I like it. What is it?

February 10, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Design and Society, Social Economy 

Image by Anthony Burril. www.anthonyburrill.com

The first ever unMonastery launched this month in the city of Matera, in Southern Italy. Doing something new is messy. The path is unclear, doubt is a killer, and it’s somehow never easier to quit than when you are on the verge of something real.

2014 could be the year of unMonastery, and my mission, gladly accepted, is to help shape evaluation models and metrics that help us understand what it is and if it is working.


UnMonastery is place-based social innovation that throws a group of people into one place – currently Matera – and sees what happens. It takes issues facing the whole of Europe – youth unemployment, mismatched skills, brain drain to major cities, under-utilised buildings, depleted public resources –and offers up a secular, 21st century version of the monastery. People with skills and projects to offer are housed, fed and work out of a building that would be otherwise left empty.

Best suited to areas suffering brain drain and a lack of home-grown opportunities, the ‘unMonasterians’ are tasked with working with people from the local area to develop locally specific projects that respond to local needs and assets.  For me the key question will be measuring whether the project is one that both preserves the sanity of its protagonists, and can be mapped to really engage with and become embedded in its local area. Without the wellbeing of those working in it, it becomes a workhouse, without local embeddedness it becomes a fun working holiday for some super-skilled Europeans.


The unMonastery building is highlighted in red.

The Matera unMonastery is situated in the ‘Sassi’ of Matera, a ridiculously picturesque setting in the labyrinthine ancient part of the city, where, since the troglodyte era, houses have been built into the local ‘tufo’,a calcarenitic rock that comes from marine sediments. Whilst fantastic, this setting will actually prove to be one of the first challenges for the unMonastery: Matera, the people, is not Matera, the beautiful and touristy Sassi.

The team

The Matera unMonasterians were selected through an international open call in which people were encouraged to apply for residencies in Matera with projects that responded to local needs and interests, as had been set out following a series of co-production workshops. The final team comprises of projects that take us from building functional solar-panel trackers with local young people, to setting up water-filtering systems for urban farming. The skill-set of the unMonasterians spans coders, graphic designers, illustrators, engineers, social scientists, artists. Over the next four months their projects will focus both on Matera, and on unMonastery as a venture in its own right. UnMonastery favours total, brutal, transparency: you will able to follow its progress, with everything from project plan updates to budgets available online. If at all curious, you can meet the team and ask many questions today (!) from 10am UK-time, by following the hasthtag  #unmon on twitter.


Anthony Burrill – http://www.anthonyburrill.com/

Progress so far?

The first week has been slow, taken up with the difficulties of setting up when much is out of your control: internet down, heating variable, furniture arriving after the people.

Due to the iterative nature of building unMonastery, it was always hard to know what it would end up being. Born as an idea in the first EdgeRyders conference in Strasbourg, it only became real when Matera – currently a candidate for European City of Culture 2019 – stepped up as a host and funder. First Materans shaped unMonstery in their understanding of what Matera’s assets, resources and needs were; then the unMonastery applicants shaped unMonasery through the projects they proposed. And now, Matera and unMonasterians – sometimes the same thing – will shape each other.

So, how will we know if it is working?

  Without the wellbeing of those working in it, #unMonastery becomes a workhouse; without local embeddedness it becomes a fun working holiday for some super-skilled Europeans


Anthony Burill – http://www.anthonyburrill.com/

The job of the unMonasterians is now to work hard and be nice to each other – not too light a request when living and working in the same space as up to ten people for up to four months.

Using metrics developed in the RSA’s Connected Communities work, I am helping them develop ways of measuring how things are going, inside and out.

1. How are you? Social change is messy, and burn-out is often the cost. The unMonasterians will be asked to measure their levels of wellbeing, and make sure they have routines that allow for some version of the five ways to wellbeing and proper sleep.

2. Do you feel part of a community? RSA Connected Communities work has really highlighted the importance of feeling part of a community, of feeling accepted where you are.

3. Do you feel supported? It is important to know that you can go to others when you need, and our social connections are often the first thing to suffer when we move around. Even for those who live in Matera full-time, their new focus could disrupt those social connections that currently help them feel well.

