Discover what co-creation means, how it can help you actively listen to and collaborate with the local community and form new partnerships as well as helpful insight on putting it into practice. Explore the Heart of Glass and Battersea Arts Centre report and three podcasts with artists, producers, and collaborators.
Early in 2021, Arts Council England asked us (Heart of Glass and Battersea Arts Centre) to share some thoughts on principles, ethics and references pertinent to the area of Co-Creation. We were asked to undertake this research to support Arts Council England’s newly launched strategy for 2020–2030, Let’s Create.
It was impossible to consider this task without the heavy weight of Covid hanging over us. We still very much felt in the middle of the accelerated learning and challenge precipitated by the global pandemic, caught somewhere between floating and falling!
Our instinct, as always, was to collaborate. To use the title of Myles Horton’s critical publication on education and social change, ‘we make the road by walking’, and so we wanted to check in with those walking the path, artists, producers and community members. We thank them for generously sharing their experiences at this time.
what we present here is for you to re-shape, rebuild and re-imagine
Both Battersea Arts Centre and Heart of Glass centre communities as part of our practice, so we leaned into those relationships. It is important for us to state that this research is not exhaustive. It would be impossible to bottle and capture such a complex and multi-faceted practice, not least at a time of such upheaval. One of the key strengths of this field of practice is that it resists definition because it is owned by many.
Instead, what we offer are a set of perspectives, and a potential roadmap to encourage further exploration. From the personal testimonies of artists and community members who have worked on, and continue to work on co-created projects; to some of the resources and texts that we draw upon for guidance, inspiration and challenge; what we present here is for you to re-shape, rebuild and re-imagine.
There is no doubt that national and global lockdowns, referred to by some commentators as the ‘Great Pause’, have presented a unique opportunity for reflection. As we take stock and move into phased routes out of lockdown and consider ‘roadmaps’ to recovery, the questions remain where are we now, where are we going, and where to next?
In considering the practice of Co-Creation (and associated practices) at this time, we must acknowledge that there have been significant shifts in recent years. There has been a move from discourse about the democratisation of culture to more expansive discussions about cultural democracy, specifically in terms of supporting everyone’s cultural capability and the substantive freedom to co-create versions of culture.
There has also been a marked shift from conversations about equality, to more nuanced understandings of equality and equity, and the necessary and urgent unlearning and relearning we need to do as a field of practice, and indeed as a cultural sector and society. There is a growing appetite to interrogate notions of power, both in the formation and delivery of projects, but also in the structures we rely upon to support cultural practices. These shifts loom large in the reflections presented.
There is a wider demand, in our opinion, for a deeper level of connection and collaboration, and a much broader sense of who gets to be part of the making of meaning, and where that meaning takes form, and how it can affect change, both personal, and at a community and structural level.
This demand has always existed, but it has been brought more sharply into focus in recent times. We find ourselves, in the field of Co-Creation, not advocating from the margins as we have done historically, but moving closer to being recognised as espousing accepted and necessary principles of good and ethical practice. This is evidenced by initiatives (to name a few!) such as Tate Exchange, Calouste Gulbenkian’s Sharing the Stage, and Inquiry into the Civic Role of the Arts, the on-going work of Migrants in Culture and AHRC’s Cultural Value project, and the recent move of Arts Council England’s own Creative People and Places programme from project to portfolio status.
Connection and collaboration
Writing for The Financial Times in April 2020, in the midst of the UK’s first national lockdown, Arundhati Roy described the pandemic as “a portal, a gateway between one world and the next”. It would appear Roy’s rallying call to leave “the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us” and instead to “walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world” has been received loud and clear.
At the same time, after a year living largely indoors, in bubbles, in facemasks and at ‘social distance’, there is an almost tangible sense of the need for the reassurance of familiarity, human recognition and reconnection with others, and with ourselves, as we set out on the journey forward. Socially engaged arts in particular has a long and rich heritage and praxis of co-creation, placing art and artists in direct interaction with community, society and social issues and cutting across art-forms and contexts in the making of shared meaning. These levels of deep connection and collaboration are instinctive to artists and practitioners with many years of experience in working with communities of place, enquiry and interest, with marginalised groups, with people of all age ranges, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation and, increasingly, in a variety of settings and ‘non-arts’ civic spaces such as hospitals, prisons, schools and older people’s homes.
Socially engaged arts has always been at the forefront of explorations in new ways of measuring value and impact through depth, reach, ‘wellbeing’ and sentiment. What we offer through this research is a connection to some of those explorations.
This is a moment – and arguably the moment - for cultural leadership, with co-creation practice and principles, front and centre!
Read the report (PDF)
Podcast: Episode 1 - Artists - Featuring Sheila Ghelani, Marjorie H. Morgan and Conrad Murray
Podcast: Episode 2 - Collaborators - Featuring Ant Shea, Arthur Britney and Halima Malek
Podcast: Episode 3 - Producers - Featuring Debbie Chan, Alan Lane and Chantelle Williams