Value of arts and culture to people and society

I have just read this forward by Sir Peter Bazalgette  from a report from Arts Council England and thought it was worth uploading because it starts to discuss the value of the arts not just from an economic perspective.
In my mind it is important that we can justify the arts and culture to people and society in terms of other values.
I know how important participation in the arts is to the older people I am currently working with in Scotland.
In The Kingdom That Danced     The full report is at the end of this post.


“The general value of arts and culture to society has long been assumed, while the specifics have just as long been debated. Try to imagine society without the humanising influence of the arts, and you will have to strip out most of what is pleasurable in life, as well as much that is educationally critical and socially essential.

When we talk about the value of arts and culture, we should always start with the intrinsic – how arts and culture illuminate our inner lives and enrich our emotional world. This is what we cherish.

In The Kingdom That Danced

Life without the collective resources of our libraries, museums, theatres and galleries, or without the personal expression of literature, music and art, would be static and sterile – no creative arguments about the past, no diverse and stimulating present and no dreams of the future.

Of course the inherent value of arts and culture is, in part, a philosophical assertion that can’t be measured in numbers. Quantifying the benefits and expressing them in terms of facts and figures that can evidence the contribution made to our collective and individual lives has always presented a problem, but it is something that arts and culture organisations will always have to do in order to secure funding from both public and private sources.

But while we do not cherish arts and culture because of the impact on our social wellbeing and cohesion, our physical and mental health, our education system, our national status and our economy, they do confer these benefits and we need to show how important this is.

We need to be able to show this on different scales – on individual, communal and national levels – so that we can raise awareness among the public, across the cultural, educational and political sectors, and among those who influence investment in both the public and private sectors. We need this information to help people think of our arts and culture for what they are: a strategic national resource.

We also need this information to see where the impact of our work is felt, and where we don’t yet reach. We want to understand how we can do better, so that arts and culture can be truly enjoyed by everyone.

As this evidence review shows, there is a considerable body of research literature available – but there are also many gaps. There is a lack of data, for example, about the economic benefits of museums
and libraries, and about the importance of the arts to the creative industries, particularly in regard to innovation.

We lack longitudinal studies of the health benefits of participation in arts and culture, and comparative studies of the effects of participation in the arts as opposed to, say, participation in sport.

We cannot demonstrate why the arts are unique in what they do. And when it comes to crime, we have little knowledge about the effect that participation in the arts may have on reducing the numbers of people who re-offend.

In some areas, such as the environment and sustainability, and science and technology, we have a general lack of suitable research – yet these are areas in which our own experience and common sense tell us that the arts play an essential educational and communication role.

We won’t solve this problem overnight; such studies take time. But if we can work together, we will in time articulate a new language of cultural value that will help all of us to understand better the essential contribution that the arts make to our lives.

This evidence review is an important stage in making ‘the holistic case’ for arts and culture – the argument that arts and culture have an impact on our lives in complex, subtle and interrelated ways, and that each benefit relates to a cluster of other benefits.

This was also the theme of last year’s series of seminars we organised in partnership with the Royal Society of the Arts, ‘Towards Plan A: A new political economy for arts and culture’.

We know there are similar projects. Both the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project and the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value will be reporting in 2015. We will work closely with both of these.

But for the first time, the Arts Council will also be committing substantial research grants to plug some of these gaps in our knowledge. One of the main problems is finding the framework and language with which to express these benefits – creating the right lens through which this transforming ghost of art, everywhere but often invisible, at last shows up as an identifiable presence. But we’ve a lot more work to do in just learning to ask the right questions. In particular we will be looking to form partnerships with the higher education research departments, drawing on their specialist knowledge, facilities and links across the cultural sector.

We won’t solve this problem overnight; such studies take time. But if we can work together, we will in time articulate a new language of cultural value that will help all of us to understand better the essential contribution that the arts make to our lives.”

Finding Stories

Learning to be a Filmmaker

‘Jeepney” My first short film

‘Jeepney” My first short film

I’ve always been a fan of filmmaker Ken Loach. He seems to be able to create authentic stories of people living on the margins of society and make their lives rich and important. Stories that entertain us, but also stories we need to hear that teach us something about the world we live in.

