The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch), in partnership with King's College London, have announced the shortlist for the second Award for Civic Arts Organisations. Each arts organisation was chosen for its outstanding capacity to adapt to the pandemic and for how they have deepened their commitment to their communities over the past two years. What shines through is the way that the pandemic has accelerated the engagement of the arts organisations with their communities and how collaboration and more equitable partnerships are now central to their practice.
In this second edition of the Award, we have seen again the strength and diversity of ‘civic role’ activity across art forms, across the UK. In 2022, we have a focus on how arts organisations have deepened, expanded, reimagined what it means to play a civic role as communities continue to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19. The ten organisations on the shortlist do so wholeheartedly in and with the communities they serve, showcasing the transformational potential of this relationship for all concerned.– Louisa Hooper, Interim Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch)
The 10 shortlisted organisations, from across the UK and chosen from 202 applications, are:
- ACAVA: Association for Cultural Advancement through Visual Art (London) create opportunities for those who have experienced displacement and trauma to build their confidence and increase wellbeing during the pandemic, when so many have felt isolated. Such programmes include Maxilla Men’s Shed, which gives space for older men at risk of social isolation to learn a new skill, and Flourish in the Forest, which provides outdoor creative activities for families. Based adjacent to Grenfell Tower in London, ACAVA has been working with this ethnically diverse community for many years providing help, refuge and support.
- Art Pop-Up (Stamford) have discovered how art can help them to better understand their community. Taking a hyper-local approach, the organisation has understood the divisions within their community and found ways of bridging these through co-created projects. One example of this was the Secret Doorstep Festival, which took performers out into the streets. Through the 10 performances, Art Pop-Up reached some of the most vulnerable people in the local area and created a new model for delivering COVID-secure outdoor performances.
- In Place of War CIO (Salford) enable change-makers to work in conflict zones across the world, inspiring hope and developing creativity. During the pandemic they have worked with 12 grassroots community organisations in the UK to find 100 Agents of Change. The project has involved refugees, asylum seekers, people living in poverty and LGBTQI+ communities and resulted in 100 young people connecting with artists and activists around the world to share their experiences, skills and knowledge.
- Koestler Arts (London) have continued their work providing a platform for prisoners to explore their creativity. The pandemic has been particularly tough and isolating for prisoners. Art tutors were unable to visit prisons, so they created Art Aid activity sheets, which have provided a lifeline for some prisoners. Koestler have also curated exhibitions at the Southbank in London, as well as galleries in Manchester and Nottingham, with strong digital aspects to ensure that the prisoners (artists/participants), and others who were unable to visit the venues in person, could still enjoy the work.
- Nottingham Contemporary (Nottingham) have accelerated their partnership-based approach, working with faith groups and foodbanks to distribute their art activity packs more widely. Local teachers have developed an anti-racist curriculum for schools; and the Red Cross and the refugee forum have helped the organisation to move beyond the gallery walls by creating the ‘WalkShops’. These creative walks are for people to discover their local, urban and natural environments, with participants sharing their own stories of migration and journeys, along the way. The ‘WalkShops’ have helped the gallery to reduce the barriers between artists and the local communities.
- Project Art Works (Hastings) reimagined how they wanted to engage with their community and how best to help those with complex support needs. Through a combined innovative digital and community-based creative practice called Studio B, and by using tools such as letters, video conferencing and the exchanging of objects, they ensured that the participants were able to make work from their homes, during the pandemic and maintain the important connection they had with the organisation. During this period, they were shortlisted for the Turner Prize.
- Streetwise Opera (London) has been working in a committed and meaningful way with people experiencing homelessness for many years. At the start of the pandemic, they created a digital programme across the UK, including involving participants in composing an opera alongside creatives. Giving their community a sense of empowerment as well as an outlet for their creativity, the company discovered that co-creation enables them to work more authentically. The learning and insights gained have led to a fundamental review of their approach and altered their future strategy.
- The Art House (Wakefield) have created the first studio sanctuary for asylum seekers in the UK. Their Makey Wakey programme has provided free interim spaces to artists and creative businesses. This has contributed to bringing down the barriers between their creative programme and their community work. Art House continue to look after artists and community groups through grants, activity packs and wider social programmes.
- Union Chapel Project (London) hosted the first ticketed livestream event in the UK during the pandemic. Pivoting to a co-creation model, they have introduced New Voices and the Community Leaders programme to inform their work and are succeeding in connecting and empowering their communities. Union Chapel continues to host talks and discussions about important social issues such as anti-racism and good mental health. Co-creation is now at the heart of the organisation’s approach, as it looks to the future.
- Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff) are putting young people at the centre of the decision-making process through their Youth Council. They are also developing ‘Maker spaces’ inside this well-known venue in Cardiff and handing over the ownership of these facilities to young people. When the Centre opened after the lockdowns, they presented an exhibition of art made by local people from Cardiff and across Wales.
ACAVA: Installation of mosaic leaf co-created with a local school as part of phase two of the Grenfell Memorial Community Mosaic project in North Kensington (London). Photo by Jason Garcia.
Art Pop-Up: 'Creativity for Positive Mental Health' workshop for artists residency and community engagement in nature reserve sanctuary.
Koestler Arts: The I and the We exhibition at the Southbank Centre, London, in Autumn 2021.
In Place of War CIO: Break dance programme in Uganda.
Nottingham Contemporary: Activities with families from nearby neighbourhood.
Project Art Works: Studio B, August 2020.
Streetwise Opera: Participants in workshops rehearse an operatic piece exploring conflict and resolution, ahead of a performance at Nottingham Playhouse. November 2021, Nottingham.
The Art House: Young people helping to plant The Art House's Pick Your Own Urban Orchard. Photo by David Lindsay.
Union Chapel Project: The Whole Truth programme, streamed on Channel 4, tackling racism and mental health.
Wales Millennium Centre: WMC Youth Collective, young people who advise the organisation on accessibility and ensure the voices of young people are heard in our decision making.
This second edition of the Award for Civic Arts Organisations has demonstrated once again the creativity and flexibility of large and small organisations across the UK, as well as their resilience in the face of extraordinarily challenging times. Creating a shortlist from such an exceptional pool of submissions was no easy task, but it was inspiring for the panel to witness the deep connections between cultural organisations and their local communities and to see the imaginative ways in which they have committed to embedding the learning of the last two years into their core values and purposes. – Baroness Deborah Bull, Vice President (Communities & National Engagement) and Senior Advisory Fellow for Culture at King’s College London (Chair of the Judges)
Each organisation is a testament to the capacity of the arts to deliver positive and lasting change in their communities. Through the work of these organisations, we can get a better understanding of the courage and resilience shown by these communities over the past two years. The pandemic has shone a light on the pivotal civic role that arts organisations are playing and how they are now embedding the learning from this experience into their practice. The impact of this shift in culture will be seen over the next decade. As well as celebrating the shortlisted organisations, the Award aims to catalyse the outstanding practice of these exemplars and to encourage others to rethink their own relationships with their local communities through these inspirational stories.
The Award is funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch), with King’s College London as the academic partner to deliver the Award. Students from the Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities at King’s will research how the ten organisations are reinforcing their civic role and using new models.
The final award recipients will be announced in March 2022.