4. How are you and your project linking in to the local area? This is the big mama of the questions. Even if our unMonasterians are happy, bright eyed and bushy tailed, without real local engagement unMonastery is a spring-break, not a new way of working. Using social network analysis, and possibly linking to unMonasterian Lucia‘s walking ethnographies, we will be tracking who the unMonasterians are working with, how this changes, and if this goes beyond the existing contacts of our contacts. Everywhere is a bubble: a key question will be whether we can burst ours.

2014 could be the year of the unMonastery, and unMonastery could be the start of something really excellant. Please do follow unMonastery on twitter, keep up to date with what they are doing here, and join them for an online twitterstorm at 10am today!




Gaia Marcus is a Senior Researcher on the RSA Connected Communities project.

She is an an Edgeryder and an UnMonk advisor, founded the RSA Social Mirror project and is ¼ of the ThoughtMenu.

You can find her on twitter: @la_gaia

The fabulous poster images are all by Anthony Burrill

The problem with power is patriarchy

January 21, 2014 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Arts and Society 

It’s relatively easy to talk about the diffusion of power when you’re a man. Because looking at recent news – from the lack of stories about sports presenter Charlie Webster to the proliferation of those about Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard – it’s clear that patriarchal power isn’t showing any signs of waning.

Over three-hundred years ago, Edmund Burke offered a sage piece of advice to the world when he said, ‘the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse’. Burke’s forewarning may seem obsolete in light of a recent talk given by Moisés Naím at the RSA where he proclaimed that power is no longer concentrated but is diffuse. Or, as Adam Lent puts it, that power is dying. However, Naím’s theory falters when we turn through the pages of world history and pay close attention to an overarching constant: it is predominantly men who wield power. Meanwhile, when women manage to grasp the reigns of power, they do so on the condition that they perform conventional maleness – think of Britain’s first and only female Prime Minister, the so-called Iron Lady. Therefore, even if we accept Naím’s thesis, the ability to possess power is predicated on performing conventional masculinity, consequently it tends to remain in the hands of men who do so. And, as Burke suggests, with their great power, men commit dangerous abuse.

It’s not new to suggest that power and traditional masculinity are closely woven together, but despite our awareness of this fact, the close bond between the two is not showing any signs of loosening. We need look no further than our own legislative branch of government to see unapologetic patriarchal power strutting around Westminster with full plumage on show. An investigation into a number of sexual harassment accusations against Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard has found that while allegations cannot be proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, ‘the evidence suggests that Lord Rennard’s behaviour has caused distress to a number of women’. Despite this damning indictment, Lord Rennard refuses to apologise because, he explained in a statement yesterday, he doesn’t believe an apology for something he ‘had not done’ is appropriate. Although he has been suspended from his party, Lord Rennard’s apparent lack of regret for causing offence and, perhaps more startlingly, his absence of an attempt to feign the lamentation that is usually shown by politicians when the public glare is shone on their alleged gross misconduct, shows the power that he feels he’s entitled to as a wealthy, white man. His attitude seems to say, women feel they have been assaulted, but it’s simply not my problem.

Should we really be surprised? Men dominate the public sphere and are, more often than not, seen as superior to women. Alongside concerns over the nature of the inquiry into the allegations against Lord Rennard, consider the fact  that it was Alistair Webster QC who was at the head of the investigation; whether women were involved in the process, the final say was left to a man. This gendered hierarchy is mirrored throughout society, a quick glance at organisations across the country and it is more likely that you will see men, not women, at the helm.

The inequalities between men and women are not limited to formalised structures of power. Abuse revelations go far beyond Parliament’s grandiose corridors. At the other end of the spectrum from the ostensibly ‘softer side’ of abuse claims, sport presenter Charlie Webster revealed that she was sexually abused by her male coach when she was 15 years old. Webster, who yesterday embarked on a seven-day 250 mile marathon to raise money for Women’s Aid, a charity working to end domestic violence, explained that the reason for her disclosure was to break the taboo surrounding abuse. Webster struggled to admit to her abuse because, she says, “I didn’t want my world to break down”. Often it’s hard to admit that our system is irreparable because it means that we have to shatter it entirely to form something new. Indeed, society’s desire to shy away from the damaging effects of patriarchal power has led to Webster’s admission receiving relatively scant amount of news attention. This reflects an underlying trend; for all of our proclamations of progress and civility, we aren’t properly addressing why gender abuse is commonplace, why 2 women are killed week in England and Wales as a result of domestic violence.

