Art must pay attention to people and place

Researcher Sarah Davies explores the learning from the Creative People and Places programme evaluation, carried out by A New Direction

8 March 2018

Last year we completed a 3 year project managing the National Evaluation for Creative People and Places (CPP) – Arts Council England (ACE)’s flagship arts engagement programme across 21 areas of England with around £37 million invested in the first 3 years. The programme sought to increase participation in the arts in areas where there is little hard evidence of arts engagement, according to the last Active People Survey.

Our role was to commission relevant research and evaluation, in discussion with ACE and the 21 CPP places themselves, to inform our understanding of the ‘programme’ level impact of CPP. Our approach also focussed on sharing the learning of the CPP story in a way which the wider cultural sector could connect and engage with.

We did this through backing up meta-evaluation and data analysis with bespoke thematic studies into prevalent research areas, and the commissioning of nation-wide, artist-led creative evaluation. We also supported the CPP network of peers with events for sharing and embedding the learning from the evaluation.

There are over 30 National Evaluation publications available on the CPP website. These include a rich array of research reports, creative evaluation commissions, toolkits, case studies and learning summaries. Indeed, 2017 saw us complete our contract with ACE by publishing a new England-wide creative evaluation commission portraying the nature and impact of participating in CPP arts programmes; a game-changing think piece exploring sharing power with our participants; a shared decision-making toolkit; 4 infographics looking at the data and learning to date; a 3-year postcode analysis report evidencing an increase in attendances by previously low-attenders; 4 place-focused case studies, and last but not least; a final meta-evaluation report.

After all of this evaluation, one thing became very clear: place-level strategies for increasing participation in the arts are effective and do work. A staggering 1.45 million attendances were recorded in the first three years. These were people who were not arts attendees previously, in places of low arts infrastructure/provision. Place-responsive programming, sensitive to the subtleties of place and its ‘ecology’, and communities co-creating programmes relevant to their local area seem to be key indicators of this success story. Approaches that move on from the ‘deficit model’ of community engagement as outreach are also embedded in place-based work. Instead, a more holistic approach is favoured, which includes sharing the power of decision-making through place-based community engagement, non-arts consortia and partnership working, and pushing the practice of evaluation and reflection for continuous learning.

Place-level strategies certainly feel relevant to our own practices at A New Direction and perhaps those of other Bridges. We recently published Caring for Cultural Freedom with Kings College London which explicitly looks at what it means to develop a local environment that fuels young people’s creativity, and our work with Local Cultural Education partnerships is all about collaborating in a place. We are now considering a number of key questions following on from our work with CPP which can inform our own work, in particular:

  • What can we learn from CPP’s approach to enable us to foster a life-long active engagement with arts and culture by our young Londoners? And can a more holistic place-focussed approach be supportive of this?
  • How can working with non-arts partners increase our understanding of place and how we might work within it?
  • What is the learning potential from CPP for cross-sector consortium and strategic level partnerships?
  • How might a place-based approach to community engagement work at strategy level?
  • What are the ethical and political challenges of sharing the power of decision-making with people?
  • What role does creative evaluation have in generating and portraying an understanding of place?
  • Can an alternative creative approach to evaluation present the narrative of change in an area, in a way that is relevant to the practices we work within?

Mark Robinson maintains that one success of CPP’s approach is that the art paid attention to people and place. If we paid more attention to these factors could we see a rise in the levels and types of participation in our own areas?

We are now creating a set of papers which bring the learning from CPP into the context of AND’s work - we look forward to sharing these with you soon.

Photo credit: Stephen King, taken as part of the CPP portraits series