Dr Anita Greenhill is involved in a project which shows the power of the creative economy to promote social unity.
A visit to the Niomoume Islands in southern Senegal is a challenge to the senses, admits Dr Anita Greenhill.
After a whole day’s travelling from the Gambian capital Banjul, the last part of the journey to reach the remote set of islands is done by dinghy. On arrival, among the sights that greet you are villagers digging holes in rice fields to tap into their daily water supply.
Here-in lies one of the key issues facing the region which is dealing with significant poverty as well as major social, environmental and economic problems.
As Dr Greenhill explains: “Global warming is having a major impact on this region, and one of the most damaging impacts is that the water supply in the ground is becoming increasingly salinated, which also damages crops. Among the other challenges are that because it is such a remote region there are also no doctors or healthcare.”
Added to this list is also a lack of basic infrastructure, especially digital infrastructure, which she says creates a further set of challenges.
Dr Greenhill recently visited the islands on the back of her collaboration with Manchester-based Senegalese artist Sens Sagna.
As she explains: "I have previously worked a lot with digital campaigns and social movements and have been working with the Digital Creativity project in Manchester for some time where we use creative skills to bring people together. It was through this network that I first started working with Sens on the positive impact that creativity can provide in the development of ecotourism.
"Sens was then approached by the organisers of an inaugural music and arts festival in the Niomoume Islands to be their cultural ambassador. The idea behind the festival was to help unify the region given these huge social problems that it faces, and it was the first ever artistic and cultural gathering for the islands and its people. The aim was to combine the creative industries and ecotourism under the umbrella of ‘peace and unity’ to come together to solve the islands’ social, environmental and economic problems."
Dr Greenhill was among more than 1,000 people who attended the event last Christmas which she says was a resounding success. “Given all these problems facing the area, it really brought people together as they celebrated their traditions.
“But it also really showed the value that the creative economy can have far beyond any commercial benefit,” she adds. “Earlier feasibility studies have demonstrated the impact the creative industries sector can have on social unity and the integration of marginalised groups, and this festival strongly reinforced this. For us a university attending the festival has also helped to build links and opened up potential routes for international collaboration and research within West Africa.”
The project will now look to learn from these Senegalese initiatives and the stakeholders involved, in order to develop and join together similar work being carried out in South Manchester.
Dr Greenhill says this will be achieved by looking to establish a prototype for a structured process to creative production that generates social, cultural and economic value by focussing on community-driven innovation, with an initial emphasis on the creative industries and technology. “This comes back to the power of bringing people together, of creating and sharing.”
And she stresses that there is a strong business element to these ideas too. “If you are putting on a festival or major gathering in a remote corner of the world you need water, need places to sleep, need management and organisation. You cannot just throw a party.”