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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How the arts can create sustainable social change.

I’m constantly meeting fantastic people and hearing about amazing projects – in the last week alone I’ve had conversations with people tackling violence, increasing access to the arts and exploring identity and mythology in a wide range of settings – none of these projects are currently connected yet they all have a huge amount in common. 

We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We all want to make a difference not just now but in the future. However, there is only so much any of us can do. Ultimately we all have to face the same question – how can we create sustainable social change? What we need is a sustainability service that can connect all these great projects and initiatives.

After all, the problem of sustainability is not the projects themselves – or any individual, organisation or initiative – it is simply a lack of context. When we do things in the context of a strategic plan they are no longer isolated activities but steps towards a long-term goal.

We need an organisation that can provide this context for us and hold that long-term vision on our behalf. This is exactly what art + power is setting out to do – to build communities where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. It is a big vision but one we cannot realise without your help.

Sustainable social change is something we can only create together. We need to build a network that enables a diverse range of people – disabled and socially excluded people, practitioners and policy makers – to support each other through equal, shared collaborations where everyone contributes and everyone benefits, equally.

Adopting an equal, collaborative approach will be a challenge to us all. Just as some of us will find it hard to break out of dependent relationships and realise that we all have something to contribute, so others will struggle to recognise that we cannot create effective change unless we are also prepared to embrace our own vulnerability and engage with our own creative potential and collaborate on an equal basis.

We would need a lot of support for this, but the more we work together the easier it will be to find people that understand what we’re trying to achieve, that will work alongside us, share our anxieties and help us develop the shared language which is the lifeblood of any successful collaboration.

We are excited about the potential for tools and capabilities to become the language of sustainable collaboration not least because it demonstrates how the best way for any of us to contribute is to do what we do best – by building our capabilities

Capabilities are the building blocks of all human development they support:

  • Personal development by helping us all to both identify our goals and take steps to achieve them.
  • Collaborative development by enabling us to develop equal collaborations in which all parties support each other to build our capabilities.
  • Community development by providing a shared framework that provides the context for all we achieve together.

For example, the shared nature of tools and capabilities can help us make connections between all those fantastic projects people are working on. We could even create an inclusive, collaborative project in which people from diverse and disparate communities support each other to create sustainable change in our lives and communities!

There are lots of ways to get involved…

  • Please share anything that can help people build sustainable change into our lives and communities – maybe something that inspires you, a collaborative project or opportunity or a useful tool. Everything helps.
  • Share your ‘Five Questions’ using this quick survey.
  • Sign up for our newsletter for the latest news and opportunities from the network.
  • Come along to a forum
  • Ask for an art + power membership form (purchase a £1 share) and we’ll add you to our collaborative website where we all share and support each other – dave@artandpower.org.uk

Our shared project will be what you make it – what will you do?

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What is a development organisation?

How could we go about implementing a social justice approach within an organisation?

I think there are two things to say at the outset. Firstly, I don’t think we should adopt a social justice approach as an afterthought or even because we feel we ought to. I think we should adopt a social justice approach because we genuinely believe it will help us fulfil our potential.

Fulfilling our potential requires a strategic approach, one that makes the best use of our resources to achieve our goals. A social justice approach sees our best resources as our people, and suggests the best way to achieve our goals is by actively supporting other people to achieve theirs too.

Secondly, I think it helps to remember that if social justice is our goal it is also a journey. Although the process is the same for all of us, the journey will be different for every individual and group. There is no way of knowing what we will learn before we start but we can only build social justice if we are open to finding out what we don’t know and are able to learn from each other.

We have to be prepared to venture into the unknown because social justice is something that can only be created together. We can’t do it for other people and we can’t do it without other people. Just as, any single individual or organisation can only fully realise their potential as part of an ecology of creative collaboration, neither can we know what social justice will look like for other people, we can only invite people to explore it with us.

Our role then is to make that invitation attractive, to make it easier for people to fulfil their potential. Two key things I recommend we can focus on are building enabling environments; and offering opportunities for capability development.

Building enabling environments is about creating the conditions that allow people to flourish. It involves consideration of all the physical, environments, social and psychological factors that help or hinder our development. It’s about helping to produce the conditions, offer the support and provide the tools for people to ‘Create Your Own’ development.

Offering opportunities for capability development is based on the understanding that it is by building our capabilities that we all fulfil our potential. This process of capability development is creative, collaborative and universal.

The universality of capability development has tremendous potential. It can break us free of the hierarchical, didactic process of banking education, of teacher/student, service-provider/service-user relations and replace it with an open conversation which respects, values and nurtures the unique creative potential in each and every one of us.

It enables us to see all our activities as part of an on-going journey in which each incremental step opens up new possibilities and in which all our activities can be understood in the context of our long-term development as individuals, groups and communities.

It also has the potential to change the way we experience our public space. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of assuming a passive, empty public that need to be filled with the information, we all assumed an engaged, inquisitive public that are interested in exploring, developing, creating and sharing? Surely then we would be able to develop all our activities as opportunities for mutual creative capability development and creative exploration?

Also, If we recognised that the best way to achieve our goals is by supporting others to achieve theirs we would constantly seek out opportunities for creative collaboration; develop an active interest in finding out what each of us was looking for; and be keen to learn from each other’s experience.

OK, maybe I am getting a bit carried away! Let’s see if we can put some of this into practice. What might be some of the features of a developmental organisation that sought to foster social justice?