With the thought/delusion that I might be able to make movies like Ken Loach, after a long time of working in the theatre, I went to college to learn how to be a filmmaker in 2006. I thought, at the time, that the most interesting creative work was in happening in films. Theatre seemed to me to be a little stale. I was tired of seeing clever people showing off  – which is what I was beginning to think professional theatre was all about – and I wanted to see stories that explored real lives in real situations.

I wasn’t learning much from a lot of actors ‘standing about on stages and talking to each other’.  In fact, I’ve never really been keen on the idea of ‘actors’ pretending to be somebody else, I was much more interested in ‘performers/creators’ who expose something of themselves in front of audiences/spectators as well as presenting great stories and beautiful imagery.

In describing this I am using the language of people like Robert Lepage. Robert pointed out some years ago that audiences listen and spectators watch – he wanted a new word to describe the people who came to his shows – he wanted them to participate in the process.

As for film – there now seems to be so many new ways of making movies whether it is high quality 3D like Wim Wenders with “Pina” and Alfonso Cuarón with “Gavity” – both amazing by the way – or the guerrilla style documentary that explores the relationship between fiction and reality. It is now possible to make movies on a smart phone or to get hold of professional equipment quite cheaply. People can become filmmakers comparatively easily and can make amazing films that are successful and groundbreaking on a very small budget. The opportunities for creating films are getting easier, the old days of subsidy for the arts maybe collapsing but if you want to make a short movie you can do it – on your phone.

People Playing Themselves

I am particularly interested in how the US based Italian filmmaker, Roberto Minervini, develops his work. His latest film “Stop the Pounding Heart” was premiered in Cannes last year and is currently playing cinemas in Europe and doing the festival circuit.

'Stop the Pounding Heart’ film by Roberto Minervini

‘Stop the Pounding Heart’ film by Roberto Minervini

Described in the Hollywood Reporter as:

“ … a hybrid of documentary and unscripted narrative depicting real people in an insular rural community, the film’s cast is made up primarily of members of two large families in Texas. The chief focus is the Carlsons, goat farmers who run an artisanal dairy business, selling milk, cheese and yoghurt at local farmers’ markets.

The parents, Leeanne and Tim, raise their twelve children according to a strict interpretation of the Bible, homeschooling them to limit negative influences. It’s an austere life of prayer, work and religious studies at mealtime, with no sign in the house of such standard communication tools as television, computers or telephones.

At 14, Sara is one of the older siblings, helping to educate and care for her young brothers and sisters while navigating her own way into adulthood. When she meets Colby Trichell, a young amateur bull rider from a more rough-edged Christian family, a mutual interest develops that’s so guarded it could barely be defined as attraction.”

The Passage

I worked with Roberto in The Philippines on my own short films and later in Texas when I played one of the leading characters in his first feature, “The Passage” – a road movie that took us from from Houston to Marfa, Texas. It was great fun and it taught me a lot. The film was created on the road in ‘real’ situations, with the ‘real’ people we met on the way playing themselves.  The character I played was also pretty close to me, a lost soul, an artist, searching for something to believe in again. There were also a few confrontations with the police, which was a bit scary, and all those guns!

Marfa Red

‘The Passage’ a film by Roberto Minervini

Learning in Unexpected Ways

I had also been working this way at the International Academy of Film and Television in Mactan Island in the Philippines, my college, trying to get inside the hearts of the people of the place and let the camera tell their stories. I made four short films there and, after leaving college, started to make my first feature.

However circumstances changed and a terrible tragedy made me give up filming there.

I returned to UK pretty broken. But the years have healed the sense of quilt I felt and I am now working productively again. I’ve gone back to creating theatre but in different environments and circumstance. I worked for a few years with the homeless charity ‘Changing Lives’, (Formally The Cyrenians) working with people who had experienced homelessness, trying to reflect and shine some light on their stories. We did performance work, writing projects, photography, short films, sang together, built web sites and held music events. All of it was aimed at understanding the lives of people who had found themselves in deeply chaotic times and needed help to rediscover themselves and their sense of worth, their abilities and their talents. It was a learning process for me and I shared that learning with many people – both the people who participated in the activities and the people who came to see and listen to our events.  It was an important time for me and I hope for the hundreds of people that I worked with. I know that a lot of them benefitted from the process and from the creation of the different events we worked on together. I remember them all and smile.

