• Artists need collective action

    As a freelance, seven years is a very long time to be working on something and it is right to reflect on the journey as you reach such a key milestone...

    Yesterday was the launch of the final report of the ArtWorks initiative that I have led for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation since 2011. Prior to that, I carried out research that fed into the case for the initiative. We unearthed a mesh of issues that were affecting artists who were working in participatory ways and developed ideas that might support them into the future to make their practice better and so affect the quality of the work they were doing with participants.

    In the Trustees of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation we found allies to support filling this gap in provision and the ideas that became ArtWorks were born ... Partnerships and networks between employers, artists and HE providers that could explore and develop new approaches to training and development for artists .... More importantly, these ideas were supported financially. Since 2011, I have been lucky to work with a Steering Group, with my pathfinder partners and leaders in the field who have sought to bring about change in what we are doing to support artists who work in participatory ways and in how we can do it better. Along the way I have met some amazing people, travelled the length and breadth of the UK and had an absolutely brilliant time doing something I love.

    As an arts manager, I see my role as being about facilitation - a kind of bridge between artists and their many publics. Artists are at the heart of what I do. If they are not supported well to do what they do, we all lose. I believe passionately that engagement in arts activity is a right, it is part of what makes us human and it can change lives (a grand claim but true) and it can widen aspirations. So whether I have been working as a funder, as a presenter or as a project manager, I have always had one eye on the needs of the artist and one on the needs of the audience or participant.

    ArtWorks is about supporting artists in their work with participants - whether we call this work community arts, socially engaged art or any other term - we are talking about a massive spectrum of practices that involve artists working with people sometimes to co-create work, sometimes to develop skills or sometimes to develop 'community'. Now, the problem is that although this work is extensive and accounts for a major percentage of artists' income, most initial training does not equip the artist to carry out this work. Obviously, specific artform skills are critical but it is also important that artists understand how these skills can be applied in working with people. Much of this is learned after initial training and it is learnt on the job meaning that participants are often working with artists who are cutting their teeth. Would we accept this in other professional areas?

    So, through the ArtWorks programme we sought to identify ways in which we could work together to ensure that provision was enhanced for artists at all stages of their careers. We did not seek one solution - the practices with which we are concerned are too diverse for this - but we sought to find a range of approaches and models that might be replicable and that might support artists to be the best they can be.

    Across the UK, over the coming 10 days, we have curated 100 conversations between 1000 artists who will talk about this practice and share ideas and learning. http://www.artworksphf.org.uk

    This marks the end of the Paul Hamlyn funded programme but the beginning of a new phase of ArtWorks as the sector takes up the baton. ArtWorks Scotland, ArtWorks Cymru and ArtWorks London will continue and a new ArtWorks Alliance is to be formed which will play a key role in ensuring that there is a focus and a voice for this work that we all feel so passionately about.

    The research and body of published material from ArtWorks is a significant legacy for the initiative and I am particularly proud of the final report that seeks to draw this learning together and makes recommendations for the sector as we move forward.

    In my speech in London yesterday at the launch of the report, I said:

    "Working together as a sector and viewing ourselves as a collective entity we could make a change that is seismic in its impact lifting the practice to a new level of confidence, recognition and ambition. We could professionalise the work that - although it accounts for more than half of artists' income - is perceived as being of less importance than making art work. We could create greater understanding of what constitutes quality and value in the work. And we could build better infrastructure to support training and development for artists at all stages of their careers."

    So, let's get working together because together we can continue to make a real difference.

    For more information please take a look at the following reports that have been published:

    ArtWorks: A Call to Action

    ArtWorks: Reflections on developing practice in participatory settings

    ArtWorks: A View from funders

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  • ‘Its all going on in Warrington’: Commitment

    In the Autumn of 2014, we were commissioned by Warrington Borough Council to assist with the refresh of their Cultural Strategy. This was a fascinating commission and we were excited to get started. We led workshops, supported a Steering Group and met many amazing and passionate people whose commitment to the arts and culture and the role they play in civic life was inspiring.

