So, farewell then 2016.

During 2016 the forces of division have grown much stronger but they have not won and they will not prevail. There are plenty of reasons to be positive…

We are all reasons to be positive. Whether we like it or not,  no one of us is an island,  all our choices and decisions affect each other, we are one.  We will build a better world in 2017 if we are positive, engage with our creative potential and find ways to build our capabilities together.  It will not be easy, but it will be worth it. 

The challenge is clear – in a society characterised by inequality far too many  of us have been dis-engaged and left without the capability to fulfil our potential.   When the opportunities for engagement are so limited it should be no surprise if many of us choose  to use our one vote to protest. Nor should we be surprised that we’ve been trumped by the return of the big lie

Whilst it is easy to understand the appeal of simple slogans and comforting certainties they can bring no lasting solutions.  Nor are protests and petitions any substitute for genuine engagement,  modern life is  complex and nuanced. There no simple answers, but then that is the beauty of life.

In 2017 we don’t need answers, we need questions and we need creativity. We need leaders who are brave enough to tell us that they don’t know and are open enough to engage us in all in exploring life’s questions together. 

Our individual and collective challenge is to find more effective ways to engage with our creative potential.  

It will not be easy.  All meaningful development is long-term and incremental. It involves frustrations, risk, and vulnerability. Yet it also involves  excitement,  possibility and wonder and we will not have to do it alone – creative development is a collaborative process

Whilst every aspect of our working and everyday life is changing rapidly, we must unlearn and re-learn how we will live with each other. We will have to leave behind our certainties, to stop pretending to be the finished article and allow ourselves to be in development,  to stay open to the possibility of learning and development, to be open to question and open to each other.

The forces of negativity and division cannot prevail if we are able to engage with our best,  most creative selves. If, and only if, we are prepared to become the people we can be we can build communities we can all be proud to live in.

2016 was a year of negativity, death and division. Let’s make 2017 a year  positivity, creativity and collaboration.

 Let’s make 2017 the year we really begin to engage  with our extraordinary creative potential.

Happy New Year!

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2015 is going to be an exciting and challenging year.

In 2015 I want to find out if we can establish a diverse network of people that support each other. It might not sound that difficult, but I know we’re going to face lots of challenges.
It’s going to be a year full of problems and questions:

We’re going to face the creativity problem:      Cultural exclusion affects us all. We are all born creative but without access to our creativity none of us can realise the creative potential that is our own unique contribution to society. What’s more, when any one person’s creativity is stifled our shared society suffers.
    We’ll be asking: How can everyone become empowered by art?

We’re going to face the collaboration problem:   None of us can know what is best for any other person. In the long run we cannot create change by doing things to, for, or without each other. We can only create change together.
  We’ll be asking: How can we create collaborative community projects?

We’re going to face the capability problem:      To build social justice we need to create communities where everyone has the capability to fulfil our potential. Since, we all fulfil our own potential by building our capabilities.  We need to find ways to build capability together.
  We’ll be asking: How can we build social justice?

We’re going to face the context problem:          art has the power to transform our lives and our communities but there is only so much any of us can do. It’s only when everything we do is in the context of a long-term that we can say every little helps.
    We’ll be asking: How can we create sustainable social change?

It will be a challenge because we’ll need to recognise that we can all contribute, that we all have something to offer.
It will be a challenge to find ways for us all to engage in equal creative collaborations where we explore who we are and who we can become, together.
Perhaps above all, it will be a challenge for us to accept that we can all be open to our own creativity, and engage with our own vulnerability and weakness – that none of us have all the answers.
  We’ll be asking: How can we build equal, diverse and inclusive networks that recognise the creative contributions of each every one of us?

We’ll be doing this through a series of problem posing forums and network events at which we’ll explore these questions and learn how we can support each other to fulfil our creative potential – as individuals and as communities.

I hope you’ll be able to join us.

 

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Tool Shops – The sustainable way to create social change

Britain faces a crisis of opportunity. Too many people do not have the capability to fulfil their potential. Too much talent and potential is going to waste as too many people find themselves trapped in a deepening cycle of low expectations, minimal opportunities and increasing dependency. This is a difficult and complex problem, but one that we can all help solve.

However, one thing is certain. We will never create sustainable social change if we continue to act as if there were two different kinds of people: those that know what is best for others and those that can be treated as problems to be solved. Building sustainable social change relies on accepting both that we are all different and that we share a common nature.

