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Earthworks is a ‘thinking hands‘ experiential clay-based public engagement workshop, employed when inclusive, creative conversations are needed. It can be used in the corporate environment, or also ideal when developing planning strategies for the built environment. Earthworks marries Jo Pearl’s expertise as a communications consultant with her passion for the expressive power of clay and as a unique medium for participatory engagement.

More effective than sterile questionnaires and more fun than post-it note brain-storming sessions, when clients need to slow down the conversation and gather in-depth feedback and ideas from stakeholders, Earthworks is a highly engaging and playful alternative. Participants spend time thinking, discussing and modelling their ideas in clay. Ideas for how architectural projects could/should be realised, or corporate problems resolved. This highly accessible tool encourages proper buy-in from the community or group, all while having fun.

Why clay?

Because it is easy and fun to model it into any shape – to reflect even the most extraordinary ‘outside the box’ ideas. It allows ideas to be realised in 3D, in real time.  By twinning conversation and thinking time with a shared co-making experience, the ideas just flow.

Who are Earthworks?

Earthworks is the brainchild of Jo Pearl, who worked for 6 years as an Architectural PR both in-house at Foster and Partners and as a freelance consultant for architects and projects for the built environment. She has also been a Partner in experience engineering business consultancy David Pearl Worldwide Ltd for nearly two decades. This expertise has led her to understand issues relating to planning constraints, architectural design concepts, public opinion and how to create truly enlivening experiences in the corporate setting. She loves sharing ideas with people and while laterly training as a ceramicist at Central St Martins, she had a significant ‘light bulb’ moment when working on a client project: She realised she could combine her three careers as a communications consultant and engagement facilitator as well as sculptor, to stage powerful stakeholder engagement workshops using clay. Jo draws together teams of clay facilitators from her network of ceramic practioners and activists to deliver these stakeholder workshops.

What happens?

Earthworks set up a clay ‘landscape’ and invites stakeholders to join in the sculpting process and the conversation. Together participants explore ideas through discussion while also co-making an eye-catching installation piece that embodies what they have considered . These themes could be community friendly strategies for a new planning development, or how two merging companies might find common ground. Earthworks can film the discussions and the evolution of this communal sculpture, to deliver a valuable record of the ideas and how they develop.

Who can take part?

Anyone between the ages of 3 and 103 years. Almost everyone has played with mud or Plastercine at some point in there lives. Most people have not touched it in years. Participants invariably experience a beguiling pleasure in touching clay again, modelling shapes and thoughts with this highly plastic, malleable and natural material. 

Why is this helpful?

The quiet time taken to make their creations is a great opportunity for Clay Facilitators to open up conversations with participants. Earthworks record these discussions in clay, which can be part of a wider communication programme facilitating compromises, understanding priorities or getting agreement on how to move forward.

What are the outcomes?

  • An ideas generating mechanism to uncover, record and harness the community’s concerns and priorities.
  • An eye-catching temporary installation that collectively expresses what participants think and value
  • Playful and highly accessible experience for all ages and levels of artistic ability.
  • A rich record of conversations in 3D
  • Key elements from the sculpture can be fired and kept as ‘conceptual maquettes’ for a project.

Photographs by Sandra Keating, Simon Kidd, Tom Bowles and Jo Pearl

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