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How arts organisations can teach us to build a better world

On 27 July What Next? and the Inquiry held a roundtable discussion where young arts people were asked to explain what roles and functions they saw cultural organisations having for the future. This is an excerpt from a blog written by Stella from YPIA as a result of taking part in the discussion and preparing a short provocation on the purpose of arts organisations.
Posted by Stella Toonen

Tottenham Artists Gathering image Alex Hyndman“It is interesting looking at how arts organisations formulate their own purpose. Tate puts it as “to promote public understanding and enjoyment of British, modern and contemporary art”. It’s a rather classic view: we have art, and we’re going to show it. The National Theatre is “dedicated to making the very best theatre and sharing it with as many people as possible.” At least there is an audience mentioned in that one. Sadler’s Wells say “Our goal is to grow the public’s enjoyment and understanding of dance by making dance relevant, meaningful and enriching.” It starts off like Tate’s mission statement, but the last few words are crucial – they embed the art in a context that enables it to have an effect on the lives of its audience members. And isn’t that what art is about? To do something with the viewer. To touch someone somehow. And perhaps in some occasions even change somebody’s life. Finally, the Barbican’s purpose statement seems slightly better even: “we inspire people to discover and love the arts.” I think the word ‘inspire’ is very important here, because it implies they want their art to do something with people. Indeed, why show art if its audience would only shrug and walk on? That can’t be the purpose of any art organisation.

An arts organisation can inspire people in many ways – whether it opens eyes to new ideas, offers creative input for personal artistic work, or actually makes people take action and fight for certain ideals. It can be small or large, it can be instantly or over years, but an arts organisation that doesn’t make you stop and think – even if only for a split second – has missed its purpose.

And offering inspiration and new ideas is only the beginning. Successful arts organisations try to make you think about things. Even cleverer organisations make you question things …

Read the full blog on the YPIA website.

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