I was at the Saltire Society in Edinburgh on Thursday for a meeting of the Trustees of the Luminate Festival. Now that Luminate (Scotland’s creative ageing festival) has been established as a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, we have the usual range of governance, HR and financial issues to address as a Board. At this week’s meetings we approved several new policies and considered our latest management accounts. We also looked in detail at the programme for the 2014 Luminate Festival which will take place across Scotland from 1st – 31st October. It’s going to be the best festival yet with a fantastic range of events and activities. Full details will be available shortly at: http://www.luminatescotland.org/
On Tuesday I was in London to meet Jo Hunter and David Micklem from 53 Million Artists. Jo and David started the ’53 Million Artists’ campaign at the end of last year. Despite having worked in arts organisations for some years, they both felt they had lost their own sense of creativity and came up with the idea of a campaign centred on doing which would encourage everyone to do something creative. The 53 Million Artists test website (http://53millionartists.com/) says “We think an artist is someone who has great ideas and who shares them with other people. We think you can do that too. We can do that. Everyone can do that. We can all be everyday artists. It’s not about talent or having a special skill – it’s about doing something different and sharing this with others.” Jo and David explained the four stages of the 53 Million Artists process: 1. Commit, 2. Do something creative, slightly outside your comfort zone, 3. Reflect, 4. Share online. 53 Million Artists secured some initial funding from Arts Council England with matched support from the Kings Cultural Institute which is undertaking research the effect taking part in the campaign has on individuals and communities. They have completed a pilot phase and are now developing a new website and partnerships to enable them to roll out a full UK-wide campaign next year. Jo and David are passionate about reclaiming the notion of artistry as something everyone does and want this to become a mainstream national conversation. We talked about the potential for Voluntary Arts and 53 Million Artists to work together and discussed possible links to Creative People and Places, the Media Trust’s Do Something Brilliant campaign and the Understanding Everyday Participation research project.
On Monday I was at Sadler’s Wells in London for the Arts Council England event on “Understanding the value and impact of cultural experiences”. This event marked the launch of a literature review commissioned by ACE from WolfBrown. Alan Brown and John Carnwath of WolfBrown explained that they had been asked to gather literature from around the world on the intrinsic value of arts and cultural experiences. They looked at what people mean when they talk about value, impact and meaning in relation to the arts and culture. They identified three meanings of ‘value': the value of cultural experiences to individuals; the value represented in cultural organisations; and the value to society of a thriving cultural sector. The literature review concentrates on the first two meanings. John Carnwath spoke about the intrinsic and instrumental benefits as they are experienced by the individual. He described peaks of impact decreasing (or sometimes increasing) over time – with some cultural experiences resulting in impressions that linger in audiences’ minds weeks later. Alan Brown outlined the ‘creative capacity’ of organisations as six core elements: 1. Clarity of intent and commitment to risk taking; 2. Community relevance; 3. Excellence in curating and a capacity to innovate (new works are not necessarily innovative); 4. Technical proficiency, skill and artistry; 5. Capacity to engage audiences; and 6. Critical feedback and commitment to continuous improvement. These elements are backed up by two conditional elements: supportive networks and sufficient risk capital.
I was interested to hear Alan Brown say “Many agree that quality is best judged by outside experts. We know from our own research that programmes of what some would consider low artistic quality – for example amateur productions of stage plays – can generate high audience impacts. And, contrariwise, programmes of high artistic quality can leave audiences uninspired or worse.”
Jane Bryant from ArtsWork asked about the relationship between audiences and participation. John Carnwath said there is “a lack of agreement among different studies in terms of the constructs that they are using and the methods they are using to assess impact, [which] makes it very difficult to compare the studies with one another. There are some studies that are more focussed on active participation and others that are more focussed on reception but there is very little that we can say about comparing those at this point.”
Alan Brown added: “when an individual contributes something to the creative work itself, making something or in co-creating or being involved in some way, there is literature to suggest that another level of meaning can be accessed in terms of creating something of your own that is an expression of yourself and the identity development outcomes that are associated with that, up to and including legacy outcomes and creating something that is a legacy, which are unique to participatory involvement. But teasing out the additional impacts of participatory involvement is really tricky and very much a need for additional research.”
You can read the full literature review at: www.artscouncil.org.uk/media/uploads/pdf/Understanding_the_value_and_impacts_of_cultural_experiences.pdf
After the WolfBrown presentation we heard from Nick Merriman, Director of Manchester Museum, and Catherine Bunting about the Manchester Quality Metrics pilot. Inspired by an Australian example and developed for Manchester by John Knell, the pilot has been working with a number of arts and cultural organisations to trial before and after surveys – for audience members, arts organisations and peers – using tablet computers. The next phase of development has been funded through the Digital R&D for the arts fund (supported by ACE, NESTA and AHRC) and will comprise a 12-month project to refine the metrics, wider testing, automating the system, exploring how to incentivise public feedback, and carrying out academic research. ACE has published a report on the quality metrics pilot which is available at: www.artscouncil.org.uk/what-we-do/our-priorities-2011-15/quality-metrics/quality-metrics-pilot/.
Finally we heard from James Mackenzie-Blackman (from New Adventures and Re:Bourne), Caroline Sharp (from the National Foundation for Educational Research) and Ben Lee (from Shared Intelligence) about quality principles for work by, with and for children and young people. Caroline said they had identified seven principles characterising high quality work. I was intrigued to hear her make a distinction between young audience members, participants and artists. What is the difference between a ‘participant’ and an ‘artist’?
The ACE event was interesting and thought-provoking but I found the lack of attention to active participation, in relation to the value and impact of cultural experiences, frustrating.