Connectivity, collaboration and a collective voice
Mary Schwarz discusses ArtWorks Alliance’s journey over the last five years, their plans for the future and how you can get involved.
While arts participation may be difficult right now, it will be crucial in the future for rebuilding a diverse and inclusive society in the context of coronavirus. As ArtWorks Alliance (AWA) celebrates its fifth birthday this year, it’s doing what it does best as a participatory arts network: responding with agility, creativity and care to meet the needs of the sector.
So what’s been our story so far?
AWA brings together organisations and individuals to support and strengthen the participatory arts sector, which includes community arts, socially engaged arts, voluntary arts, and arts in education and learning. The Alliance was set up in 2015 by the six Arts Navigator pathfinder organisations (a-n The Artists’ Information Company, Artquest, Engage, National Association of Writers in Education, People Dancing and Sound Sense) as a legacy project from PHF’s special initiative ArtWorks: Developing Practice in Participatory Settings. Since then, as a UK-wide network, we’ve built an online Knowledge Bank (now with over 150 resources from research papers to toolkits, evaluations to guides); held regular partner Forum meetings and an inaugural Gathering; developed professional practice and continuing professional development initiatives; and published free monthly newsletters to share information and learning.
We grew to comprise 33 partner organisations along with individual associates, from across art forms, ways of working, settings and purposes – all committed to tackling sector issues and opportunities best solved by working together. Partners ranged from national membership bodies to higher education institutions to orchestras to micro-local participatory arts organisations. We achieved ‘collective self-funding’ through everyone’s contributions by the end of 2019.
Come 2020, come coronavirus, come the need for change. Change in terms of our operating model, but not our mission – better participatory arts – or our values, which are collaborative and collective, or our working practice, which is networked.
This year we moved to become a membership network, following a successful application to Arts Council England’s emergency grant fund by Sound Sense for the Alliance as a project. And membership in ArtWorks Alliance is free up to the end of October. This means many more people will be able to contribute to and benefit from network activities that support sharing information; learning from each other’s experiences; and creating new ideas, projects and partnerships that otherwise wouldn’t happen – including importantly, joint advocacy and action.
Most recently, we have launched the Proof of the Pudding: a participatory arts evidence toolkit, led by People Dancing with support from Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy’s Sector Innovation Fund. This unique resource supports individual artists to demonstrate the value and impact of participatory arts and develop partnerships for funding. Anyone can access it from the People Dancing website here and AWA and People Dancing members will be able to attend two complementary participatory webinars about promoting your professional purpose and creatively evaluating your projects. These webinars will be recorded and made available for all.
Proof of the Pudding is just one example of how the Alliance responds to members’ interests and needs, investing in the participatory arts workforce and in turn supporting better experiences for participants. At the most recent Forum Zoom we had a presentation about Clore Learning Spaces’ work to collate information and resources for coming out of lockdown. And we’re in the process of setting up a COVID-19 support website page specifically for participatory arts, for the long haul ahead.
So, if you’re supporting or working in participatory arts and looking for more connectivity, collaboration and a collective voice, find out what it means to be a member and how to join here or you can reach me, Mary Schwarz, at email@example.com.
Mary Schwarz is an independent arts and cultural sector consultant providing the secretariat for AWA. She has more years’ experience than she’d like to admit in arts education and participatory arts including working in secondary and higher education, local government, regional agencies, funding bodies and arts organisations – and with artists.