Design Story: Art Route Collective

At BDW, we like to showcase design in all its forms including public facing design and social entrepreneurship. We caught up with Nisha Tandon from ArtsEkta who told us about their organisation and the entrepreneurial collective they set up with refugees and asylum seekers called Art Route Collective.

Tell us about ArtsEkta and what your company does.

ArtsEkta (Ekta means bonding/uniting in the Indian language) is a multi-award-winning arts and cultural organisation that works to develop intercultural relationships at the heart of the community and is home to the Belfast Mela. We are dedicated to strengthening and deepening relationships between different cultures and communities through a series of exciting and inspiring cultural Arts based programmes

Can you tell us a bit about Art Route Collective and how you started the collective?

The ‘Refugee and Asylum Arts Initiative’, began in April 2014 this initiative has been developed by ArtsEkta. The programme was designed to support and promote the arts and cultural activities of Belfast refugee and Asylum communities. The project successfully involved a wide range of participant groups drawn from many different asylum-seeking and refugee and homeless communities. It responded creatively and effectively to newly emerging needs during the project implementation. This initiative used the opportunities and provided platform to share learning, ideas, information and work with each other to develop further ideas and have their own Social activity and the group of eight women named their initiative “ART ROUTE COLLECTIVE”. They meet on regular basis and have expanded their group to fifteen women. This initiative helps them to talk and share about their everyday life experiences and take “ONE SMALL STEP” together in solving them. The mental stability of these women is very poor but with their own collective they just get on with life and engage with more and more arts activities.

Every other Tuesday we have a small gathering where one of the participant will cook some food and we will sit together and share the home cooking stories One lady from Syria said “Every day I would cook for my family and that’s what I miss here in Northern Ireland” Hence I decided to give them an opportunity to share their Cultural Traditions through sharing food.  15 ladies attend regularly.

The outcomes of the current project include overcoming language barriers and building communication skills, as well as forming positive relationships between the host community and participants and overcoming negative stereotypes.  In addition to skills development, the participation has truly indicated how arts activities clearly contributed to the mental and physical health of the participants, suggesting that the incorporation of such activities into an organisation's engagement activities improves both key skills and overall wellbeing.

How has the project helped participants?

Through participating in arts-based projects the refugees and asylum seekers who face a multitude of issues surrounding resettlement, overcoming traumatic experiences and combating negative stereotypes, participatory activities can be an important step in appreciating their unique skills and building their confidence to tackle some of the problems they face and the current project is giving them that stability.

Many of these participants have experienced conflict and suffered trauma; their resettlement experience is often coupled with a number of barriers including poverty, poor housing, low English-language skills, discrimination, social isolation, complicated appeals procedures, and difficulties accessing mainstream services. Therefore, to meet the programming needs of this population by emphasizing projects and procedures that aid in integrating refugees and asylum seekers into local communities, including: feeling valued and respected, participating in community life, building self-confidence, developing knowledge and skills to build their lives in Belfast, and being a part of social networks and relationships.

What kind of work do the collective make?

They do all kinds of Arts and Crafts activities.

What feedback have you received from the participants and what are some of the challenges you have encountered along the way?

Language, Transport and Creche facilities are some of the challenges that these women face.

What are your thoughts on using design entrepreneurship to help integrate refugees and asylum seekers in Belfast and beyond?

The whole meaning of design and entrepreneurship will be a huge big topic for them. They will need a good explanation first and as having a language barrier everything will have to be explained by creating examples in front of them.