ABC(D) 123 where do we start and where do we go? my art life and Prema


Watch this video and smile, and think about how easy ABC is – then think about the D in brackets…..

I will explain – yesterday I heard the term ABCD for the first time. Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is a community development approach that is:

  • broad in scope
  • solution-focused
  • strength based
  • community driven

Like the Jacksons, we all understand ABC – it’s linear, sequential and is finite, ending with Z.

Compare that with 123 – which is infinite

Both are about learning and we are taught how to know our limits, and by doing so learn our deficits. We then set out to make good those deficits, maybe on a personal basis or in terms of community, or business or skills – whatever. We do this because we seek D = development.

Why do we always start with a negative and try to turn it around? Why don’t we start with our positives? Brene Brown talks about this in her brilliant book Daring Greatly – she flags up that western culture promotes an attitude of ‘not enough’ – not good looking enough, thin enough, rich enough, creative enough etc etc.

ABCD takes time, to develop, to explore the strengths and find the most appropriate ways to use them. To utilise our assets in a functional and beneficial way.

It is the antithesis of the way that arts funding has traditionally operated. That relies on identifying what one lacks then finding a way to get it. I love the ABCD  idea of turning thinking upside down. I did it recently when my son and girlfriend needed to find a place to rent but they have a dog. So I suggested we write an advert in the dogs voice, saying he needed help because his owner was struggling to get somewhere that accepts dogs and he (the dog) felt guilty. It worked! I’m surprised more Gumtree users don’t try this tack…’s playful, considered and honest.

I heard about ABCD at a Create Gloucestershire event/party, put on to celebrate their 2nd year of activity. CG had people speaking about artists as leaders, which was inspiring. But I shan’t discuss that now, because what was key to me personally was where it was held – at Prema Arts Centre in a tiny village called Uley, in the Cotswolds. It opened to the public in 1981 and I think I must have gone there for the first time around 1986.

Below is a long list of my relationship with Prema (dates are approximate, my memory fails me a little):

1987 I took my kids to family arts workshops on Saturday mornings at Prema. Also went to see performances, music etc

1988 first went to a life drawing class there – the tutor told me I was good and should go to art college. With a 3yr old and a 1yr old, I just laughed

1989 I started my art foundation at UWE, same day my youngest started school.

1990 I started by degree at UWE. I also taught workshops and Saturday clubs for kids. One of the little ones I taught is now my graphic designer, Nic Bennet.

1992 2nd year students at UWE had a show there called 2/3rds Through


(image was my work!)

1993/4 (can’t remember) had a show at Prema – the rest is history…..

Future years – I did some marketing for them; I attended lots of stunning performances by new physical theatre groups. I used the dark room.

Around 2005 I attended  ‘Can’t Sing to Save your Life’ course – I’d always wanted to sing but was terribly shy. I LOVED it and have been in many choirs since. I think it helped me lose my shyness too (no comments, thank you). Yesterday I saw Lizzie, the singing tutor for the first time since then – and told her that one of the songs she taught me gave me the strength to leave my failing marriage of 30 years…, it was so good to tell her that.

And there we were, in the same room, discussing leadership, ABCD and how important the arts are to our lives and how we need to celebrate that. In the morning I had attended a funding workshop aimed at informing charities how to seek funding – how to fill their deficits. And in the afternoon I was in a place, Prema, that had constantly fed my not-enough until I was brimming with delight at what I HAVE. And much of that came from Prema – an organisation that is not self-serving –  it supports the community in which it resides. And when I say community I mean both arts community AND local community. Prema has grown and changed over time, but what it has consistently done is meet the needs of its users. It puts people at the forefront of its thinking through good management and exemplary leadership. It feels like a home, not just for me, but for everyone that goes there.

There was a lot of talk about community in the room, kindness, wholeheartedness, all somewhat gushy compared to the hard-nosed economic business model we are being levered into. We are artists. We are emotional and we care. Those are our assets and we must learn to use it and refuse to be constantly trying to prove our economic viability.

We have social assets, and are brimming with them. Prema proves that.

Thank you Create Gloucestershire for taking me back to such an important place. It has helped me rethink what Flow is and could be. It has enabled me to reflect in a positive useful way about what we could be doing in the arts. We are NOT drowning, we are waving – celebrate what we have to offer and share it.

I started at Prema, others start at other grass-roots places – it all starts somewhere……but where will it all end? Hopefully, art is infinite….

Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

3 thoughts on “ABC(D) 123 where do we start and where do we go? my art life and Prema

  1. Reblogged this on encounters with art in unusual places and commented:
    Interesting to re-read this in the light of living in the Forest of Dean for the past ten years. There are Prema-equivalents here for people, I suspect Cinderford ARTspace is one of them. I’m more than a little interested in thinking about all of this and using it as a way of working here in the Forest. Would love to hear from other artists in the forest what their thoughts might be? What other groups were inlfuential? FAN? BigArtWeb? Any others?


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