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Reflections from ‘Relevance Risks Rewards’

We visited venues across England for our conference series, 'A Civic Role for Arts Organisations: Relevance Risks Rewards'
Posted by Sian Williams

Last month we visited four cities, welcomed over 300 delegates and more than 40 speakers for stimulating conversations and debate at our conference series, ‘A Civic Role for Arts Organisations: Relevance Risks Rewards’.

The series kicked off in Manchester, to discuss ‘Partnerships, People and Power Dynamics’ at the Whitworth Art Gallery. Key themes included the need to make organisations ‘useful’ by better serving their communities; the benefits of cross-sector partnerships; and ways of handing over power.

Next, we were at Sage Gateshead to debate ‘The Art of Cultural Democracy’. Discussion focused on diversity and inclusion; the role of arts and culture in transforming towns and cities; and what cultural democracy means in practice.


Our London conference at the Wellcome Collection focused on ‘Cultural Spaces: Temples or Town Halls?’. Popular topics included ways to make cultural spaces more welcoming to all citizens; the need for deep and meaningful engagement; and calls for change in the sector so that staffing and visitors reflected the diverse population of London.

We wrapped up the series in Bristol’s Arnolfini, where we considered ‘Art: A Catalyst for Radical Change’. Discussion focused on arts organisations’ relationships with citizens; how to use art as a catalyst for change; and the ways that art brings joy to people’s lives.

Delegates at the events were treated to a sneak preview of our new publication, ‘What Would Joan Littlewood Say?’. The collection of essays by leaders in the arts and cultural sector argues that arts organisations should do more for and with the communities they are part of. You can read an online version or order a print copy by emailing civicrolearts@gulbenkian.org.uk.

We’ll be bringing ‘Relevance Risks Rewards’ to more venues in the autumn. On 18 September we’ll be at Birmingham Repertory Theatre to debate ‘Flagship Cultural Events: A Debt or an Opportunity for the Community?’.  You can register for a free ticket here.  This will be followed by conferences in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which we’ll be confirming the dates for very soon.

Until then, a big thank you to everyone who performed, spoke, asked questions or was involved in any way. We learnt a lot and we’ll be sharing with you more of the discussion and our future plans in the coming weeks.

For the latest news, follow us on Twitter: @CivicRoleArts

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