Second members’ meeting: Leeds, May 2019

From Liz Moreton’s opening speech:


What is today all about?

Some of you, no doubt, have been dragged here by someone else and have no idea why we are here. And I am sure many of you are still wondering what this is all about.

Co-Creating Change is a network and programme, which we’re building as we go, with you, to explore the role which artists, cultural organisations and communities can play to co-create change together.

Why co-creation? What is it? And why now?

So to begin with I thought I would start with a story of how this all started and trace back to what led to Battersea Arts Centre setting up Co-Creating Change in the first place.

The story begins just over 7 years ago, in Rio in Brazil, in a tiny café in Santa Teresa on a trip organised by Paul Heritage’s fantastic company People’s Palace Projects.

In this café, Paul introduced us to Marcus Faustini. We’ve been on a journey working together over the last 7 years, with Contact in Manchester as well, to run The Agency – a programme which started in Rio and which we have now brought to the UK. The programme uses a creative process to put power into the hands of young people from housing estates in London and Manchester, and now Cardiff and Belfast, and supports them to get their own ideas for social change off the ground.

Our journey through this work has seen us at Battersea Arts Centre and at Contact adapt our theatre making process. Instead of using it only to work with artists to develop pieces of theatre, and instead of using it only to invite our local community in to learn how to do what we do – we’ve been adapting our theatre making process to support young people’s creative, social and entrepreneurial ideas, whatever they are.

So over the last seven years we’ve found ourselves no longer just developing theatre, but working with young people and following their interests and passions as identified by them.

We have found ourselves doing all sorts of things we would never have imagined before! For example, we are now involved in supporting the development of:

  • bike maintenance projects led by young offenders,
  • GCSE revision apps and fishing projects,
  • craft sessions for isolated young mums who have their own baby grow range,
  • boxing and fitness projects which train NEETS,
  • book swapping projects in children’s homes,
  • football tournaments for young people learning English as a second language,
  • and crime prevention board games.

Or whatever ideas young people came to us with!

We’ve been using our creative processes, knowledge, networks and resources that we have as an arts centre, to support the creative ideas and needs of our local community as defined by them.

Working in this way has transformed the nature of our relationships with the communities who live on our doorstep. It has completely transformed our organisations, as well as the lives and realities of the young people we’ve been working with – many of whom are also here today.

Through working with Marcus’s methodologies we’ve really experienced and understood the transformational impact that is had on everyone when you start to significantly shift agency, power, control and decision making into the hands of others – especially those who’ve never had a sense of power or agency before.

Marcus’s way of working has taught us how to reach across the table beyond the arts world and beyond our bubble to demonstrate how artistic and creative process is not only relevant but essential to the outside world.

Through the Agency, co-creating became our interest and our focus, and we started to become very interested in how we, as a sector, can get beyond preoccupations with audience development (questions around how do we diversify the people who watch our work) and preoccupations with arts participation (how do we diversify the people who take part in our work). These are both very important questions to interrogate, but they are both still concerned with and in service of our art (as defined by us), and about how other people should get involved with what we’re doing – often with the slightly patronising and paternalistic assumption that they should get involved because ‘it will be good for them’.

We want to get beyond these preoccupations and explore the type of work which recognises all citizens as creators who can and must be actively involved in creating. Not just creating art, but recognising the entire world around us as active contributors to our wider civic narrative.

Of course audience development and arts participation work are very important – this is not a value judgement! But we want to be clear what the focus of this network is. It’s this specific type of practice which we think needs exploring further and having a light shone on it.

Alistair Hudson, former director of MIMA, describes this area of work as ‘the user generated version’. This version isn’t about trying to get communities to join in with the art world. This version is about the art world joining in with them – joining in with what’s going on locally and in the world, and demonstrating how artistic and creative processes have a powerful role to play in contributing to the significant social, environmental and economic problems that we face.

Through running The Agency we started talking to funders about how we could grow and share this specific co-creation methodology, and work with more young people and organisations in this way. But – to begin with at least – we had some problems getting some people on board. Many of the arts funders said this was a social project so they could not fund it. Many of the social funders said this was an arts project so they couldn’t fund it either. Of course, it is both! But many funders’ systems and streams weren’t set up for this.

When we eventually got funding we were then told: ‘We will fund it for three years, and then when you have really robust evidence to show that this works – we won’t support it any more. You’ll have to come to us with a new idea because that’s how our funding works.’

