There are a number of local and national policies and projects that seek to promote social cohesion through social inclusion and, increasingly, culture in general and the arts in particular have demonstrated the potential to be effective vehicles in this regard.
In May 2019 the UK Parliamentary Committee for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport published the report Changing Lives: the societal impact of participation in culture and sport, following the inquiry it had conducted into this area. It said that cultural and sporting opportunities have intrinsic value, but that many organisations engaged in this ‘life-changing work’ are in a precarious financial position. It drew attention to evidence demonstrating positive outcomes of this work in the areas of criminal justice, education, health and urban regeneration. Significantly, it called on DCMS to establish and lead a new inter-ministerial group on the social impact of culture and sport, using it as a platform to reset cross-governmental work. In some ways this thinking marked a return to (if not an acknowledgement of) the ambition of encouraging and supporting innovative approaches to tackling social exclusion, as exemplified in the Social Exclusion Action Plan 2006 introduced by the Government of 1997-2010, which required ‘whole government’ attention. The nature of the work considered by the Parliamentary Committee and illustrations of the cultural initiatives evident in England and Wales in recent years and various policy pronouncements are reflected in both this chapter and in 2.7.
The Committee’s report builds on and develops a key message of the Culture White Paper 2016: that of ensuring culture benefits communities across the country, not least those that are disadvantaged. The White Paper recognised, for example, that there were ‘many good examples of how cultural interventions can benefit prisoners, ex-offenders and people at risk of being involved in crime’ in improving esteem, developing skills and establishing wellbeing. A number of organisations have developed projects demonstrating how the arts can aid prisoners and ex-offenders, including Clean Break, Geese Theatre Company and the Koestler Trust. The latter has supported ex-offenders by matching them with arts mentors. A mentoring scheme is also run by the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance. Between 2012 and 2017, Arts Council England invested GB£ 13 million in arts organisations whose focus was on tackling and preventing crime. More recently, ACE National Lottery Support enabled a project encouraging women in prisons to explore Shakespeare (‘Let’s change the story: Shakespeare in Prison’) and empower often vulnerable and socially excluded females. Funds from the charity Artswork, working in partnership with the Policy and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and Isle of Wight, enabled arts organisations to apply for grants between GB£ 500-5,000 for work with young people at risk of being involved in crime. Young and adult offenders are also one focus of Create, a charity that seeks to engage the most marginalised communities in sustainable arts programmes. In 2018/19, it supported 48 projects in the UK, with 850 creative workshops and involving 62 professional artists. Noting that the DCMS had recognised the role of the arts in reducing re-offending, but that its actions in this area were less developed than in relation to sport, the Parliamentary Committee called on DCMS and the Ministry of Justice to commission a joint review of arts in prisons.
Based on the evidence it received, the Parliamentary Committee is critical of the Government, the Department for Education and DCMS for failures to recognise how arts subjects have been downgraded in schools (see chapters 5.1 and 5.2). It also calls on DCMS to work with the Department of Health and Social Care to test how far the expansion of social prescribing of creative activities by clinicians can be mainstreamed (health and wellbeing are dealt with in chapter 2.7).
A poll of older people conducted for Arts council England by ComRes, published in 2016, revealed that 69% of those surveyed considered that arts and culture were important in improving their quality of life and c60% said they made them feel healthy. However, 38% said it was more difficult to attend or participate in cultural events and activities compared to when they were younger, blaming travel information, access and companionship. Nevertheless, programmes concerned with creativity and ageing are flourishing according to Older and Wiser? Creative Ageing in the UK 2010-2019, a report by Kings College, London, in 2020. However, the report says more needs to be done and this will require a concerted effort on the part of policymakers, politicians, arts and other funders to sustain and develop the work,
Although arts practice engaging refugees and asylum seekers has been evident in England and Wales since at least the 1970s, its development stems in particular from the early 2000s. In 2008, a research study, Arts and Refugees: History, Impact and Future (Kidd, B., Zahir, S. and Khan, S.) was published following a commission from ACE, the Baring Foundation and Paul Hamlyn Foundation. The evidence suggested that cultural activities have proved to be ‘an effective means of promoting community cohesion, creating better understanding and mutual acceptance between host communities and refugees and asylum seekers’. Among recent examples of such initiatives is the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, which provides opportunities for refugees/asylum seekers in the town to share their experiences. In 2018 the Theatre was awarded the ‘City of Sanctuary’ status by the network of the same name, an initiative that begun in Sheffield in 2005 with the aim of welcoming refugees in need of safety. Phosphorus Theatre Company is the only theatre group in England composed entirely of refugees who arrived in the UK as unaccompanied minors. It helps new arrivals to learn English, which is important in the context of reductions in funding for teaching the language, and has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in Malta. Art Refuge UK works through arts and art therapy with people who have been displaced due to religious or political persecution, armed conflict and trafficking. Three UK-led projects were successful in the EU’s one-off Refugee Integration Projects strand in Creative Europe in 2016. One of them, ArtReach, was to use its Journeys Festival International as a vehicle to celebrate exceptional refugee artists. The others were European Alternatives, seeking to encourage refugees to learn from each other, and acta community theatre, supporting refugees to share their stories.
Another marginalized community – Roma or gypsies – are the focus of the Romani Culture and Arts Company’s Gypsy Maker project funded by the Arts Council of Wales. This employs artists from this community to challenge racism, discrimination and preconceptions about Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people.
The Welsh Government commissioned Baroness Andrews to conduct a review to ascertain how engaging in culture can reduce poverty by enabling people to develop new skills. Her report, Culture and Poverty, published in 2014, made 35 recommendations on how the Welsh Government, local authorities, cultural organisations, community bodies and schools could work together to ensure accessibility of culture to all. In response the Government initiated a programme, Fusions, in 2015 to test new collaborative approaches in six ‘pioneer areas’: Cardiff, Gwynedd, Newport, Swansea, Torfaen and Wrexham. Subsequently, in 2018, the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee of the Welsh Assembly initiated an inquiry into how publicly funded bodies can use culture to tackle poverty and social exclusion.
A 2014 report, The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society, which looked into the wider societal impacts of arts and culture, said there was insufficient evidence to underpin claims for the beneficial impact of the arts. Commissioned by ACE and based on a review of more than 500 English language research studies published between 2010 and 2013, the report considered that less than 20% of the studies examining social, economic, educational, environmental and health/wellbeing outcomes of arts and cultural interventions were sufficiently robust for valid conclusions to be drawn. Perhaps contentious and certainly alarming, the review identified a range of weaknesses in the studies and prompted ACE to indicate its intention to pursue new research that would enable a strong case to be made for the impacts of arts and culture. This led later in 2014 to the launch of a research grants programme to develop partnerships with specialist higher education cultural policy research units, think tanks, consultants and foundations. Interestingly, a survey the same year – the Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s ArtWork Evaluation Survey of Artists – revealed that many socially engaged arts practitioners considered their work to be undervalued and there was insufficient appreciation of its benefits. Moreover, most believed that those engaging them did not always know how to fully utilize the experience.
Shortly after, in 2015, a pilot impact investment fund targeting social outcomes in arts and culture was launched with the support of NESTA, ACE, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and additional assistance from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. Believed to be the first of its kind in the world, the GB£ 7 million Arts Impact Fund supported 22 arts organisations to test that there is demand for social finance in the arts and culture sector as an alternative to commercial loans and there are credible business models that can generate funds to repay the investments. The Fund was intended to be used by organisations to become more financially resilient to develop their social and artistic impact in three areas: community, health and welfare and youth and educational attainment.