Diversity is the core strength of any community. We cannot possibly know what is best for each other because each and every one of us has a unique set of experiences and capabilities. However, we do share a common nature and we can, and must, learn from each other. Trying to change without each other is as useless as trying to change others. We can only change together.

The key to unlocking human potential is creativity. If we want to fulfil our potential as individuals, organisations or communities then we must all be prepared to explore our own creativity, to embrace our vulnerabilities and engage with our own potential. We cannot create social change unless we are prepared to change ourselves.

art does indeed have the power to transform both our lives and our communities but there is only so much any of us can do by ourselves. Just as the real value of learning is becoming aware of how much more you don’t know, so with social action, the more you do, the more you realise how much more needs doing. Tough problems like dependence and social exclusion require a broader, more concerted commitment than any one individual or organisation can provide.

We need a long-term approach. Short-term projects often raise expectations that they can’t fulfil and throw light on problems they cannot resolve but the real problem with projects is their lack of context – that they are isolated activities. However, when what we do takes place in the context of our long-term development then every little helps because real development is a long-term (and incremental) process.

It is this long-term context that is missing from our isolated attempts to create broader social change. We need a sustainability service that can provide that context for each other. Then every little thing we do can help towards our long-term development as communities as well as individuals.

art + power is uniquely placed to fill this gap because it is a not-for-profit society that anyone can join and because it has a long-term strategy to build communities where everybody has the capability to fulfil their potential. It’s a big vision, one that it cannot deliver! This vision can only be realised by the shared and concerted efforts of a wide range of people.

So we networks of people that use the arts for sustainable social change. The true value of the arts is that it fosters sustainable development and social justice. Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. The reason that art should never be seen as a luxury for the privileged few but as the birthright of every one of us is because it is by building our creative capabilities that we all fulfil our potential.

Capabilities are the building blocks of all human development. They are the tools that enable us all to live increasingly independent, purposeful and creative lives. Capability building is an equal, open and collaborative process by which we all support each other to fulfil our potential. Every time we do something new we build our own capabilities and we can also provide opportunities for others to build theirs. Every activity can become an opportunity for collaborative capability building.

This is what we hope to achieve with our plans for community tool shops. a range of spaces in the community where people can support each other to fulfil our creative potential. We want to see Tool Shops in lots of different spaces – cafés, galleries, community centres etc – so that everyone – and particularly disabled and socially excluded people – can help build more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities.

If you’d like to explore what a Tool Shop could look like in your community do get in touch – or better still come along to: The Tool Shop.

Tool Shops, like art + power, will be what you make it. We can’t make change for you and we can’t do it without you. Sustainable change is not something you do to others, or without others, it is something we can only create together by striving to become the people we want to be and build the communities we can be proud to live in.

Creativity is essential to the business of living. We are all unfinished business, but creativity, inclusion and sustainable development are the essential principles that underpin all meaningful development. So, please help us start the conversation about Tool Shops in your community – the sustainable way to create social change!

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Imagine a community where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential

Imagine a place where each and every one of us felt able to fully be ourselves. Wouldn’t it be amazing! Can you imagine the collaborations we’d develop? The diversity and scope of creativity would be truly extra-ordinary! It has to be worth considering what we’d need to do to bring this about.

It’s actually remarkably simple. All we’d need to do would be to find a way for each one of us to be positive, active agents with a clear sense of our own narrative and to find a way to support each other.

We could do this by creating communities of capability – places where we all support each other to increase our capabilities.

(I find it helps to think of capabilities as a catch-all term for anything at all that makes it easier for people to achieve their potential. Skills and abilities are important but they are only part of the process, there are plenty of people that are capable of doing extraordinary things but are prevented by a vast range of social, psychological, political, environmental, or technological barriers. So we also need more tools and resources to help us deal with difficult situations, stronger networks of support, a supportive and encouraging environment, easier access, inspiration opportunities and much more).

Focussing on developing capabilities makes us better able to tackle the barriers we face and increases the opportunities and possibilities available to us. Whatever we want to achieve it will be easier if we have more possibilities to choose from.

The beautiful thing about capability is that we can use anything at all as an opportunity for capability development. We can design all our activities as opportunities for each other to build our capabilities – then everything we do will open up new possibilities for each other.

Finally, and crucially, capability development is not something we do to, or for, each other but something we create together. It is an equal and universal process which enables us to build true collaborations that value and nurture the unique contribution that each and every one of us has to offer.