The causal factor: patriarchal power that is woven into the fabric of our everyday. Following on the heels of Lord Rennard’s refusal to apologise, Nick Clegg’s former aide, Bridget Harris, has castigated the ‘intellectual sexist culture and endemic sleazy culture of Westminster’. Sexism is a way of being in the hallowed halls of the Commons, Harris explains. And, again, so it is beyond Westminster. The tapestry of routine abuse displayed on Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism shows how derogatory views of women have become normalised. These views act as a gateway for men to think, even if unconsciously, on a day-to-day basis that they are worth more than women, which can and often does clear the way for gendered abuse.

Consequently, while efforts to address gender imbalances such as all-women shortlists are laudable and certainly needed, these measures only attempt to solve the surface problems of masculine power. Simone de Beauvoir explained that to delve deeper and truly achieve gender equality, ‘the point is not for women simply to take power out of men’s hand…it’s a question precisely of destroying that notion of power’. To do so, we have to start publicly questioning men and their automatic entitlement to power. For many this is an uncomfortable idea, fear is palpable in jokes we often hear, like “what are you going as for Halloween, a feminist?”. Such reactions are understandable. For those who benefit from and fully invest in patriarchal power, a form of feminism that seeks to undermine conventional constructions of masculinity in order to establish a power paradigm based on true gender equality is a very scary indeed.

Another creative resolution? Read more fiction

January 15, 2014 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Arts and Society, Education Matters 


When was the last time you read a good literary book? Or recommended one? Though a staple for some, reading a good novel increasingly feels like a luxury not all of us can afford in the midst of busy schedules and digital distraction.  Additionally, in a time where literary novel sales are declining and libraries are closing, it’s clear that our appreciation for the literary masterpiece is waning. It also seems as if children are beginning to mirror our increasing disengagement with literature; according to the National Literary Trust, only 40% of children aged 8-16 read daily in 2005, a figure which dropped to 30% in 2011 and by a further 2% in 2012.

However, a study in Science journal connects reading literary fiction with Theory of Mind; the ability to emphasise, imagine and understand the mental states of others. As part of the study, one group were given excerpts of literary fiction, while other groups read popular fiction and non-fiction. When finished, participants were asked to take a test to assess and understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. Interestingly, there were stark differences between those who had read literary fiction and those who had read non-fiction. Those who read the literary fiction excerpts exhibited increased levels of empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence. Participants who had read excerpts of popular fiction were also deemed less able to connect empathically.

The differences between literary fiction and popular fiction stir a series of old rivalries between ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ interpretations of literature, but I think what is most important is the potential for literature to enable a person to think and feel creatively. Good literature gives space and time for the reader to delve more creatively into the psyche of their protagonist and to explore human complexities and behaviours. But as we become increasingly embroiled within the world of social media, everyday communication is often whittled down to 140 characters and appreciation in the form of ‘likes’ and retweets has become a normalised endeavour. Our thoughts are increasingly becoming condensed and immediate for social media consumption as are our reactions. Though clearly beneficial in certain respects, the world of social media often provides a somewhat one dimensional approach to communication, often bereft of emotionally sensibilities.

Reading literature, it seems, is fast becoming the equivalent of ‘slow’ food – wholesome and most probably good for you but without the immediate gratification and universal appeal of faster alternatives. Tellingly, on speaking on Radio 4’s Front Row earlier this month, writer Ruth Rendell connects the belated literary success of John Williams’ novel Stoner, a novel in which a young farm man  falls in love with literature, with our literary nostalgia and claims the novel reminds us of a love of literature that we as a society seem to be gradually forgetting. But in thinking more widely about this loss, we need to consider and examine the detrimental effects of the increasing absence of literature, particularly when considering its role in the development of empathy and emotional intellect.

