 1997 to provide independent advocacy services across North Ayrshire and Arran. This was in the early days of the growth of independent advocacy in Scotland, with few established organisations, and no national bodies to approach for support or guidance. By having conversations with people already involved in managing and providing advocacy, we were able to appreciate the multiple viewpoints on advocacy, including how it was best delivered, and to synthesise the common elements, of which there were three:
supporting people to formulate their views and express these to others
enabling people to access their rights
helping people to become more active participants in the decisions that affect their lives.
These elements still form the basis of the principles that guide independent advocacy in Scotland today.
The way we have evolved our advocacy practice is to encourage people as much as they can to be able to speak up for themselves. Our practice is about building trust, working out the person’s options, finding out what they want to say, how they want to say it and then who they want to say it to. The creative process follows such a similar arc. You figure out what your ideas are, you think about what medium or methods you want to use, you work out how you want to present this and then who you want your audience to be. Creative practices fit alongside advocacy practices for people to build self advocacy skills and get their voices out there. Our overall hope would be that over time, people are more able to advocate for themselves than they had been at the outset.
We set out to create comfortable spaces, where people can chat, explore ideas a start working together and begin developing their own self advocacy skills. The arts can really help take the pressure off in these settings. It’s something to focus on, something to distract from the worries or barriers that people might have when stepping out and engaging with others. But quite quickly, as people confidence built, there was a shift into wanting more focused, outward looking creative projects that spoke of peoples experiences. This is when it became clearer that arts can be used in different ways in line with advocacy.
Creative practices can create comfortable spaces for people to build confidence, to practice speaking, to explore ways of expressing. It can also be used as a vehicle for people to really consider what they want to say, and then put that forward into audiences that they may not always have access to.