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 –

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

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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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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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