The times they are a-changing

Barbara Eifler enthuses about the new report Towards Cultural Democracy, which represents a significant shift in arts policy thinking towards recognising and supporting everyone’s participation in the arts.

Great Art and Culture for Everyone is the title of Arts Council England’s (ACE) 10 year vision, published in 2013. But since then thinking has started shifting and the formerly prevalent view that excellent arts is made by professional arts organisations and cascaded down to us mere mortals who – dammit! - in some areas simply refuse to engage with it is now increasingly discredited.

Dubbing this a ‘deficit model’, Voluntary Arts Chief Executive Robin Simpson has spent years pushing for greater recognition for arts activity happening on the ground, by everyone, every day, up and down the country, in every community – as happens in Making Music member groups.

Creative People and Places (CPP) is possibly the last of the somewhat patronising ACE programmes intended to introduce ‘excellent art’ to communities that actually, if you bothered to look, have a wealth of arts activity happening which just does not happen to be funded by ACE or produced by professional artists or organisations.

CPP could also be the first programme to change ACE’s views on the topic because its project managers on the ground have not failed to notice that many of the communities they were supposed to engage with the arts actually did quite a lot of it already themselves, although nobody had ever taken an interest in their activity.

But there are other milestones, too, denoting a shift in policy makers’ thinking: last year’s ground-breaking report on Everyday Creativity by 64 Million Artists, and now this latest, by researchers at Kings College London: Towards Cultural Democracy.

The report originates in the BBC’s Get Creative campaign launched in 2015 to ‘celebrate and support the everyday creativity happening in homes and public spaces’. It did not succeed in capturing the public imagination, but nonetheless managed to sign up over 1,000 ambassadors (including Making Music and some of its members) and instigate an annual ‘Get Creative’ weekend. It has now moved under the umbrella of Voluntary Arts, with ACE funding some local support staff, and its weekend is merging with the former Voluntary Arts Week.

But what of the report? Just read its ‘vision of the future’ on p3, and you will understand why I am enthusiastic: it paints a ‘world of opportunities to create’, for everyone, starting with young people, but not stopping at age 18 – hurrah!

Towards Cultural Democracy seeks to ‘cast a spotlight on everyday cultural creativity that is happening around the UK but is often overlooked’ and addresses ‘to policy makers, arts leaders, people who run creative groups… and the millions of people who simply go ahead and create culture every day, in bands with their mates, hand-making birthday cards at the kitchen table, and putting on a karaoke night at the local pub... a call to collaboration: to work together to promote sustained and varied cultural opportunities in every neighbourhood across the UK’.

The report makes recommendations on how everyday creativity, i.e. cultural capability and cultural democracy, can and should be supported by policy makers and funders to enable individuals and communities to truly flourish.

Thus it will be a significant ally for all of us making precisely this case to local authorities and others. I recommend you read it and draw your local councillors’ attention to it. In that way you can help ensure that there is finally greater recognition of the fantastic wealth and breadth of community-based music groups, and that the times truly start a-changing.