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How Can we Strengthen Democratic Culture?

13 July 2021 - CEPRAH (Community Engagement Praxis for Research in the Arts and Humanities) focuses on initiatives that support active civic engagement and the proper functioning of democracy in communities at local, national and global levels. The information below gives an insight into the project, the recent virtual café and guidelines on how to become involved in future activities.

What does democratic culture mean to you? And why is it important for community and civic organisations to work with academic researchers from the Arts, and the Humanities? 

Democracy is about challenge, it’s about having all voices heard
Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO

When we’re talking about democracy, I’m thinking about who is not in the room
Chrissie Poulter, Adjunct Assistant Professor in Trinity College Dublin’s Drama Department

How do we bring in the perspectives of the Arts and Humanities disciplines to respond to the challenges that face societies at a local, national, and global level?
Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub

You have to get close for prejudice to melt
Ray Hegarty, CE Supervisor, SAOL Project

What is CEPRAH?

CEPRAH is a research project led the Trinity Long Room Hub and AONTAS (Ireland's National Adult Learning Organisation).

The project aims to improve collaboration between academic researchers in the Arts and Humanities and community and civic organisations. Specifically, CEPRAH focuses on projects that support active civic engagement and the proper functioning of democracy in communities at local, national and global levels.

 

CEPRAH developed as project partners recognised the great potential of furthering collaboration between the arts and humanities and civic and community organisations. CEPRAH seeks to bridge the gap between the two sectors and produce practical guidance to support the development of new partnerships and ventures. The paragraphs below further detail the importance of this collaboration.

CEPRAH is funded by an Irish Research Council New Foundations Grant (Strand 1a) and will run until December 2021. Additional information on the project is available here.

Connections between the Arts and Humanities and Community Education

The Arts and Humanities (including subjects such as literature, language, history, philosophy, music, theatre, and the Arts) and Community Education sectors overlap in their parallel efforts to deliver programmes and research that reflect lived experiences, promote critical thinking skills, combat social isolation, build confidence, and encourage personal development. They also have the capacity to promote democratic practices and community engagement, and to amplify marginalised voices.

Public history is done for and with the public … it can be enabling, and when it is done well it platforms alternative and subversive narratives
Ciaran O’Neill, Ussher Associate Professor in Nineteenth-Century History at Trinity College Dublin

We have put on a number of plays, one-man shows, and monologues to highlight issues such as drugs and lack of housing
Jimmy Prior, Coordinator of Southill Family Resource Centre in Limerick


Findings from the CEPRAH Virtual Café

On Wednesday, 2nd June, the Trinity Long Room Hub and AONTAS co-hosted a virtual café launching the CEPRAH project. The café brought together adult learners, academic researchers and civic and community organisations, including AONTAS’ Community Education Network members, to share knowledge, expertise and ideas around the concept of ‘democratic culture’.

Four speakers, representing the arts and humanities and the civic and community spheres, delivered short presentations. Their individual contributions were complementary and demonstrative of the value in bringing these sectors together for collaboration.

It is absolutely vital that likeminded people, or people who are working for a common goal come together and support each other
Niamh O’Reilly, AONTAS CEO

We need to provide the knowledge, systems and supports needed to enhance engagement, create lasting connections and encourage future collaborations
Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub

Considering the integration of the Arts and Humanities into Ireland’s civic and community sphere, the main points highlighted by speakers included:

  • The benefits of locally-based projects in reaching the heart of communities
  • The necessity of including underrepresented and marginalised communities
  • The need to be proactive instead of reactive when planning community engagement
  • The importance of concrete action

In breakout room discussions, participants had the opportunity to reflect on the following:

With approximately six participants per breakout room, discussions were productive and demonstrative of the many joint Arts and Humanities and civic and community organisation initiatives that may develop through CEPRAH. When considering what is meant by “democratic culture”, some of the most prominent themes and issues discussed included:

  • The barriers preventing access to the democratic process
  • The relationship between electoral democracy and participatory democracy
  • The different ways and forums through which democracy happens
  • The power of representation and storytelling in encouraging participation
  • The variations in democratic cultures globally
  • The need for accessibility, simplified terminology and language
  • The need to include a diversity of voices in democratic culture and empower people to have a view, particularly those not already engaged
  • The need to provide opportunities for different cultures to come together and find common ground
  • Democracy as an impediment to progress, e.g. in responding to the climate emergency
  • The role of elitism in preventing democratic participation

Get Involved

We warmly thank all those who participated in the CEPRAH Virtual Café. If you could not attend this event but are interested in getting involved in the CEPRAH project, you are very welcome to join us for future events and participate in relevant activities.

We would like to invite all practitioners working in community and civic organisations and arts and humanities researchers to complete the following survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CEPRAH.

Respondents do not need to have attended the virtual café or have prior experience of cross-sector engagement. The survey is part of a scoping exercise and will contribute greatly to the CEPRAH project findings.

If you have any questions about this event or if you are interested in learning more about the project, please contact:

For regular updates, please remember to follow @aontas and @TLRHub on Twitter.


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