Exciting news about our 2019 Cultural Residency, exploring the Imagination Matters theme – Empathy. Each year here at the Institute of Imagination we run a residency inspired by one of our Imagination Matters themes. Through our Imagination Lab in Lambeth, the residencies deliver collaborative, interdisciplinary projects with visitors. Following 2018’s Places to Imagine residency and the wonderful Super City project by artists’ collective Jim Bond, Helaina Sharpley and Samantha Bryan, we can’t wait to see the ideas for 2019.

We chose Empathy as the 2019 theme for its wide-reaching benefits as a foundation for learning and for wellbeing. When thinking about social development, increased understanding of each other’s experience is essential. Through imagination we can see things from another point of view and think creatively about how to get to know something outside our own experience.

Our goal, through the 2019 Cultural Residency, is to find a project that inspires participatory performance for visitors to the Imagination Lab.

We’d love to hear ideas from individuals or teams across all STEAM fields (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) fields and beyond. An £8,000 prize will be awarded to the winning concept to deliver their idea at the Lab between April and July 2019.

To find out more about the 2019 Cultural Residency and how to apply, visit the iOi website.

More on the Residency theme

In order for us to live well together in our increasingly interconnected and complex world we need to strengthen our capacity for empathy, friendship, social connection and concern for others, including future generations

People United, Arts and Kindness Report

At the Institute of Imagination, we believe that through imagination we can put ourselves into the minds of others, imagining things from their perspective and considering how our actions may impact upon them. This is true not just with those around us now, but in the past, the future and on the other side of the world.

As the world becomes more globally connected, it is important for us to be able to expand our sense of empathy to those who we have not met and to those who are living through conditions completely distinct to our own.

Why should we be concerned with having empathy?

Empathy is a strong motive in eliciting prosocial behaviour, which has roots in the history of evolution. Prosocial behaviour is often linked to an increased sense of wellbeing in society. Some anthropologists argue that it helps to further our evolution as a species when we act in the interest of others and have a foundation for social interaction that is not motivated by selfishness.

Why is this important now?

We are living in a period of rapid change, which means turbulence and uncertainty in our day to day lives. We experience a constant stream of unsettling news cycles, coupled with the weight of expectation from society. This external pressure can potentially trigger an instinct for survival, creating an increase in selfish behaviour. The landscape of our society has changed dramatically over the last 40 years, particularly with the invention and boom of the internet. Suddenly, we have a world of connections and information at our fingertips and we are figuring out how to make the possibilities work positively for society.

Digital technologies are often painted as the enemy of empathy. With a huge capacity for anonymous communication, we have seen the steady increase of ‘trolling’ and online bullying. Despite the freedom offered by anonymity, we often forget that our words and actions still hold a great deal of power and can impact hugely on those around us. Dr Connie K. Chung discusses this in her piece for Imagination Matters, advocating for the use of ethical imagination and the need to have the space to “exercise both our empathy and our ethical imagination, and to consider situations from multiple angles, levels and perspectives.”

Developers recognise this importance, and empathy is increasingly being ‘taught’ to machines and incorporated into technology such as AI. Whilst this brings up many ethical discussions regarding this use of AI, it is clear that empathy is a key element to being human. Interestingly, empathy was a key component of the culture revolution at Microsoft. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella uses it not just as a means to understand one’s customer better, but as a “practice to foster innovation and develop deeper internal and external collaborations.” It seems that empathy can and should be incorporated into how digital and technological advancement is shaped.

For centuries, the arts have been a vehicle to allow us to increase our understanding of the experiences of others and to see the world from a different viewpoint. At the Institute of Imagination we have been inspired by the work of organisations such as People United and the Empathy Museum. People United’s work has continually shown that participatory artistic interventions can increase empathy. We recommend reading their report on kindness in art and the importance of prosocial behaviour and how this can be incorporated into participation events, performance, art and creation. The Empathy Museum is a series of participatory art projects dedicated to helping us look at the world through other people’s eyes. With a focus on storytelling and dialogue, their travelling museum explores how empathy can not only transform our personal relationships, but also help tackle global challenges such as prejudice, conflict and inequality.

To find out more about the 2019 Cultural Residency and how to apply, visit the iOi website.

Posted by:Sophie Sabin

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