But before we can realise this vision we do indeed need to find a way for everyone to engage with their own creative potential. We all need to find the tools, the capabilities that enable us all to tell our own story and begin to shape our own destiny.

There are already lots of tools out there that can help us do this like, for example, the excellent DIY Development toolkit.  The Guide to Capability Development we’re working on will help people find these and more like them and most importantly help people develop their own tools and capabilities so that each one of us can fulfil our potentials as individuals and communities.

So, do please share, tell us your stories, tell us what works for you and what you think might work for others, or, better still, sign up for our newsletter and join a growing community of people that build our capabilities by supporting each other.

Then maybe one day we will be able to use our whole communities as resources for us all to explore, create and share together.

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How can the powerful effect social change?

It is not easy for powerful individuals or organisations to effect social change. Even with the best intentions power still tends to flow towards the relatively powerful. This problem becomes even more marked when the stakes are higher, when projects are more complicated and a range of different interests are involved. Interventions can lead to even greater concentrations of power, influence and dependence.

The organisations that are the immediate beneficiaries of these actions can themselves become dependent upon this income, which can lead to them become risk averse, spending increasing amounts of time and resources on justifying what they’ve already done rather than doing more now or in the future.

Increasing dependency amongst the relatively powerless is also a big risk. Even when social projects do have some short-term successes they can still raise expectations they can’t fulfil, merely throwing light on long-term structural problems that can’t be solved in traditional ways. Sometimes it seems the harder people try to resolve problems the more entrenched they become.

People can easily become frustrated about the inability of their initiatives to effect meaningful change. This frustration is often exacerbated by a lack of clarity. There may be for very good reasons for this as people trying to effect change are naturally reluctant to dictate terms to the people they work with. However, this very openness means that people can easily find themselves locked into a situation where they are trying to second guess what other people want. After all, how can people know what they want if they don’t know what is possible?

I’d like to suggest a solution to this problem but it will require a different approach, one that we may all find challenging. I suggest it is time to ‘ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you’ – and yes, I do mean it that way around.

I suggest that whilst most of us don’t fully know what we want to do we would all like to have more possibilities open to us. So why not make our communities into places of possibility and social justice?

Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to achieve their potential. We don’t actually need to know what we want to do if we make it our goal to build social justice as we will find out along the way. If we start by undertaking activities that increase our capabilities then everything we do will reduce dependence and open up new possibilities.

However, it does mean that we have to explore and engage with our own creative development – social justice is not something we can do to others but something we need to explore, create and share together. A commitment to social justice means that rather than thinking about how we can help other people we start by thinking about what we want to achieve and then design our activities as opportunities for others engaged in the same process.

As we all achieve our potential by building our capabilities (by increasing the opportunities or possibilities available to us) and since any object or activity can be used to build capability we can use our communities as resources for mutual capability development.

Actually, it’s not really that JFK was wrong when he suggested we ‘ask what you can do for our country’ but that he was asking the wrong questions. Social justice is not a competitive process, it is not a zero sum resource to compete over but something we build together – through a collaborative process – simply by supporting each other to be positive and learn from our experience.

With social justice, everyone benefits. We can build our capabilities by building capabilities for others so there is no need to squabble over whose cake it is. With a shared commitment to social justice we can all have our cake and eat it.

 

 

 

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What’s the best job in the world?

Imagine someone said to you that they would pay you to do whatever you want and that if instead of having to play a role they would pay you to be yourself. Imagine if they said you could do anything at all and that the more you did what you want the better you would be doing your job. 

Imagine if you could work with anyone you want and help those people do anything they want. Imagine if everything they did helped you do your job better. Wouldn’t that be the best job in the world? 

I have the best job in the world. I work with some truly remarkable people and I get paid to support them to be themselves. What’s more they get paid to support other people to do whatever they want. We can work with anyone in the world and everything every one of us does helps others. 

There are no wrong answers when it comes to social justice. None of us are not good enough. Every one of us has something unique to contribute. None of us has to pretend to be something we’re not. We can fail and fail again because our weakness is also our strength. We help each other best by being ourselves and we help ourselves best by supporting each other. 

Everything we do is an opportunity for social justice and creative collaboration. The only thing we can do wrong is not to try. 

Imagine you had the best job in the world too – what will you do? 
I look forward to hearing from you.

