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I draw you, you draw me: How do we co-create with the community?

Updated: Mar 21, 2023

Written by Esther Koh

Tak Takut Kids Club (TTKC) recently partnered with the International Community Arts Festival (ICAF) and Drama Box to hold an online live drawing event “I Draw You, You Draw Me” as part of an international community arts exchange. This event was held on a Saturday, 28 February, 6.30pm-7.30pm over Zoom, with a live feed from TTKC community space in Boon Lay, Singapore. There were 3 drawing segments, two featuring members from TTKC, and one from the international community. In the spirit of co-creation practice, the event was designed to involve total participation from both the TTKC community and members of the neighbourhood – starting with the TTKC children and their families. There was food and laughter all around as everyone basked in the excitement of their beloved neighbourhood and friends being showcased to others from across the globe.

This write-up aims to serve as a practical guide for art practitioners and community workers who are interested in understanding what goes behind planning and producing a community arts engagement.

Tak Takut Kids Club: Context & Philosophy

Tak Takut Kids Club (TTKC), initiated by community arts & development company 3Pumpkins, has been running as a community space open to children in the Boon Lay neighbourhood since 2019. It is located in a neighbourhood where children and youth from lower-income families require more community and social support. The space does not require participants to prove their family income status, and welcomes all children and youth to build social connections in their neighbourhood.

What is made clear throughout each part of the planning and production of “I Draw You, You Draw Me” is the trust and rapport that the team of community workers, volunteers have built up with the Boon Lay community over time. Stemming from the company’s mission to connect people through the arts, relationships and relationship-building is a crucial part of the TTKC philosophy – something that can only be done through being on the ground, a willingness to understand and listen, patience and time. With a deep understanding of the people, participatory processes that address their strength, fear, and aspirations become more meaningful and impactful. According to 3Pumpkins’ founding director Lin Shiyun, after doing a year of groundwork in the community through unstructured and broad-based arts engagement, TTKC is starting to incorporate more co-creation into their practices. Such projects require collaboration, interdependence and trust that TTKC has fostered, and will continue to foster. And this event is as much a reflection of their tried-and-tested processes in engaging with the community, as well as a fruit of it.

Another aspect to TTKC’s philosophy evident in this event is a recognition and celebration of children and their potential as natural social connectors.. Seeing children as wellsprings of joy, energy and fresh perspectives, and as having the unabashed courage to imagine and explore, drives the work of the space. TTKC engages the most imaginative members of the society – the children – in order to reach and connect with the wider community surrounding them. This belief and perspective of children undergirds the creative possibility of every event.

“I Draw You, You Draw Me”: Purpose and Design-Thinking

At the core of TTKC is a desire for human connection. When thinking about a community arts event, one does not merely envision the end product, but how every step of the process can involve members of the community in ways beneficial and fulfilling to everyone.

Prior to the invitation from Drama Box and ICAF, TTKC had been conducting life-drawing sessions with the children in the centre. A large table was set-up with pencils, erasers and sketchbooks, and nearby a small section for the chosen ‘model’ to pose. An array of props were added in later, resulting in some wacky creations. In subsequent engagement, artist Jimmy Ong was also drawing with the children, prompting them to draw from life observation rather than pure imaginations.

Photos by 3Pumpkins

Usually surrounded by noise, distractions and problems in their daily lives, life-drawing invites the children to slow down and simply look at things around them. It creates a physical space for them to quieten down, mentally and emotionally, as they turn their attention to the people around them.

There is thus a difference between simply drawing, and looking and drawing that constitutes life-drawing – while the former relies largely on imagination, and so involves looking inward, the latter relies on looking outwards, and giving attention to another person. Giving attention to another is rare, especially when the natural tendency is to be self-occupied. Giving attention to others, seeing and listening to them, is what lays the foundation of building sustainable relationships with others.

The choice of life-drawing as the main activity for this community arts event was thus an intentional way of practicing this act of looking and giving attention not just within the centre – between the children and volunteers – but outside the centre – between the children and the wider community, both Boon Lay and the world beyond. This is evident in the choice of models for the three segments of life-drawing: the first was the Nenek (grandmother) of Eddrisha, a child who frequents the centre with her three younger siblings; the second was Farez, a community worker; the third was a member of the ICAF conference happening over zoom. Each model was part of the different communities that have been brought together through this event – TTKC, Boon Lay, and the international community. Conversely, it was also a way of giving attention to Boon Lay, TTKC, and the members of these communities. Attention is given, but also received.

Set-up, Roles

The set-up for the day made use of pre-existing community spaces, as well as the centre itself. In the centre, a large table was set-up for drawing, along with a camera placed overhead to film the drawing live, and this video is streamed directly into the event’s Zoom call. This was the only quiet space in the whole event, as the children understood that since filming was going on, they could not enter the centre as and when they pleased, since this would disturb the Zoom event. 6 children were selected for the live filming based on their interest and experience in previous drawing sessions, and their willingness to focus for more than an hour.