Here’s the start of a list – I’d be delighted if you would add to it…

A developmental organisation could:
– Seek to maximise the social benefit from all activities.
– Identify the people that can benefit most from what you do, work with them to develop creative collaborations and see how you can learn from their experience to help others.
– Encourage people to participate as people, not just in job roles etc., but as part of their own long-term development strategies.
– Develop practices that build capability and reduce dependence within the organisation.
– Devise a capability framework for the organisation and use it to identify development needs and opportunities.
– Carry out a capability/aspirations audit of key staff and team.
– Devise clear and relevant work packages for staff, freelance contractors, trustees or volunteers.
– Ensure good documentation of process so that every activity contributes towards both individual, organisational and community development.
– Design programmes as opportunities to acquire capabilities.
– Arrange peer support forums to help people identify and tackle constraints, and barriers to creative development.
– Create tool kits and resources to enable others to learn from experience
– Be flexible about the staff review process and employ people in roles that change depending on a regular review of the development needs of both the organisation and its people
– Establish closer links with similar organisations to help foster an an ecology of creative collaboration.
– Consider different measures of monitoring and evaluation. Perhaps, as Kofi Annan has suggested: ‘Development should be not be measured by income but by freedom’
– …

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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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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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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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Help build creative communities.

We are looking for people to join a network for creativity and social justice.

Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. Every one of us has a unique and important contribution to make to social justice and everything we do can inspire and support others.

The network will help people support each other to achieve individual and collective goals. Each person will work towards their own long term goals by supporting other people on the network.

Every day for 18 months we will be setting a new creative challenge so we can help each other engage with our creative potential.

Each creative challenge will provide the focus for over 300 forums and network events where people will support each other to develop individual and collaborative projects and build an inclusive arts project to express our shared values.

Everyone is welcome. There will be regular public events and forums as well as weekly forums specifically for disabled and socially excluded artists’ and for arts practitioners, There will also be monthly forums for partners and policy makers.

We will be sharing these challenges – and people’s progress – through newsletters and social media to help people support each other to develop creative projects in their own group and community.

Everything people share will help inspire and support others and contribute towards a growing set of on-line resources including a ‘guide to creative capability development’ that will help people anywhere build creative communities.

To get involved just tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’re looking to achieve and we’ll send you all the information you need to get started.

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Social Justice is a creative process

It is through the arts that everyone gains the capability to fulfil their potential. We all achieve our potential by acquiring capabilities – by trying new things, by exploring new situations and by working together to remove the barriers that hold people back.

Effective capability development requires us to tackle all the barriers to human progress whether they are social, psychological, physical, political etc. so that no-one lacks the opportunity to achieve their potential. Building social justice is about providing the structures, the inspiration and the resources that make it easier for people to achieve their goals.

Creative development is an inclusive process. We all benefit from increased social justice and every one of us has a unique contribution to make. Creative development cannot be achieved at the expense of other people. On the contrary, social justice emerges from creative collaborations; from the process of sharing, working and creating together.

Creative development is a social process. We can only achieve our potential if we have people around us that believe in us. Fortunately, creative development is not a competitive scramble for limited resources but a collaborative process that can create social value from any activity.

Creative Development is a strategic, sustainable process. It is an ongoing process that enables us to make the best use of all our resources to achieve our goals. Once we recognise that our best resources are each other then building social justice becomes about achieving our goals whilst actively supporting others to achieve theirs.

As the process of creative development is common to us all, we can create a shared language that fosters creative collaborations and design any activity as an opportunity for mutual creative capability development. Since this process is essentially the same at every level we can build social justice by supporting each other to explore our potential, as individuals and as communities.

We plan to build a network of people with a shared interest in creativity and social justice and to use anything that people contribute – time, money, resources, even a problem to be solved – as an opportunity for creative capability development for someone in the network.

We are particularly keen to encourage people to record and share their achievements, so we can see what we are achieving together and so that we can inspire and support others to work with us to increase creative opportunities for all.

We invite everyone to participate, collaborate and share in the process of building social justice together.

What will you do?

How will you collaborate?

What will you share?

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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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Creativity is the key to social justice.

Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. Acquiring capabilities is a creative process that that is best acquired through collaboration. We build social justice when we support each other to build our creative capabilities.

Building social justice – ensuring equality of opportunity – should be the central task of any progressive society. Unfortunately not only is the equality gap widening but many attempted solutions actually increase dependency. This waste of human potential is one of the most depressing and unnecessary features of modern life.

Fortunately, it does not have to be this way, we can all help to tackle this crisis of opportunity, simply by supporting each other to build social justice. We all benefit from increasing social justice and every one of us has a unique and important contribution to make.

art + power’s universal Creative Development Programme (CDP) brings people together to explore how we can help each other to fulfil our creative potential. It is a network of people that build our capabilities by supporting each other. It is a free and open programme for anyone that shares our commitment to creativity and social justice.

To join just participate in your own creative development and support others to do the same. Taking part can be as simple as sharing your progress. Anything you share will be used to create more inspiring resources for personal development and creative collaboration.

My personal project is to produce a new publication: ‘A Guide to Creative Capability Development’ so I’m particularly looking for examples of inspiring projects, that can provide tools, case studies and examples. We will also be producing a wide range of other resources and would love to hear your stories, creative challenges and project opportunities.

Everything we do can build creative capability and social justice – all we need to do is support each other to participate in our long-term creative development. Why not get involved today?

Just reply below or contact me at david@artsindevelopment.com / @artsdevelopment
I look forward to hearing from you.

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