An invitation to creative collaboration.

We’ve spent the last 15+ years learning about how art empowers. It’s not been an easy journey, we’ve made many mistakes along the way. If we’ve learnt one thing it’s that it is much easier to foster dependence than empowerment. Every time we think we’re getting close we find we have much more to learn. Again and again we’ve seen how short term projects can raise expectations but not sustain the change, we’ve seen projects throw light on long-term problems they can’t resolve. At best it seems that the more we do, the more we find out how much more needs to be done.

This time we really think we’ve cracked it! We’ve worked out why art matters and how art empowers and it’s devastatingly simple: Art matters because it builds social justice (social justice is where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential). It is through art that we all build the capabilities we need to live fulfilling, purposeful, creative lives. art empowers by building capability – and it’s very exciting!

It’s exciting because it means we can stop thinking about art as the privilege of the few but as the birthright of each and every one of us. It is by building our creative capabilities that we all become the people we want to be and build the communities we choose to live in.

It’s exciting because it means an we can now develop short-term projects in the context of a long-term, on-going, lifelong process of growth and development.

It’s exciting because it means we can stop pretending we know what is best for other people and instead design all our activities as opportunities for people to acquire the capabilities that they are looking for. People can decide for themselves if each activity makes it easier, or harder, for them to do the things they value.

It’s exciting because it means we can stop treating people as problems to be solved but as active agents without whose unique experience we cannot fulfil our potential either. Social justice is about valuing and nurturing the unique, creative contribution of each and every individual, because of who we are.

It’s exciting because we don’t have to pretend to be experts anymore, to make out we have all the answers or pretend to be someone we’re not. Social justice is not about what we’ve done but who we want to become, it’s not about what we know but what we want to find out, it’s not about what (we think) others want us to be but about what makes us who we.

It’s exciting because it means we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. We build social justice by being ourselves and following our own dreams and passions. In fact we can only build social justice if we are prepared to explore, to engage with our own uncertainty, enter into our own unknown potential. We build the best communities by becoming the best people we can be.

It’s exciting because it means we don’t have to compete any more. Social justice is not about competing over limited resources but creating capability. Everyone has something to contribute, and everyone benefits. Social justice is something we can only build together, through equal, creative collaborations.

It’s exciting because anything anyone anywhere does to build social justice helps everyone everywhere become empowered by art, whether they (or we) know it or not. Just as an artist can find inspiration anywhere so we can take every opportunity to build capability for ourselves and each other.

Of course this is really just the start. we know the theory but how will it work in practice?
We know how art empowers but not what you’ll achieve. We’ve lots of ideas but only you can make it work in practice. We can’t do it for you and we can’t do it without you!

We need you to help us find out what social justice will look like for you, for your local café, community centre or gallery? For your organisation, group or institution? For your community? We need you to help us learn: How can art empower everyone? What are the enabling environments that foster creative collaboration? How can art empower communities?

We’ll be exploring these, and many related questions through creative challenges, in newsletters, online and in person at regular forums and events. But we need you, and the people you know, to help us explore the art of creative collaboration We invite you to help us find out how we can all build our capabilities by building capability for each other.

So, how can you get started?

Well, of course, you already have, you wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t already building social justice for yourselves and/or others. So, please, keep doing what you’re doing; think about how what you want to learn can provide opportunities for others; and please share anything you think might help – simply hearing what others are doing can help and inspire us all and reminds us all that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Just don’t wait to get started, building social justice is a journey of discovery and increasing possibility in which everything you do helps you get a better idea of what you want to do next. So, don’t wait until you’re confident, after all you can’t really help others if you’re not prepared to be helped yourself.

So, please, join in on-line, come to a forum or create your own, but, before you do anything, have a look at these five simple questions that can help us all learn the art of creative collaboration…

1. What are you hoping to achieve?
2. What are you working on now?
3. What are you looking for?
4. What can you offer?
5. What will you do next?

Please share, everything people contribute will help build capability in the community – what will you do?

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Why art matters to me

One of the most compelling ways to understand why art matters is to try and imagine a world without art.  When you think about it it’s actually hard to see what life would be like without it.  A few years ago art + power made a film about a world in which art was banned: Condemned to Darkness makes a forceful point about the value of art in our lives and communities with humour and pathos. It is also an excellent example of how art can be more eloquent than mere words.

