University of Local Knowledge (2000-2006)
Suzanne Lacy and Penny Evans
Founded during the Great Depression in the early 1930s, Knowle West is a council estate (housing project) in the British city of Bristol that was home to workers in surrounding tobacco and bag factories. Years later, residents found themselves facing unemployment, stereotyping, crime, and limited access to higher education. The University of Local Knowledge takes as its starting point the forms of knowledge existing differently in diverse communities, and through the metaphor of the university seeks to support community esteem. Working with the community-based Knowle West Media Center (KWMC) and the Arnolfini Gallery over several years, Lacy, Penny Evans, and KWMC staff recorded 1000 video pieces, ranging from 30 seconds to 4 minutes each, revealing the bodies of information stored in the daily lives of residents. These videotaped “texts” were assembled into categories, or “courses,” through conversations with residents, and uploaded onto an interactive website that maps these forms of local knowledge. This “university” is produced through the knowledge of its residents: rabbit hunting (animal husbandry), raising children as a teen mom (adolescent psychology), growing organic vegetables (agricultural studies) and maintaining classic cars (mechanical engineering). In a series of performances in local sites including a feed store and a second-hand furniture store, residents and university professors explored intersections of their knowledge bases. The project continues through KWMC’s on-going work in the community and has been held up as a model of community engagement in other countries.
Produced by Knowle West Media Centre with support of the Arnolfini Gallery, the Department of Cultural Affairs for the City of Bristol and the University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom.