Promoting cultural capabilities for everyone

4 July 2017

Information Manager, Annie Thorpe, unpacks the recommendations from a recent Kings College London report looking at the concept of Cultural Democracy

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'Imagine a world in which opportunities to try a wide range of cultural and creative activities are available to all young people….' So begins a recent report by King’s College London, exploring the relationship between everyday creativity, arts and the creative industries and putting forward a vision for a cultural life in the UK that is made by all and valuable for everyone.

The findings in 'Towards cultural democracy: promoting cultural capabilities for everyone' stem from the work of the Get Creative Research Project, which ran between July 2015 and October 2016 as part of the BBC Arts’ Get Creative Campaign. At the heart of the report is the concept of Cultural Democracy – the notion that everyone can be empowered to make ‘substantial and sustained choices about what to do, what to make, what to be: with everyone drawing freely on their own powers and possibilities; their (individual and collective) experiences, ideas and visions.’

The research explores and draws attention to the everyday creativity that is happening around the UK, calling for a new ambition for policy which could support the conditions in which everyone has the freedom to co-create versions of culture – or what the research refers to as cultural capability. Importantly, it does not position this vision as in opposition to an on-going support for the vitally important existing publicly supported arts and culture. Instead, it highlights the benefits of understanding how the various different parts of the cultural sphere – whether it be the arts, the commercial creative industries, or everyday creativity – interrelate and act as a cultural ecology.

According to its authors, the fourteen recommendations outlined within the research should be considered a call for collaboration between a range of stakeholders – policy makers, art leaders, youth workers - ‘to promote sustained and varied cultural opportunities in every neighbourhood across the UK.’ Below, I explore in a bit more detail a couple of the recommendations that particularly resonate with our work here at A New Direction.

Recommendation:

National level policy should be informed by the development of new methodologies to investigate cultural capability and cultural functionings.

The research highlights the need for the development of new methodologies that could enable a better understanding of the nature and extent of cultural potentials in a place and the realisation of this potential. A recognition of this need forms the basis of our recent exploration of what adopting an ecological approach to understanding young people’s cultural engagement and learning might look like.

The team behind this report are continuing to work alongside AND on a project exploring the Cultural Learning Ecology in Harrow, to be published in the autumn. Whilst the research findings are likely to offer a wealth of information about how, where and why young people access, learn about and create culture in Harrow, crucially it will also help us to understand how cultural learning ecologies should be investigated and the methods which are the most useful – learning which will prove invaluable beyond just this one borough.

Recommendation:

Continue, and go further to develop collaborations with non-art groups – including sports, entertainment, and community groups – and share knowledge with each other of the challenges and opportunities in these collaborations.

Here at A New Direction, we have long recognised that empowering children and young people to have culturally rich and creative lives involves partnership and collaboration across the cultural sector, education and local authorities. The importance of engaging with and supporting the networking of organisations so that they are able to support engagement in a specific place lies at the heart of a number of our initiatives. Knowledge sharing and peer-learning around the successes and challenges of partnership work is a core strand of our Connected Network, whilst our own learning is ongoing as we continue to support a number of Cultural Education Partnerships across London. And we continue to explore and develop partnerships with stakeholders that fall beyond the formal cultural or education sector, recognising the vital importance that other areas - for example, the built environment sector – play in ensuring London’s young people have access to a creative childhood.

As the findings from the research into the Cultural Learning Ecology in Harrow emerge and are analysed, we are expecting to discover those groups which we may not have initially anticipated as playing an instrumental role in connecting, developing and platforming young people’s creativity.

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