This film and others like it demonstrate how the arts are central to who we are as people. It is through the arts that we that we make sense of the world around us and define our identity. This is perhaps one of the reasons parents get excited when they see a child’s first painting  as it indicates a stirring of this identity, an early indication of who the child will become.

As well as being deeply personal, art is also a social process.  Art is how we represent ourselves to ourselves and to each other. Just as it is through our creativity that we understand our own uniqueness so it is through our culture that a community represents itself to itself and to the world. This is why cultural exclusion is such a blot on our humanity and our communities. Each and every one of us has a unique creative contribution to make to our collective culture and only when our  our culture truly reflects this enormous diversity  can we be comfortable with ourselves as a community or nation.

Fortunately the arts are more than just an indicator of the health of a nation they are how we build social justice. Creativity is an active process, it is the process of becoming, of creating and shaping who we are and how we choose to live.

When people discover their creativity later in life it can be a completely transformational experience. This is particularly true for people with personal experience of disability or social exclusion whose identity may have been consistently expressed in a negative, who have become accustomed to being described as a problem to be solved rather than an individual with a positive contribution to make to the social and cultural life of the nation.

There are many examples of how discovering our unique creative voice can be the catalyst that enables us to create change in our lives and in our communities. Surely recognising the innate value of every individual and finding ways to release the latent creativity is the key to building build more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities? If so our collective challenge must be to create the conditions by which each and every one of us can fulfil our creative potential.

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Has Arts Council England lost its keys?

Yesterday Arts Council England brought out yet another report about the value of arts and culture. This one is a review of 500 other reports and their main conclusion is that they need to commit ‘substantial research grants’ into producing bigger and longer studies and yet more reports! Isn’t it about time they recognised that it doesn’t matter how hard you look if you’re looking in the wrong place?

The other morning I spent half an hour looking for my wife’s keys, the longer it took the more desperately we looked – I even looked in the fridge! – but it was only when we stopped looking so hard and had a calm look in the most obvious place that we found what we were looking for. When you search for something so hard it can be really easy to overlook the obvious.

So, what is the most obvious place? Well, I found the keys in the first place I looked. So let’s go back there. In his foreword Sir Peter Balzalgette (Chair, Arts Council England) says that ‘When we talk about the value of the arts we should always start with the intrinsic…’ My computer’s dictionary says intrinsic means: ‘belonging naturally; essential’ it even chooses to exemplify this definition with the following example: ‘access to the arts is intrinsic to a high quality of life’.

Art is indeed intrinsic to all our lives. Art is about doing things well, that’s what we mean when we talk about mastering the art of something. The value of art is that it is how we all achieve our potential both as individuals and as communities. Art is how we all grow as people – how we all achieve our potential as individuals and as communities. Put simply, art builds social justice.

If we understand the value of art in terms of social justice we can help Sir Peter achieve his goal: to ‘articulate a new language of cultural value that will help all of us to understand better the essential contribution that the arts make to our lives’

What’s more, if the Arts Council bear this in mind and go back and have another look amongst the three themes which the report’s authors state ‘did not return any suitable evidence’ – international development, environment and sustainability and science and technology – they may learn more than just how to understand the value of the arts, they may also learn what to do about it.

I particularly recommend they look at the capability approach. This is not a subjective approach but a deeply practical, objective approach that is increasingly used as both a measure of human development and a tool to help bring it about.

The good news is that Arts Council England are already helping to explore this approach. art + power have just received funding from Arts Council England to establish a universal Creative Development Programme that uses the capability approach to ‘galvanise a growing network of people in a shared and sustainable commitment to creativity and social justice’. This funding will help explore just how art can build social justice , how we can, for example, structure all our activities as opportunities for mutual capability development.

I’d be delighted if the Arts Council were to carry out further research in this area. But above all, my hope for the arts is that, once we recognise that arts builds social justice, we might spend less money on justifying the arts and more on realising our potential.

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The case for the arts is made, it’s what we do about it that matters.

It is about time the arts debate moved on from general claims about why art matters to deciding what we do about it. Too much of the debate is about justifying the existing state of affairs rather than realising the full potential of the arts. Personally, I must also admit that  I’m not really interested in the case for the economic contribution of the arts unless that income is converted to social value. So, to help move the debate along I propose a very short contribution:

‘Arts build social justice. Art is how everyone gains the capability to fulfil their potential’. Case closed.