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A creative approach to social change

Anyone attempting to address social issues or increase public engagement faces a double bind. Attempts to help people can easily end up creating greater dependence and even when you try to listen to people you find they often don’t know what they want. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, after all, how can people know what they want to do if they don’t know what is possible?

I’d like to propose a potential solution to this problem: that we stop trying to help people! Instead of focussing on other people’s problems I suggest we adopt a positive and collaborative approach to ensuring that everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential.

Let’s be honest none of us know exactly what we want to do but we would all like to have more possibilities open to us. So, rather than try and second guess what other people might want to do, let’s all build capability in our communities.

Building capability is about extending opportunity and possibility, it is not just about what people have, or how they feel, but about what they can actually do. It requires us to focus on what helps and hinders our capability to achieve our potential as individuals and communities.

Every time we acquire a new capability it opens up new opportunities for us, a focus on our creative possibility can reverse the vicious cycle of low expectations, poor quality services, and increasing dependency and replace it with a virtuous cycle of self worth, achievement and recognition.

Building capability is a long-term process, it cannot be dependent on a single person, project or place, instead it requires a community wide commitment to increasing possibility and building capability.

But the great thing is that everything we do can build capability, we can design all our activities so that they increase the possibilities open to us, we can all learn from every experience and use every opportunity to create tools that foster further development.

Building community capability means our entire communities can become a creative resource where everyone can explore, create and share together.

 

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A new rule!

I come from a big family. My mother ruled a roost of six children, most of us similar in ages. I can only imagine how much of a handful we must have been! She could not expect much help from my father who was much more comfortable with his books than his children. Occasionally though, when things got particularly rowdy Dad would threaten us with a new rule. It was always an empty threat, we never actually had any rules and Dad was soon back in his study, leaving Mum to sort things out as usual.

Sometimes I wonder what those rules would’ve been – I’d like to think he’d have ensured that no-one spent more than an half an hour in a shoe shop or talked during Dr Who – we don’t really have rules in my house either, I suppose the closest I’ve got is to quote from the Bill and Ted book of philosophy and insist that we ‘be excellent to each other’. Perhaps it’s about time we had a new rule?

Recently, I suggested to the team at art + power that we adopt one rule – that we ‘Be positive’. I was not suggesting we ignore difficult situations but that we examine them carefully and explore ways to make them more positive. Ultimately that is all that our work is about, supporting each to be positive, productive and creative.

Of course it’s not always easy but if we make it our default position to be positive we may be able to avoid unnecessary negativity and if we support each other to stay positive we may help each other identify the small steps that can lead to long-term change.

What would be your new rule?

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A developmental approach to build capability.

Arts in Development supports people to use a developmental approach to build our capabilities as individuals, groups and communities.

We use a range of development approaches but all involve a virtuous cycle that helps us learn from our experience. For example, we provide resources for people to collaborate and then we share what we learn to improve the resources for future collaborations.

The development cycles we use involve balancing three processes: research, delivery and sustainable development. We use this cycle across each period (day, week, month etc) to plan, deliver and sustain our practice.

Here’s how we will use this cycle in the year ahead:

From May 2014 we will set a daily creative challenge related to a specific capability in one of the three development areas. Each challenge will also be the focus of peer-support forums during which people will work through the three development areas over a 12-week cycle to develop and deliver individual and collaborative projects.

Weeks 1 – 4: Reflect.

Initially we research and explore our practice so we can all work out what we are trying to achieve and consider how building our capability can provide opportunities for others.

Weeks 5 – 8: Deliver

Once everyone has an idea of what people are looking for we can design and deliver collaborative projects that build each other’s capability, these projects build social justice through equal creative collaborations where everyone benefits.

Weeks 9 – 12: Sustain

Finally we support each other to maintain and sustain our practice. Our shared focus is on recording and sharing our progress to produce inspiring resources we can use for the next stage of the cycle.

We will repeat this cycle several times so that we can develop a comprehensive creative development programme that people anywhere can adopt and adapt for their individual and collective development.

Of course, people do not need to take the challenges in this order, or use these specific challenges at all. Creative development is a self-directed process that is different for everyone. People can start whenever they like and contribute as much as they choose.
However everything people do share will help create further resources including a ‘guide to creative capability development’ and an inclusive community arts project.

This is how we will build social justice –  by supporting each other to adopt a developmental approach that builds our individual and collective capability. Why not join us?

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