Photo by Esther Koh

The community was informed three weeks prior to the event. Two pieces of information were given to them: 1) TTKC is invited to host an online drawing event 2) This event will be seen and participated by people from the Netherlands. The community was already used to life-drawing sessions, and the prospect of it being an international event excited them. Two weeks prior to the event, 3Pumpkins and Drama Box ran technical rehearsals and the community was again reminded about the event and had a glimpse of how and who were involved. One week before the event, a full-dress rehearsal was conducted with the community. More and more roles were delegated to the community over the three weeks of preparations, all in accordance to their level of interest.

The teams and their respective fixed positions for the event are as follow:

Inside the centre:

1) Artistic director of Drama Box Koh Hui Ling and Shiyun, to kick start the programme

2) A team of 6 zoom participants (led by Stephanie Tok)

At the playground:

1) Emcee (Zam)

2) Production team of technical assistants and timekeepers (Led by Cheryl and Imran Putera)

3) Documentation team (led by Han Xue Mei)

4) A team of children drawing on-site (led by Chen Rong Hua)

5) A team managing the two models (led by Afiqah Ismail)

6) Food and drinks team (led by Jeanette Lim, Megan Hon)

Those without teams continue playing in the playground as per normal community life, watched over by volunteers Amanda Yeo and Lenora Lin.

The set-up and the roles are designed to ensure that children of varied interest are able to participate meaningfully in the event. They could also simply choose to hang out and play instead if they wanted. The children without any responsibilities were playing their roles too, as children! By simply scattering around, participating in other painting projects, even quarrelling among themselves, they contribute to the bustling energy and excitement of total community life.

Zam introduces the event from under the sheltered space.

Photo by Lin Shiyun

Left: Emceeing team table

Right: Food table

Photos by Esther Koh

The two life-drawing events take place at the playground benches (left) and at the merry-go-round (right). They are hosted by Zam and filmed by Imran to be streamed onto Zoom.

Photos by Lin Shiyun.

Ronghua gathering the children in front of each life-drawing model, and then leading them to the set-up Zoom call at the emceeing team table to showcase their works after each session.

Photos by Esther Koh.

Top-left: Shoban holding up a handmade timekeeping sign

Top=right: Firhan photographing one of the life-drawing sessions

Bottom: Zam enlisting the help of children to do the 10-second countdown for the final life-drawing session.

Photos by Esther Koh

Event Flow: Improvising within the framework

The live drawing event has 3 drawing sessions, with each session spanning 7 minutes. In between each session, participants would share their drawings through their Zoom screen with each other. The session is rounded off Hui Ling and Shiyun.

Often, while there is a structure put in place to facilitate the flow of events, much improvisation is needed within this framework to make room for hiccups or unexpected occurrences along the way. This often means that the people on the ground – the volunteers and organisers – are able to think on their feet and be flexible with the roles they play.

As such, volunteers often served as additional manpower to prepare for surprises or fill in gaps. As always in every community event involving the children, there might be small fights or disagreements along the way. In fact, in the middle of our final life-drawing session, there was a small dispute between the children that Shiyun had to leave the event to resolve. One of the children caught in the dispute was supposed to be the timekeeper for this segment, but because he was missing, a volunteer stepped in to replace him.

In another instance, Zam noticed there were several children wandering around and making noise near the live drawing sessions, so he rounded them up to do the 10-second countdowns for the end of the drawing session even though this was not planned beforehand. In channelling the energy and excitement of the children to this task, they were more focused on contributing to the event and less inclined to make spontaneous or disruptive noise,

Participant Feedback and Reviews

Overall, the event was well-received by the Boon Lay community and the online participants over Zoom. A children’s art teacher and participant from the Netherlands. Eva van den Hove, said that the session left her feeling very happy and inspired, especially in regards to what she as an art teacher can do for her community. Another participant, arts administrator Elaine Yeoh, mentioned that it was heartwarming to involve a person from the neighbourhood, like Neknek. She also felt that the live drawing session reminded her of the importance of slowing down and observing one’s surroundings calmly.

The children all had fun – whether they were participants in the live drawing, helping to facilitate the event, or just hanging out, they were all visibly excited to be part of this big event. Shoban, one of the timekeepers for the day, said that he was very happy to be able to help. Another group of children, who were just hanging around playing badminton, exclaimed that they’ve never seen so many people looking at the Boon Lay before when they caught a glimpse of the Zoom screen.

As for Farez and Neknek, they had fun looking through the sketches the various participants had done of them after the event. Neknek’s family gathered around her as she leafed through the different drawings, laughing and smiling at them. When asked how she felt after the event, Neknek gave two thumbs up, “Good!”

Wrapping up: What makes a successful community event?

“There will be some things that won’t go wrong, and be prepared that the rest will go wrong.”

As with every community event, there are things that can be controlled and some things that cannot be. The success of the event lies in part in the planning and design, in part with the weather, and in part with the willingness of the people to be flexible and have fun in the process. When we involve the community in co-creating for an arts event, the priority is that everyone can enjoy themselves doing something they want to do, rather than being stressed about performance. A good event is not one with no hiccups or surprises, but rather one where everyone enjoys themselves without stress, and celebrates together at the end!

To support the continuity of visual art development for TTKC, please grab a copy of This is Me! from

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