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Director’s Blog – December

Director’s Blog – December

Amongst the many articles, blogs and research documents that I strive to read, but in truth, very rarely manage the time to completely digest, there was one this week that struck me, from The Stage. Its focus was on theatre and engagement, entitled, “Theatre with, not for, local communities is the way forward.” There was much that I agreed with in this commentary, although for those of us working in Socially Engaged Arts for a number of years, we have been singing from this hymn sheet for a while. I was especially drawn to hearing that at the Engage conference in Hull at the end of November, Arts Council England’s deputy chief executive Simon Mellor indicated that Arts Council England’s strategy is likely to move from “great art for everyone” to “great art with everyone”. I also thoroughly reinforce David Jubb’s words regarding Creativity: “People who work in culture have easy access, and a level of expertise, to one of the most powerful ways of bringing people together and making positive change: our shared creativity.”

As I mention, this is not news to us, or many of our colleagues working in the same field, but it is a very welcome recognition that the quality of artistic process is often in the engagement and the interaction between artist and participant/audience. It is the ‘togetherness’, the ‘alongsideness’ and the essential element of ‘doing with’ rather than to that is the mark of our work.
There is no better example of this than in our long-term, commissioned project, the Mental Health Creative Support Service. We work with people living with mental health challenges across Bath and North East Somerset, providing them with high quality creative engagement opportunities, and a progression model that means they are in control of their own creative journey personally and as a collective. The results of this process are overwhelmingly positive, giving people inspiration, focus and social interaction in their lives through the creative process. Our artists work alongside the participants, inspiring and empowering them to explore, develop and grow. The outputs of this work result in high profile exhibitions such as our current photography exhibition at No1 Royal Crescent, festivals such as the recent How I Make it Work programme at 44AD Art Space, and sublimely written anthologies of writing from one of our peer-support groups, Writing Space. This is just a snapshot of the myriad of work undertaken this year in the project that continues to be a flagship initiative for people with mental health challenges, and has garnered local, regional, national and international plaudits.
At our recent away day, the board of trustees acknowledged that with the equivalent of only 3.1 full time staff, our reach, quality and impact is remarkable. This is down to the hard work, expertise and dedication of our staff, artists and volunteers, whom I thank wholeheartedly for their commitment to the cause.
And so, inevitably, it is Christmas. Next year’s diary is already filling up and we look forward to many dynamic, cogent and inspiring projects to come.
Director, Creativity Works

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