If we accept this, or any similar statement, we can move from the general to the specific. We can stop asking why the arts are important and start examining how effective particular examples of art are in building social justice.

To do this I suggest just three simple questions:

  • How does this particular art (project/event etc) provide opportunities for people to fulfil their potential?
  • What capabilities can people acquire from participating?
  • What opportunities are there for create collaboration and mutual capability development?

When we start answering these questions we discover that, whilst everything can provide an opportunity to build social justice, the arts has a central contribution to make. The challenge is to find the most effective way to enable people to access these opportunities.

Over the next couple of years Arts in Development will be focussing on developing what we call inspiring resources for creative collaboration. I’d like your help in discovering what these resources might look like. Please share anything (practical examples, case studies, news stories, tool kits etc..) that can help maximise the social value of the arts.

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Why art matters to me

This week’s creative challenge is to consider why art matters to us. Here are a few initial thoughts. Do let me know yours… 

 

One of the most compelling ways to understand why art matters is to try and imagine a world without art.  When you think about it it’s actually hard to see what life would be like without it.  A few years ago art + power made a film about a world in which art was banned: Condemned to Darkness makes a forceful point about the value of art in our lives and communities with humour and pathos. It is also an excellent example of how art can be more eloquent than mere words. 

 

This film and others like it demonstrate how the arts are central to who we are as people. It is through the arts that we that we make sense of the world around us and define our identity. This is perhaps one of the reasons parents get excited when they see a child’s first painting  as it indicates a stirring of this identity, an early indication of who the child will become.  

 

As well as being deeply personal, art is also a social process.  Art is how we represent ourselves to ourselves and to each other. Just as it is through our creativity that we understand our own uniqueness so it is through our culture that a community represents itself to itself and to the world. This is why cultural exclusion is such a blot on our humanity and our communities. Each and every one of us has a unique creative contribution to make to our collective culture and only when our  our culture truly reflects this enormous diversity  can we be comfortable with ourselves as a community or nation. 

 
Fortunately the arts are more than just an indicator of the health of a nation they are how we build social justice. Creativity is an active process, it is the process of becoming, of creating and shaping who we are and how we choose to live. 


When people discover their creativity later in life it can be a completely transformational experience. This is particularly true for people with personal experience of disability or social exclusion whose identity may have been consistently expressed in a negative, who have become accustomed to being described as a problem to be solved rather than an individual with a positive contribution to make to the social and cultural life of the nation.  

 

There are many examples of how discovering our unique creative voice can be the catalyst that enables us to create change in our lives and in our communities. Surely recognising the innate value of every individual and finding ways to release the latent creativity is the key to building build more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities? If so our collective challenge must be to create the conditions by which each and every one of us can fulfil our creative potential.  

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Creativity has the capability to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Problems like suicide, poverty and inequality all have at their roots a lack of agency and hope.

Each and every one of us has a unique potential that needs to be nurtured and cherished. Yet all too often this is thwarted by a combination of circumstances and events and without the proper support we can be sucked into increasing dependency and despair.

This waste of human potential is the scandal of our age. It is a problem that affects us all but one we can all help to solve.

Creativity is the key to unlocking creative potential. We can achieve extraordinary things simply by supporting each other to engage with our creativity.

We all know that the vagaries of life are much easier to face if we face them together and that the first step can be the most daunting. Yet we all benefit from more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities. We all need each other to be all we can be.

Let’s take an interest in each other, support each other to deal with what life throws at us and give each other the opportunity to be extraordinary.

Let’s celebrate everything any of us does to build more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities.

Let’s celebrate when each of us takes a single step, accepts their own ‘creative challenge’ and takes the first small, incremental steps towards our long term goals.

Who can you support to take your ‘creative challenge’? Who will support you? Why not create your own group to support each other to take creative challenges?

You don’t need to do this alone. art + power’s Creative Development Programme helps people help each other to find out what we want to do, collaborate on projects and to find ways to keep doing the things that matter to us.

The CDP is is an individual and collective commitment to creativity and social justice.

art + power is a Society for the Benefit of the Community that anyone can join. Everything people contribute is used to build creative capability. 
What can you offer?