In contemplating the RSA’s current discussions on ‘the power to create’, it’s clear that reading fiction is certainly not the only way  to delve deeper into what creativity at the heart of RSA might look like (if only!). But it’s interesting and important to consider our collective levels of empathy and emotional intelligence when thinking about channels of power and creativity. And while recent debates are still at the forefront of the RSA psyche, maybe reading literature is not a bad start…

Creativity: the stuff of freedom

January 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Innovation 

Adam Lent, head of the Action & Research Centre here at the RSA, recently wrote about the crucial role of creativity for the 21st century. Of his four arguments, I want to elaborate on the first—on creativity as the realisation of freedom. Paraphrasing John Stuart Mill, Adam wrote that “taking the great historical gift of freedom in order to remain passive, ineffectual and conventional” is “horribly wasteful.”

Among the values of this focus on creativity is its reminder of the responsibilities that freedom and self-governance place on us. “A deeper happiness has got to come from using our freedom to be creators as well as consumers”, Adam wrote. I contend that this applies not just to economic and cultural activity, but to freedom itself.

This past December, UK audiences were spared one of those cookie-cutter free-speech ‘controversies’ that played out in the US. Someone on a reality TV show made an offensive comment about homosexuality, and the network—doing the right thing, and not wanting to lose audiences—removed him. Then the Republican clown car flew right off the tracks, with the likes of Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal saying things like “this is a free country and everyone is entitled to express their views… I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment.” The network—doing the right thing, and not wanting to lose audiences—then rescinded the guy’s suspension.

People often seem to mistake ‘the right to free speech’ for ‘the right to have a TV show’.[1]

This episode illustrated a few things. First, politicians say things that don’t make sense. Second, TV networks are feckless. Third, people like to make a sport of saying offensive things.

But that’s the easy critique. The outraged talking heads’ misunderstanding of the First Amendment goes much deeper. The First Amendment isn’t about free speech, although it appears so on the surface. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion are all just foreplay to the main event: the right “peaceably to assemble” and “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- US Constitution, First Amendment

The First Amendment is not about free speech. It’s about responsible citizenship.

It’s not just that we are free to speak and write and worship in the ways we choose. It’s that we have the responsibility to do all of these things, and to do so in the service of good and legitimately democratic self-governance. And while most other rights do not require action, this is the most demanding of the ten entries on the Bill of Rights, justifiably coming first. The provenance of power it describes was an absolutely radical break from monarchical and authoritarian rule. It mandated that laws reflect the will of the people rather than dictate it. It placed the onus of responsibility onto citizens, not the government, to behave – to speak, to write, to worship – in ways worthy of the dignity of their freedom. The quality of our society was to become only as good as the creativity we exercised.[2]

This is why people who like to ‘test’ their freedom of speech, and thereby beg others not to take them seriously, are not serious citizens. They abdicate their responsibility to take part in sincere dialogue, to behave responsibly and inclusively to create and refine the substance of a free society. Serious citizens produce freedom, rather than consume it. That, in my view, is the democratic essence of the Power to Create. It reminds us that we live in a society that is political to the core, and though there are rules and laws and competing interests, we as citizens are at the centre. Creativity is the realisation and perpetuation of freedom. Creativity is responsible citizenship.

Emerson once asked, “Are you for man and for the good of man; or are you for the hurt and harm of man?” This is not a question that can be left to any higher authority. Citizens must answer this for themselves—and then act.

[1] Madison was to quill this as the Eleventh Amendment, but succumbed to his crippling fear of prime numbers.

[2] Mistakes were made. Tocqueville: “Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

Creativity? That’s not for me.

In Adam Lent’s recent blog ‘Why is creativity the most important political concept of the 21st century’ he outlines the broadest definition of creativity as being ‘an act that is unique to an individual’s own capacities or vision’.

Why is it then that you’ll frequently hear people recoil in trepidation asserting ‘oh, but I’m not creative’?

