Cultural & Creative Crossovers – Project Examples

The following short briefing paper was prepared to inform the work of  the Cultural Affairs Committee of the Council of the European Union in February 2015 with the assistance of Birmingham City Council.

1. Arts and culture infrastructure and capacity tends to be concentrated in city centres. There is a place for schemes that connect up the cultural organisations of city centres with the localities where most people live.   The following examples demonstrate two sides of the same approach.  The Arts Champions Scheme connects each of the 12 major arts organisations in Birmingham with one of the 10 Districts that comprise the city.  Gallery 37 connects talented but marginalised people, and particularly young people, from the wider city with the Birmingham’s cultural heart through a short term intensive apprenticeship programme situated and showcased in the city centre.

2. The Arts Champions Scheme was launched in 2004 to coincide with the ‘localisation’ of some of the Birmingham’s services into new districts, each with a population of around 100,000.   The city is home to 12 major arts organisations, ranging from Birmingham Royal Ballet, to the IKON Gallery, to The Rep theatre.  The Champions scheme simply obligated each organisation to partner with a new district to identify and deliver activity that would make a difference.  The Champions shortlisted districts they would like to work in, and were supported by the City Council in making initial contacts and relationships at local level.  There was no prescription and activity could range from establishing youth theatres or choirs, to a dance leadership scheme to engage hard to reach groups, to the development of craft skills. The scheme helped form Birmingham’s ‘Culture on Your Doorstep’ strategy  and was formally adopted as a Local Arts Protocol in 2009 and now has a common evaluation framework.  There are  four guiding principles:

-improve cultural infrastructure to ensure that residents have access to high quality cultural opportunities in their neighbourhoods

-invent new ways of connecting city-centre based resources to local neighbourhoods, which make our cultural assets more accessible

-develop ways to communicate the range of cultural opportunities in local neighbourhoods

-increase participation by local residents in targeted neighbourhoods

The Champions reside in their District for a period of three years before starting a relationship with another district.  The organisations are encouraged to both maintain contact with their previous district, and to facilitate the incoming Champion.   Their role has been formalised as:

-advocate for the arts sector in neighbourhoods giving advice and support

-provide a catalyst for locally developed arts programmes

-provide activities in local neighbourhoods and linking local communities to city centre provision.

Participation in the scheme is included within each Champions overall funding agreement with the City Council and a small additional sum of £4,000 per District is available to help lever funds from other places.  Local arts audiences and levels of arts participation have increased significantly during the life of the scheme (doubling between 2011 and 2013).  A case study of the scheme was take up by Eurocities and similar initiatives in Helsinki and Lyon have been informed and partly inspired by the Arts Champions scheme.

3. Gallery 37 was initiated in Birmingham by the City Council’s Art and events team in 1998. It developed from a model of creative arts training, set in a “canvas village”, that was pioneered in Birmingham’s sister city Chicago. The Birmingham version, delivered in a purpose built pagoda tented structure in Birmingham city centre, quickly established an identity, style and reputation of its own, providing a format appropriate to the creative training and support for young people in a major culturally diverse city.  The aim was to provide a quality work experience for young people and to: raise aspirations of socially excluded people through the arts; actively promote arts and arts organisations in the city; be pro-active in partnership work and artistic collaborations; provide professional training for community artists.

Each year a team of artists, working in association with other Birmingham arts organisations used a series of hands on projects as a vehicle for an intensive, high quality training experience. By 2002 nearly two hundred young people each year were passing through the Gallery 37 annual programme. Of these over 90% were achieving positive outcomes in terms of employment or further full-time training.

Applicants were actively recruited from hard to reach groups and submitted work or auditioned to secure entry to the scheme.  The initial focus was on marginalised young people, but subsequent years have also targeted elderly people and people with learning disabilities. The city centre base was a key aspect of the scheme, both introducing young people to the cultural heart of Birmingham, and their work to the wide range of people working and visiting the centre.  It also meant that young people were given ‘breathing space’ from pressures that they may be experiencing in their local situation. In addition to training for young people Gallery 37 also provided a fertile training ground for artists and practitioners wishing to develop workshop and training skills. Increasingly young participants/apprentices returned to Gallery 37 themselves, as trainee artists, completing a cycle of excellence which generated extraordinary opportunities for young people to embark on a practical career in the arts.

While the scheme was very successful and widely admired the ratio of expenditure in relation to numbers of participants  was higher than the norm. The cost of a Gallery 37 “apprenticeship” was £2100 per person.  This meant that securing investment to operate the scheme has always been a challenge and the project is not taking place in 2015.   However, plans are being developed to run G37 in 2016 as a “foundation apprenticeship” linked to a wider skills agenda. Gallery 37 has collaborated with a range of organisations to develop the model elsewhere in the UK.  For example Impact Arts in Scotland is operating G37 projects in Ayrshire and in Edinburgh in 2015.

Information provided Birmingham City Council.