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Creativity and Sustainable Development.

I believe there is an inextricable link between sustainability and the arts and that understanding the nature of this link is central to our ability to achieve development goals.

I understand sustainable development as being about making the best use of our resources to achieve long term goals.

There are plenty of examples of how creativity can help us make the best use of the physical resources of the planet but I’m not going to focus on these because, however, powerful though these arguments are, they may obscure a very important point: that our best resources are our people.

It’s true that we make very poor use of our physical, financial and environmental resources but we are particularly wasteful of our human resources. The way we let talent go to waste is shocking. Surely the real benefit scandal is the that we are prepared to spend so much money on maintaining dependency and inequality of opportunity? Far too many people are trapped in a vicious cycle of low expectations, poor quality services, and increasing dependency.

What has this to do with the arts? Well, it’s been said that the purpose of development is to enable people to live long, healthy and creative lives. Surely then we are entitled to ask what is the point of a long and healthy life if it is not also a creative or productive life?

Creativity can be seen as the goal of sustainable development, the need to break the cycle of dependency that causes people to live productive lives. Creativity can also be how we achieve development. Art has the power to arrest this cycle and replace it with a positive spiral of increasing capability, agency and hope.

Art can help us all discover our unique creative voice, a voice that is ours because of, and not in spite of, who we are. It can instil the self belief, self-respect and self esteem that are essential for any one of us to develop our capability to affect change in our lives and communities.

Human development involves fostering independence and undermining dependence. This is why I support people to take creative challenges that enable us to engage with our own creative practice. Having a creative challenge to work on ensures that our art is an active and not a passive process – with a creative challenge we are actively engaged in our own creative development.

It is also important to recognise the long-term nature of development. Development is not a quick fix, it is a long-term commitment that involves lots of small steps towards a long-term goal. It is about finding ways to fulfil our creative potential. It is also a collective commitment, a process we can all engage with and that we need to support each other to engage with. We all have a unique potential that we can only reach if there are people around us that believe in us, if we believe in each other. Supporting each other to take creative challenges keeps us moving towards our long-term goals.

Planning is an essential part of sustainable development in both the short and the long-run. Plans can and should change but it’s important to have some idea of what we are working towards so that we can achieve long term goals. Plans are also important in the short-run as understanding what each of us is looking for helps us equal, creative collaborations that foster independence and undermine dependence.

We can design creative challenges and projects that build capabilities – the building blocks of long-term development. Without this focus on capability development we can easily find ourselves building dependence rather than fostering independence. It’s natural when we’re working with people to want to feel important, to believe we are making a difference however anything we do to assert our own importance is likely to foster dependence and undermine other people’s capability and agency. We are much more likely to fall into this trap if we are not clear what we are trying to achieve, or what other people are looking for.

I find it helps to see sustainable development as a process of creative collaboration in which we are all seeking to build our capabilities. This is not a competitive, zero sum, process, far from it. Supporting other people’s development is an essential part of my development, the more I am engaged with my own creative development the more I am able to support others to build their creative capability.

Everything we do can build capability for ourselves and others. So, let’s support each other to take creative challenges, develop collaborative projects and implement long term plans – so that we can make the best use of our best resources – each other.

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The Arts in Development Capability Roadshow

Arts in Development builds capability.  (Capabilities are the long-term building blocks of all human endeavour, they are often considered to be side effects of social activity but for Arts in Development they are central).

Almost any contribution and every activity can be an opportunity for people to build capability. However I believe the best way to acquire capabilities is through creative collaboration. This is a social process, we build our own capabilities by building capabilities in others – by supporting each other to take creative challenges.

I’m currently putting together a Guide to Creative Capability Development that will enable individuals and organisations to deliver all our practice as an opportunity for capability development.  In effect this means designing creative challenges for every aspect of arts management and practice. The majority of this work will be done in the public sphere, there will be lots of forums and events for people to work together on creative challenges.

I will also be working on these creative challenges in cafés and public spaces. Most Friday mornings you’ll be able to find me in the café of one of Bristol’s fine cultural venues (see: ‘Where is Arts in Development’ for details) and you are welcome to join me.  I’ll be more than happy to help you find your creative challenge and I may even be able to help you find people to collaborate with! I hope to see you soon.

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