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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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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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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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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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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