Is it fear that they’ll be asked to draw? Or worse still, sing? Is it that someone way back told them they were no good at something and it’s stuck? Is it an excuse to get out of doing something? You’re creative, you do it. Is it an underlying lack of confidence in themselves? Is it a lack of birth right or sense of status?

Lent goes on to explain that creativity is important for four reasons:

  1. It’s good for us
  2. It’s economically more important than ever
  3. It’s the only solution to long term austerity
  4. It is under threat.

Do read his blog for more on this, am oversimplifying here to provide context, with this in mind I’d like to add two different thoughts.

Firstly, and perhaps crucially, does it matter then that people claim not to be creative? And often vociferously so.  Is it because they default to the narrow association of creativity = art?  Who are these people?  And what implications does this have for our growing mission of the ‘power to create’ and the broadest definition of creativity.

Secondly, and perhaps fundamentally, I have to throw into the concept driven mix that creativity is FUN!  Don’t we all want to be more creative?  Personally and professionally?

Creativity enables us to solve problems, to meet people, to feel more human, to relax, to use our hands, to express ourselves, to experiment, to get dirty, to learn a new skill, to be brave, to get something wrong, to have a laugh, to feel fulfilled, to innovate, to feel a sense of achievement, to take a risk, to grow inside, to allow us to think a bit bigger.

But in case you were wondering , think you are not creative? Oh yes you are. It is in us all, it is innate. Embrace it. Follow it. See where you go.

“Cracking good job, Gromit!”

November 11, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Fellowship 

Bristol, and indeed the west region, was taken over by Gromit fever over the summer.  Eighty different 5ft high giant Gromits  were painted and situated all over the city, creating an art trail and the opportunity for people to explore Bristol whilst searching for the Gromits.

(c) Roz Bonnet

(c) Roz Bonnet

It’s not exaggerating to say Bristol went crazy over these Gromits, Bristol Evening Post reported “The city’s museums have seen a 65 per cent increase in the number of visitors through their doors this summer compared to last, shops and restaurants have seen a rise in customers while Bristol’s tourist information centre has seen more than double the number of people through its doors.

Most of the businesses and organisations that are seeing a boost in visitors are crediting the Gromits.”

015 (2)

(c) Roz Bonnet

The Gromit’s were finally brought together in the Royal West Academy for a week and the queues were insane – up to 6 hours queuing to see them altogether, it caused chaos.This chaos was good however as the Gromit’s were auctioned off to raise funds for Bristol Children’s Hospital and over £2.3million was raised.

My question is why this fever for the Gromit’s, a similar trail was around last summer with gorilla’s and although popular it didn’t cause this kind of fever, not seen since the Banksy exhibition at the Bristol Museum.  Was it because they were Gromit’s (Nick Park’s Aardman Animations is based in Bristol and therefore it has a close connection to the city), was it because the Evening Post featured photos in the paper? Was it the gamification of the gromit’s and the fact you had to follow a trail to find them? Was it social media – so many photos were posted on facebook, twitter…. I’m not sure but it is something I would like to explore in the West region.

We recently saw how the focus of a key theme can bring Fellowship together (at the RSA Yorkshire conference) focusing around the Incredible concept, spearheaded by Pam Warhurst (FRSA), see blog about it from Matthew Taylor.  I would like to find what could ignite the Fellowship interest in the West – our key themes have been identified as environment, health and education – how can we create a Gromit effect for Fellowship?  All ideas gratefully received!

Lou Matter is the Programme Manager for West and South West. You can follow her @loumatter 


What might work? Making the case for a Cultural Endowment Foundation

November 5, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Education Matters 

Today the RSA and Arts Council England will launch Towards Plan A: A New Political Economy for Arts and Culture. This series of four papers which examine how the arts sector might play a full role in the UK’s economic and social renewal In the papers:

  • Martin Smith asks for a new industrial strategy for the arts, to make the most of ‘ the prickly, sometimes antagonistic but always necessary relationship between art and commerce’;
  • Alex Jones asks for cities to be more honest about their capacity to be so-called creative hubs – not all cities can be – and more intelligent about the way they understand the impact of cultural spending on regeneration;
  • Mandy Barnett and Daniel Fujiwara argue that ‘the cultural sector needs to agree a single framework within which to talk about value, whilst disentangling the social from the cultural in the process’; and
  • Sue Horner (chair of RSA Academies), in calling for a ‘grand partnership’ between education and cultural sectors, suggests how both sectors need to step up to harder-edged collaborations.

