26 October 2016

Paul Bristow, Director, Strategic Partnerships, Arts and Culture at Arts Council England, guest blogs for us about how art and culture can transform the places we live in.

‘Place making’ is one of those terms that everyone uses, but very few define.  At a very basic level, it means how you make places where people want to live, work and learn, and where companies and public agencies want to invest. In my role at the Arts Council, I get to see first hand how providing opportunities to engage with culture can help with place making in many ways. But it’s not a magic bullet. If you’re looking to create cultural opportunities, you have to make sure that they’re right for the people who live there.

That culture makes for better places is well understood. Local museums, libraries and arts organisations, like theatres and art galleries, help define a place and the image it projects to the world. I’ve been lucky enough to witness how engaging with culture on your own turf and on your own terms can help people feel more connected to their communities and their neighbours; safely exploring differences between them while finding the common ground that they share. One great example in Bristol is acta community theatre. They work across the city producing work for and with local communities, and bringing people together across generations and across cultures. Helping people engage with culture puts tools into their own hands, enabling them to define their own identities and connections, and to make their own place.Culture also provides ways for public agencies to deal with local challenges and to make a place better. Public libraries are trusted cultural spaces in the heart of local communities, and can reach people and places that other services overlook.  For instance, the Arts Council’s Enterprising Libraries programme has used the public library network to help small business start-ups in communities from Newcastle to Devon where they sometimes miss out on the help they need.

I truly believe that culture can help deliver on local aspirations to make better places, and that supporting art and culture can create economic opportunities. Lakes Culture is a programme putting culture at the heart of the Lake District’s tourist offer.  Investing in culture can support growing creative industries clusters in our major cities, such as through Birmingham’s STEAMhouse project.  Elsewhere NHS, and social care providers are working with the cultural sector to find ways in which culture can support health and wellbeing, such as Create Gloucestershire’s work with NHS Gloucestershire.

Remember, though, that there is no one size fits all. Places are different and so will be culture’s contribution to them. If you want culture to help build a better place then you need to find how best it can make a difference locally, which local partners will support you and — most importantly that you work with, alongside and for local people.

Arts Council England aims to bring great art and culture to everyone across the country. Read more like this on their blog or follow them on Twitter.

...engaging with culture on your own turf and on your own terms can help people feel more connected to their communities and their neighbours.