The Performance Ensemble

(c) David Wardle

The Performance Ensemble

Now I have moved on again and am developing a new Ensemble. – The Performance Ensemble – which works with people over the age of 60. The ensemble makes contemporary theatre for audiences of all ages. Stories that emerge from the heart of communities. Creating a hybrid company of an ‘Ensemble of Equals’ from different backgrounds, skill and cultures searching for authenticity and meaning  and creating beautiful events.

But I’ve written about that before – you can read about that here


4. El Sistema Venezuela

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‘Socially, inclusion is the basic principle. Our motto is the disadvantaged first and for the disadvantaged the best tools, the best teachers, the best infrastructure. Culture for the disadvantaged cannot be disadvantaged culture. It should be large, ambitious, refined, advanced; not scraps’

Maestro José Antonio Abreu Founder of El Sistema

The story of the El Sistema revolution in Venezuela is one of the most powerful proofs that art can change the lives of individuals, communities and even nations. On 25th June last year I attended a ‘Festival of the World Summit’ at the South Bank Centre in London entitled ‘Art Will Change The World”. In Britain today such a statement generally brings guffaws of laughter from the rich and privileged and from the people that currently run our country. However much we explain, prove with statistics, give examples of people whose lives have changed through the arts and prove that money spent on the arts saves millions of pounds on other budgets and services the establishment doesn’t believe it.  Recently there have been 100% cuts to arts budgets from local authorities across the country in the mistaken belief that the arts don’t give value for money. But it is wrong – deeply and depressingly wrong.

On that day in June I was in the company of people that believed in the power of the arts to change lives and as I heard the orchestra play,  any doubts of the possibility that Art Will Change The World  were washed away in a tidal wave of passion and friendship and community and love and music

Jude Kelly at the South Bank had brought Jose Antonio Abreu founder of El Sistema (“the system”) to London, with the now world famous, Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. They played 4 sold out concerts with live relays in the Clore Ballroom played to thousands more people free of charge

In 1975 José Antonio Abreu set out to help poor Venezuelan kids learn to play a musical instrument and be part of an orchestra. nearly 40 years on, El Sistema has seeded 102 youth orchestras, 55 children’s orchestras, and 270 music centers — and over 250,000 young musicians. Jose Abreu’s  visionary philosophy has, since 1975, been based on the notion that a free, immersive classical music education for the poorest of the poor might positively influence the social problems plaguing the country. His hypothesis has been overwhelmingly vindicated, with more than 380,000 children engaged in national music programmes, more than 80% of whom come from low- or middle-income areas. Of the two million graduates of the programme since its inception, many have gone on to become not just musicians, but lawyers, teachers, doctors and civil servants.

“Music has to be recognized as an … agent of social development in the highest sense, because it transmits the highest values — solidarity, harmony, mutual compassion. And it has the ability to unite an entire community and to express sublime feelings.”  José Antonio Abreu

Listen to the TED Talk  HERE

Many music education projects have been modeled after the Venezuelan program in more than 25 countries. Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile,Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, England, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, India, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Scotland, South Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, United States, and Uruguay are among them.

There is a documentary film by Paul Smaczny and Maria Stodtmeier called “El Sistema”


100 Top Projects

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Good Art or Good Intentions – Does Art Change Lives?

There are approximately 49,000 grassroots arts groups in England with an estimated 9.4 million people participating in arts based activities on a regular basis.

I can’t find figures from the whole of the UK or Europe or the rest of the world but I imagine we are in the billions.

What is the purpose of community arts? Does participation in arts offer any lasting benefits? What is Good Art? What are just good intentions?  Why do artists and arts producers fight so vehemently about the process and results of participatory arts practise – one side justifying their approach as the most moral, engaging, process whilst other questioning their efforts as meaningless pap and dismiss it as amateurish self indulgence.

For me  – I like/engage with one project and I don’t like/engage with another project – Its very simple

Here is a list of my 100 favourite community arts projects – Over the coming months I will try and explain why I like them and why I think the work is important. I will also attempt to explain their artistic merits – because for me, that is the most important aspect of this debate – why does it move me, touch my soul, make me smile, make me happy, make me cry? Art explains the world to me and helps me understand my place in it.

