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Why now?

Why is this a good time to have an inquiry into the civic role of arts organisations?
Posted by Sam Cairns

Society is changing and along with it patterns of arts consumption. Our population is becoming more diverse. What we consider art is changing. How we access arts and culture is evolving. Our communities, quite rightly, now have higher expectations about how they will be involved in the creation of their arts and culture.

Digital disruption is all around us, with some commenters pointing out the disruption predicted because of technology has already happened. There is growing disillusionment with conventional political processes; increased devolution and a greater emphasis on local leadership. At the same time there persists a stubborn lack of social mobility for some, with groups that are deprived and underserved.

If the arts are a mirror for society then they have a role in shaping the public discourse about all these things. Do they also have responsibility to make a difference? Can they make a difference?

Arts organisations make a difference

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation believes arts organisations do make a difference and that they do and should play an important civic role, sustaining individuals and communities and helping make many places across the country more creative and vital places to live and work.

We know many arts organisations believe the same. Some of our oldest institutions were set up with a civic role as a founding principle and some of the most innovative arts organisations deliver activities in the civic sphere with clear social benefits for their members. We will be showcasing this type of work on this website over the coming months.

The time is right for the arts sector to have a robust, evidenced conversation about what the civic role can and should mean. We are working with a wide range of partners and drawing together many experts from all areas of the arts and civic society. We want everyone who has an interest to be able to take part in to the Inquiry and to support all of us to think about what our individual responsibility to the civic role of arts organisations is and how we serve our communities.

‘This isn’t just about models; it’s about a philosophy in which more arts organisations move beyond seeing audiences as customers and think of those with whom they work as citizens. We all need to know how the arts can do more to serve people in a civic sense.’ 

Andrew Barnett, Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch

How you can get involved

The more people involved in this Inquiry the richer the results will be. Please talk about it with your colleagues and sign up for the newsletter at the bottom of this page to keep abreast of opportunities to contribute.

As a starter the Inquiry is interested in how you would define the civic role of arts organisations? Tweet or email us with your definitions by the end of May and your thoughts will be added to the research.

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