Creative Community Engagement Process
The Patchwork Picnic Blanket Project involved creating a picnic blanket collaboratively and organizing its exhibition at a potluck picnic of the Leith Community, Edinburgh, Scotland. Tracey Exton, a third-year art student at the Edinburgh College of Art, conceived the idea of a patchwork picnic blanket. The project was inspired, in part, by the novel Pomegranate Soup, which is a vibrant gastronomic journey through the delights of Persian cuisine as it diffuses through a quaint Irish village. Tracey also drew inspiration from her childhood, wherein she grew up within the Mennonite community, known for its patchwork quilts and collaborative works of art. The project drew inspiration from a unique environmental venture in Leith, Earth In Common, whose mission is to convert wastelands into productive areas where the Leith community can grow their own food.
Community Engagement Goals
Getting participants to deliver their particular canvas patch for the blanket was not easy. In many cases, Tracey had to design a square herself on the participants’ behalf based on the food story they shared with her. However, having set target dates that provided enough margin, Tracey could complete the monumental task of getting all the patches together. Sewing the blanket patches together posed a challenge as they proved far too heavy for Tracey’s domestic sewing machines, two of which broke down in the process.
Methods of Community Participation/Engagement
The participants engaged with jubilant enthusiasm. They brought plates of food for the picnic, shared recipes, and participated in discourses that helped build a mosaic of stories/food narratives covering diverse cultures. Despite the difficulties in getting all the participants to deliver on their promises, the event saw remarkable positive engagement.
The success of the potluck and the artistic endeavor surrounding the blanket resulted in a fascinating afternoon where the residents of Leith celebrated diversity and community.
Tracey has received an overwhelming response wherein she has been asked to share her concept with communities outside Leith. The project might also be the basis for community art workshops.
The blanket has since been exhibited at the Late Leith Festival and will be displayed at the inauguration of a new community center at the Leith Community Croft in October 2022. It is expected to become a permanent artwork at Duncan Place, Leith, a community hub that supported Tracey Exton in organizing the event. The project was supported by Edinburgh Community Trust; Trussel Trust; Edinburgh Food Bank; Trans Masculine Scotland; Empty Kitchens.
The blanket was displayed at the Leith Community Croft, the communal space that acts as the base for Earth In Common.
Participants included residents of Leith, Edinburgh, young and old, who have been living in Leith for generations.
‘Pomegranate Soup’ Project was exhibited on April 2, 2022, at the picnic celebrating the multicultural fabric of the community in Leith.
Half of the patches created by the Leith residents themselves ultimately resulted in a 5 meters by 2.27 meters blanket. It had thirty-two squares representing adult human teeth, with each square being a nod to a unique food story depicting a particular Leith resident.
The collective concept of community resonated through the event. As the participants and contributors sat chatting around their potluck picnic, they had the opportunity to share a medley of dishes and communicate through their culinary stories and recipes. Albeit their varied backgrounds, they united in their shared association with food, and Leith, thus celebrating their shared experiences and unique differences.
Image: Tracy Exton, Edinburgh College of Art