1.           Piña Bausch,  Kontakthof, Wuppertal, Germany

2.           Semana Santa, Seville, Spain

3.          Sinulog, Cebu, The Philippine Islands

4.          El Sistema in Venezuela

5.          Streetwise Opera, UK

6.          El Puente Lab Medellin, Colombia

7.          LA Poverty Department, USA

8.         Grupo Cultural AfroReggae, Brazil

9.         Rehabilitation Through The Arts, USA

10.       Alain Platel, C(H)OEURS Project Ghent/Madrid, Belgium/Spain

11.        The Diwali Festival, New Delhi, India

12.       C:ntact, Copenhagen, Denmark

13., India

14.       Cardboard Citizens, UK

15.       Royston Maldoom, Berlin, Germany

16., Australia

17.      Graeae Theatre Company

18.      Cast Doncaster

19.       International Community Festival Rotterdam, Netherlands

20.      Theatre of The Oppressed, International

21.      Manchester International Festival, UK

22.      The Rio Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

23.      Witches Blood, Dundee, Scotland

24.      The LIFT Festival, London UK

25.      ISIS Visual and Media Arts, UK

26.     The Grassmarket Project, UK

27.     Entelechy Arts, London, UK

28.    International Dance Festival Birmingham, UK

29.     Jack Drum Arts, UK

30.   Contact Theatre Company

31.    Residencia Corazón, La Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina

32.     Mind The Gap, Bradford, UK

33.    The Diaspora Collective, Stockton, UK

34.    Tehrik-e-Niswan, Karachi, Pakistan

35.    Spare Tyre Theatre Company, UK

36.    Open Clasp Theatre Company, UK

37.    Banner Theatre Company, Birmingham, UK

38.    Charles Parker’s Radio Ballads, BBC, UK

39.    Plan B, Inverness, UK

40.    res artists, worldwide network of artists residencies

41.    Art in the Public Interest

42.    North East Miners Wives Oral History Project, UK

43.    Liverpool Biennial, UK

44.    STUT Theatre, Utrecht, Netherlands

45.    Welfare State International, Cumbria, UK

46.    Claque Theatre, UK

47.    Bubble Theatre, London,UK

48.     Collective Encounters Theatre for Social Change, Liverpool, UK

49.     Live Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

50.     Clean Break, London, UK

51.     The Orchard Project, Somerset, UK

52.     The Substation, Singapore

53.     International Dance Festival Birmingham, UK

54.     Yijala Yala Project  from Bighart, Australia

55.     Amber Film Collective

56.     World Community Arts Day

57.     Charnwood Arts, Leicestershire, UK

58.      The New Art Exchange – Realism in Rawiya

59.      NVA Speed of Light

60.      Auchtermuchty Festival

61.      Los Angeles Invisible People Chapter and Film Festival

62.      Lawnmowers Independent Theatre Company

63.       ArtsWok Singapore

64.        Mayana Kollai Celebration in Tiruvannamalai

65.         Sa Sa Arts Project, Phom Penh

66.        City of Sanctuary

67          Platforma Festival. Arts+ Refugee Network Manchester.

68          Afghan Youth Orchestra

69           Humans of New York

70           Invisible People Film Festival

71            Luminate Festival, Scotland

72            Kinshasa Symphony

73            Necessary Stage, Singapore

74            Landfill Harmonic, Paraguay

75            The School of Life Brazil

76            We Dundee

77             Petaling Street Community Arts Project

78             Namatjira Australia

79              National Youth Orchestra of Iraq

80             Culture 360, Asia/Europe

81              Art-Machina –  Plovdiv Bulgaria

82             Green Candle Dance

83             Artefacting Delhi, India

84              Homeless Link

85             Community Arts Network

86              Under The Radar Festival, New York

87              The Cyrenians Arts & Media Programme

88              Street View Photography

89              The Center for Artistic Activism

90              Dance United

91               Open Cinema

92               ICAF Rotterdam

91                Struileag/Shore to Shore

92               Age of Creativity

93               Banksy

94                Humans of New York

95                Theatre of the Oppressed

96                 The Choir with No Name

97                Brave Festival

98                Crisis

99                Res Artist

100              LEAF – Little Ecological Art Festival