Inquiry into the Civic Role of Arts Organisations

31 August 2016

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What Next? is working with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation as part of the Inquiry into the Civic Role of Arts Organisations. As part of this process, we have commissioned three artist groups to work with communities across the UK and ask what they think the civic role of an arts organisation should be and four What Next? Chapters who will work with local partners to understand the role of arts organisations within their geographical context.

About the Artist Commission
We are delighted to announce the commissioned artists are Rebecca Manson Jones and Deborah Mason working in the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark, London, Kyle Walker and the Creative Experts at Contact Theatre who will work in North Manchester and Sally Tonge in Shropshire. The artists will work with underserved communities and ask what they think the civic role of an arts organisation should be.

Forty three artists/artist groups applied for the award and after a two stage application process the panel were thrilled to award the three commissions to a combination of artists working in rural/urban areas located in various places across the UK which addressed a civic role in both social cohesion and health (dementia). The projects are:

Deborah Mason and Rebecca Manson Jones, Southwark
Sticking Together
A joint commission using crafting, story harvesting & action learning techniques to create a conversation about how/whether arts and culture could or should open up public debate and involvement in civic processes, this will be captured in a multimedia collage for public display and online- a people’s manifesto for civic life.

Sally Tonge, Shropshire
Cake and creative conversations – pop up and playful dementia cafes in unusual settingsHosting dementia cafes in new civic venues to have enjoyable, creative conversations with people living rurally with dementia and their families, friends and carers. By sharing songs, stories and memories we will find out ways in which local venues and arts promoters can more effectively engage them in meaningful activities.

Kyle Walker (Creative Experts, Contact Theatre), North Manchester
What Next? – North Manchester
Creative Experts will engage with groups of 10 young people from North Manchester over 6 weeks and explore how young people from the area feel about the civic role of arts organisations in their local community, and how they think their communities can benefit from arts organisation engagement. The outcome of the project will be a documentary film.

‘Contact is extremely excited to have successfully gained this commission and to have key role in feeding into the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s Civic Role of the Arts Organisations Inquiry. Our unique approach of young facilitators on our Creative Experts programme leading on the commission allows us to genuinely engage with young people that don’t currently connect with the arts and to find out what it is they want and need to help them enjoy and engage with the arts.’

About the Location Studies
The four chosen locations are Basingstoke, Nottingham, Sunderland and Yarmouth and Lowestoft. The What Next? Chapters in these places will be leading the studies, working with local partners, networks and the general public. In each location the aim is to understand the role of arts organisations within the local community, find out what people want from their arts organisations and learn how the sector can support future activity.

Basingstoke
Members of the Basingstoke What Next? Chapter have been working closely with Basingstoke and Deane on developing a new Arts Strategy for the Borough, this process represents the first time Arts and Culture organisations have been invited to lead on this process. Our project will be to finish the consultative process with innovative and artist led public consultation to inform the final strategy.

About the WN? Basingstoke Chapter
Basingstoke What Next? is a geographically diverse chapter with members from across the region including Slough, Reading, Salisbury, Portsmouth and Winchester. We have a mixed membership from number one venues to individual artists, regular attendance from Local Authority Councillors and Basingstoke MP Maria Miller. We meet on the last Friday of each month at the Proteus Creation Space in Basingstoke from 9am – 10am.

Nottingham
Nottingham is currently in the process of developing a Cultural Framework & Investment Strategy for the next ten years and we feel that this research can feed into this process as well as draw from it. The Location Study will be done in partnership with NTU as our local research partner, with What Next?, the Gulbenkian Foundation and Liverpool’s Institute for Cultural Capital as our national research partners. It will take place over a month period and will respond to the following questions:

  • What role do you think arts and cultural organisations are playing in Nottingham as places of learning, democratic debate and community-building?
  • What do you think arts organisations in the city are not doing or should be doing to support learning, democratic debate and community-building?
  • What organisations in the city are you aware of who are already delivering work which is facilitating learning, democratic debate and community-building? Tell us more about what they are doing and why they are making an impact

To explore these questions, we will deliver a programme of desk research, commission a small number of key case studies, hold three public debates, carry out interviews with key thought-leaders in the city, commission our own local literature review, and hold a number of conversations through social media to understand the thoughts of people in the city. We also intend to engage with the many networks which exist in the city to support participation and democracy, including the voluntary sector, neighbourhood informal networks, online communities and social enterprises.

About the WN? Nottingham Chapter
The Nottingham city chapter welcomes all of the city’s arts, cultural and heritage organisations as well as those who are delivering cultural projects as part of their work.

Sunderland
Proceeding through both interaction with existing forums and the convening of a number of standalone meetings, the study will focus on both the current role of arts organisations within the city as well as their future responsibilities. It will seek to explore the different roles which arts organisations can fulfil, and the ways in which they can enhance activity by partners from outside of the cultural sector. The discussions will focus on how arts organisations can influence, participate in and shape Sunderland’s civic agendas on issues such as health, education, inclusion and diversity. The study will be conducted by the Sunderland What Next? Chapter, in partnership with the Sunderland MAC Trust and the Cultural Spring.

About the WN? Sunderland Chapter
Since its foundation earlier this year, Sunderland’s What Next? Chapter has garnered a strong group of diverse and individual participants, establishing itself as a key and developing forum for artists and arts organisations within the city. The Chapter’s Chairs, Iain Rowan, Marie Nixon and Ross Millard have links throughout both Sunderland’s civic and arts institutions, as well as strong individual track records of artistic achievement in literature and the performing arts.

Yarmouth and Lowestoft
The aim of the Yarmouth and Lowestoft WN? Location Study will be to identify and map existing and potential participants in an emergent local cultural economy. We will seek out both usual and unusual suspects, whilst exploring new ways to collaborate, trade or commission new work and to establish potential links and partnerships. This will be done through a mixture of existing ‘cultural connectors’ and through traditional methods of data collection.

About the WN? Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft Chapter
Gt Yarmouth and Lowestoft What Next? Chapter formed in early 2015 to address a lack of co-ordinated planning in arts and cultural policy and in the area and to enhance the role of local arts practitioners.

About the inquiry
In April 2016, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch launched a three phrased inquiry into the Civic Role of Arts Organisations. The Inquiry seeks to increase awareness of the civic role that arts organisations play nationally and in their communities. The first phase is intended to tackle definitions, scope and remit of the inquiry. Its activity includes in-depth research and widespread consultation to understand what constitutes ‘next practice’ and seed a network for future activity.

What Next? is working with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation as its engagement partner on phase one of the inquiry. As part of this activity, we will work with our national network of 35 chapters to engage colleagues from both within the cultural sector and across other sectors, and explore ways to generate real excitement about the idea of civic responsibility and the arts. We want the arts sector to explore and embrace the artistic benefits of civic responsibility as well as the social benefits, and we want to shine a light on the cutting-edge nature of this area of work. This engagement will take place through a series of structured activities in Summer/Autumn 2016 developed in collaboration with the inquiry research partners; Institute of Cultural Capital (ICC), through the artistic commissions and through the four location case studies.

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