    What was also very exciting was to work with a Local Authority who genuinely wanted to lead on the development of a strategic framework that could be owned by all stakeholders, that would be emergent and iterative and that would be delivered in partnership. The involvement of strategic leaders in the Authority and the engagement of key stakeholders from the arts, retail, third sector, education and heritage all helped to ensure that the process was steered and led robustly.

    We have produced a report and an outline of the framework and work is now ongoing to establish a cultural partnership in Warrington that will take the work forward. Overall, a very good outcome and one that we are proud to have played a part in delivering.

    So, how lovely to receive a thank you card from the team last week – thank you for trusting us with the commission and we wish you all the best.

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  • Artists on the Frontline

    An article i wrote recently has been published on the Arts Professional website entitled, Relationships with a Future. It encouraged me to evaluate the relationship that an artist has within the world in which they work.

    A common strand through much of my work has been about supporting artists to develop. ArtWorks: Developing Practice in Participatory Settings is a Paul Hamlyn Foundation special initiative and I have been privileged to work on it as Project Director since 2011. The initiative comes to an end in April 2015 and I am in the process of writing up our final report.

    In the midst of this intensive period of writing and thinking, I led a workshop with musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic who lead programmes of work across a range of complex settings for Merseycare – secure units, dementia wards, prisons and rehabilitation units. I have worked with these musicians now for two years and our focus has been on leadership development and team working. It is some of the most rewarding work I have ever done and I admire the musicians for their skill, commitment and care for the service users they engage with. The work can be tough and emotionally draining and their passion for what they do is incredible often in some very difficult circumstances.

    The workshop made me reflect on some of the important learning from ArtWorks – artists are on the front line of project managers planning, commissioners aspired for outcomes and expectations and the service users’ needs. Quality is a shared responsibility for us all.

    What the artists are able to deliver will always be constrained by what the other stakeholders put in place. Often artists are placed in situations where the quality of what they can deliver is constrained through no fault of their own and it seems to me that we all have a responsibility to ensure that we work together to ensure that this doesn’t happen. The right space and environment, support for artists in the settings from the professionals who work in them, time for reflection and feedback, realistic project design and expectations all contribute to create conditions for quality work and experiences. Surely, we can all work together to make this happen? Artists deserve it and so do the participants.

    Furthur Links:

    ArtWorks: What do you need?

    ArtWorks: Insight into facilitating Quality impacts through participatory arts

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  • 'What does the future hold?'

    Welcome to our newly refreshed web site! Anyone visiting it recently will have noticed that it had become somewhat out of date. Life tends to take over for us freelancers and the imperative of the contract and the work in hand and of course, the deadlines often means that looking to the future takes a lower priority. Well, recently I have taken some time to reflect on where we are and look to the future ....

    2014 has been an eventful year personally and professionally, my work is both rewarding and challenging and I am privileged to be able to work on long term contracts with great clients and projects that are diverse and exciting. I know that I am lucky to be doing work that I love, with people that I respect and learn from and in an environment that continues to challenge me and my practice. I recently started to work with a group of exceptionally talented musicians from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic who do some extremely demanding participatory work in difficult settings on developing leadership and this underlined for me how rewarding such face to face development work can be.

    In Harmony Liverpool has just entered its 6th year and the evaluation work we are doing is generating more robust evidence of impact as time goes on. Watching the children grow and mature as people and as musicians has been one of the most moving experiences of my career. A film celebrating the first five years by Mark McNulty is available here

    At the same time, I am entering the final year of leading ArtWorks for the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and the work on the legacy for this special initiative is stretching the whole team as we head into 2015 and into the future for this practice. Several publications are in the pipeline including a recent one on learning approaches for artists. ArtWorks has been able to achieve a great deal in a short time by opening dialogues, generating conversations and shining a light on the needs of artists working in participatory settings. Working with the pathfinder programmes in collaborative learning and research has been hugely rewarding and a great learning curve. My work with Belfast Exposed has taken me to a part of the UK that I had never worked in before, working with a photographic gallery with a hugely innovative community engagement programme and that has been a unique and wonderful experience. The work I am doing with Fevered Sleep has taken me back to one of my first loves, theatre. Lucky? You bet .....