In our excitement and passion for this way of working – but also in frustration in the lack of understanding and support for it – we started having lots of conversations with artists and producers from all around the country, many of whom are in this room today.  We talked to people who have been working in this way for 30 years as well as people who are new to it but hungry to learn. And we found lots of synergies.

We talked to people with amazing impactful processes and methodologies making real change. But people told us that they felt isolated, poorly understood by the wider arts sector and beyond, and frustrated by the lack of visibility and understanding this work has in the outside world. We talked to people who were tired, overworked and underfunded. And we found most people’s work was often confined to one community and was very small scale.

Around about the same time as we were having these conversations up and down the country, the Warwick Commission report The Future of Cultural Value was published.

Many of your will have read this report. For those who didn’t – the report came out in 2015. It spoke of the amazing potential but also the huge shortcomings of our UK arts and cultural sector. It demonstrated that the subsidised arts sector in this country is, in the large part, currently super-serving the most economically advantaged, the most educated and the most privileged members of our community.

The report came out at the same time as many were really starting to feel and see the impact of austerity and the cuts to our public services. Homelessness was rising, knife crime and food-bank use were rising, climate change was still being ignored, disability benefits were being slashed and people were dying due to these cuts. And then the Brexit vote really laid bare the deep divisions within our country and the reality that huge swathes of the country feel disenfranchised and ignored by the powers that be – the arts sector included.

So we put this proposition of a network together because we think we can and must do better.

We have the keys to incredible methodologies, skills and experiences which create real social change, which strengthen us as human beings, transform lives and which create community, identity and meaning in a world often drained of it.

The world around us needs us to step up. And so we thought we would start by bringing some of us together to visualise the world we want to have and start connecting, sharing, strengthening, organising, shouting more and coming together in an organised movement for change.

It feels like now is the time – as everything is changing and everything is in flux. Mind-sets are changing. It’s exciting and terrifying. New types of protagonists are emerging.

There’s an outbreak of creativity with people trying to solve our problems, and it feels like Co-Creating Change is part of a wider movement  of change. Other brilliant things happening include the Social Art Network, Creative Civic Change, and Calouste Gulbenkian’s Inquiry into the Civic role of Arts Organisations. We are moving with that momentum and all supporting each other.

What are the aims of Co-Creating Change?

Our aim is to mainstream co-created practice.

We want to work with you to better understand it, share it, grow it, communicate it, articulate it, showcase it, champion it, fund it – DO MORE OF IT! And change those very depressing Warwick Commission statistics that suggest our sector is self-serving, self-interested, and has no real significant impact on this country’s problems.

How will we do this?

Now feels like a great time to say our incredible funders – Arts Council England, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation – have really got behind this, and are our learning partners in this process. They are very invested in learning with us all throughout this programme.

We have some specific strands we are launching and ideas which we will share with you this afternoon which will explain how you can participate in and lead different things within Co-Creating Change.

The ideas and proposals we have so far are based on conversations we’ve been having with you all over the last three years and based on the meeting we had at Battersea Arts Centre last September.

Much of it we are still making up and changing on a daily basis. We certainly don’t have all the answers. And there is still plenty of room to influence the direction and scope and activities within this programme.

This is where you come in!

Battersea Arts Centre does not own this. Battersea Arts Centre are just kicking this off and facilitating it for a while. We want us to all share in this together and for you to feel like this is yours. Please tell us what you would like to do and what you would like to lead on. We aim to devolve areas of the budget so many of you can lead on different things. Please help us build this – we can’t do it on our own.

What is the main aim of today?

The main aim today is to get to know each other a bit better and to become friends and allies – to build momentum around this work, and figure out how we can help each other to further our shared cause.

Today, think about how you can share your knowledge and processes with others. Think about how we can better support each other and work together to grow our collective impact. We are really interested in any ideas that you have that further this cause.

So please talk to us today or email us after today with your ideas. And connect with each other, tell each other your ideas, and keep doing so over the next few months as well.

Please be patient with us today and with each other. Some of you might be wondering why on earth you’re here; some of you will be wondering why you haven’t been asked to speak about your project today… Please be patient and try and go with it and try and hold back on cynicism! Things will go wrong today – so please do tell us afterwards where we went wrong and how we can do better next time.

Let us work together today to strengthen each other and use our collective imagination to visualise the future we want to see.

Let’s go!