    Alongside this work profile, I have also taken a major personal step in relocating to the North East - back to my roots! How wonderful it is to live by the sea again, to be able to connect with a new cultural infrastructure and to reignite old networks. In less than three months I have enjoyed so much culture and am finding the contrasts and synergies between my old city of Liverpool and that of Newcastle/ Gateshead and Sunderland fascinating. There are so many similarities and many of the same social and economic characteristics and consequent inequalities. And once again, I find myself thinking about what could be learned from comparative studies .... watch this space.

    So, what does the future hold? Burns Associates will continue to grow and evolve and I am proud to bring Rivca Burns into the fold – a chip off the old block, Rivca has been freelance for 6 years and has built a significant portfolio of work around events and festivals alongside her own creative producing and artists support initiatives. It is great to have her on board and we hope that the complimentary skills she can bring to the company will help us to move from strength to strength. I am aiming to write more, publish more and ensure that the learning from the projects we engage with is disseminated. I hope to travel more in 2015 and learn from approaches adopted elsewhere.

    So, welcome to our newly revamped website and please stay in touch. I promise to be better at blogging in future!

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  • Dear Mr Cameron ....

    Working on the evaluation of In Harmony Liverpool has been a wonderful experience and it has reinforced my fundamental belief that the arts can change people’s lives. Watching children develop new confidence, enhanced well being and aspiration has been both inspiring and humbling. In Harmony Liverpool was one of three DfE funded pilot programmes aiming to create social change in deprived communities through the medium of music and the orchestra. Modelled on El Sistema, the programme was ambitious and exciting. The Liverpool pilot started in April 2009 and I have been working with my colleague, Paul Bewick, to evaluate it since that date. Three years on and we have strong evidence that the programme is working on many levels. There is a virtuous cycle of change occurring within the children, within the school community, within families and within the West Everton community within which the programme takes place.

    In Harmony provides an immersive music education to all children living in West Everton, one of the most deprived wards in Liverpool. It is based in one school, Faith Primary. The West Everton Children’s Orchestra now has several attached ensembles and watching them rehearse and play never ceases to move me. In Harmony Liverpool continues to provide compelling evidence that the model provides an enriching musical education, improved academic attainment in other core curriculum areas and that it is a potential powerful model for social change and the generation of social capital.

    Yesterday, I read that you have announced a new programme to deal with ‘troubled families’. The new programme will direct £448 million to the Troubled Families Unit to turn around the lives of these families over the next three years. Government defines a troubled family as follows:

    “A troubled family is one that has serious problems - including parents not working, mental health problems, and children not in school - and causes serious problems, such as crime and anti-social behaviour. All of which costs local services a lot of time and money routinely responding to these problems.” (http://www.communities.gov.uk/communities/troubledfamilies/)

    There are an estimated 120,000 of these families, and, according to government, £9 billion is being spent annually on them. That works out at £75,000 per family per year. £8 billion of this is spent on reacting to the troubles of these families with just £1 billion being spent trying to turn around their lives in a targeted, positive way. Surely that is not the right way around?

    Now, what kinds of interventions might such significant funding support? Might government, both local and national begin to consider the cost benefits of arts interventions like In Harmony as worthwhile interventions in this context? I do hope so ....

    The £448 million will come from the Department for Communities and Local Government and a number of other government departments: the Department for Education, the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice. Each made a contribution to the programme by reprioritising their Departmental spend.

    Mr Cameron, I suggest that there is a need for a different kind of reprioritisation – government claims that “previous attempts have failed with such families”. Shift the money to different forms of intervention and listen to those of us that advocate new solutions. So, here is my suggestion, Mr Cameron. Instead of spending £75,000 on taking and keeping children in care, criminal justice and youth offending, health costs (including A& E visits), infrastructure interventions such as alley gating, neighbour nuisance teams etc .... might it be better to consider long term investment in programmes of work that adopt a more holistic approach to rebuilding a community through pride, aspiration and social capital? The arts can help you to provide ways in which this can be achieved. In Harmony Liverpool works with in excess of 40 families and a large proportion of these meet the criteria outlined by you as defining a ‘troubled family’. At a cost of £7,500 per annum per family the programme is having a profound effect on these families and the community that they live in. And that is a 90% reduction on what your government currently estimates is being spent on them!

    That is good value for money AND it is achieving genuine and lasting change.

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