John Knell’s excellent introduction also offers recommendations to inform future policy and practice. This includes the idea that: “ACE should commission, in partnership with DCMS, DfE, AHRC, key trusts and foundations, and the sector learning network, at least one ‘high burden of proof’ study – involving if appropriate randomised controlled trials – which would explore the impact of particular arts interventions in a key impact area (for instance health and well-being, education or community cohesion).”

Having spent several years leading probably the largest ever ‘high burden of proof’ study ever undertaken in the arts, the Creative Partnerships learning programme in thousands of schools across England, it would be tempting to show John my wounds and medals. As, over the years,the quality of our research, evaluation and outcomes improved, it actually became more difficult to make the case for continued investment. However, I think John is onto something, and his proposal could be even more ambitious.

Could the cultural sector create something similar to the Education Endowment Foundation – a body dedicated not just to commissioning rigorously evaluated projects, but also to improving the way that evidence is built and used across the education system? Importantly, the EEF exists and is funded through an endowment – from the DfE – which secures both its independence and its long term stability. Although it is too early to judge the impact of individual projects (and my prediction is that only a few will show statistically significant impacts on closing the attainment gap), the Foundation’s processes and toolkits are already informing school decisions. Many schools are finally moving from a culture of data use to a culture of evidence use.

A Cultural Endowment Foundation, perhaps funded through a small percentage from the recent 4G auction, should be entirely independent from Government and Arts Council England. ACE is too invested in demonstrating rather than understanding the impact of its spending. It should support programmes to be externally evaluated against cultural as well as social or economic outcomes, possibly using Mandy and Daniel’s single framework, so that the arts are not just the servants of other public policy masters. Finally, it should be prepared to go public when the cultural sector engages in poor quality, advocacy-heavy evaluation processes – I’ve got a few favourite worst evaluations, which I won’t name and shame here. Understanding value should not be a compulsory activity for all in the arts sector – some will just want to get on with making great art for everyone, to use ACE’s mission statement. A Cultural Endowment Foundation could help cultural organisations make the choice between either doing evaluation properly or not doing evaluation at all.

Joe Hallgarten   Director of Education     @joehallg

Can you help make ArtSpace Bath happen?

October 9, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Arts and Society, Fellowship 

IMG_0936This is a guest blog by Penny Hay FRSA. Penny received an RSA Catalyst grant to help run a contemporary arts event in Bath. She is currently running a crowdfunding campaign through the new RSA curated area on Kickstarter to further develop the project.


Next Spring we plan to organise four action-packed days of immersive, multi-sensory, creative experiences in and around Bath, providing an opportunity for all ages across the diverse community of the city to engage with creativity.  It will be packed with exciting contemporary arts, performances, and workshops. There will be a world street cafe and a kaleidoscope of surprises to engage all ages: a place of serious creative play.

The idea of a need for a permanent creative arts space in Bath had been discussed for a while, and we came to a decision that one way of launching this would be this 4 day event.  We drew the RSA Fellowship into the concept in its early stages; speaking at the local Bath network about our vision for the project.  We were given really helpful feedback and gained a number of additional Fellows becoming involved with the organising team.  Over the summer we worked on the idea and the concept of the project, and were subsequently supported by the RSA with £2,000 Catalyst funding.

The objective of the permanent space and the 4 day event is to promote culture change through engagement: the reinvention of Bath, and the promotion of well-being, cultural, economic and public value without conflict.  An art space is a unique opportunity to revitalise the culture of the region, being a stimulus and a hub for innovation in co-creativity, co-design and co-curatorship.  Engagement with leading contemporary arts both directly enlivens the local culture, and draws and retains the creative professional individuals the region needs to sustain and expand the knowledge industries, which are already taking over the main commercial support of the region.

The objective is to promote culture change through engagement: the reinvention of Bath, and the promotion of well-being, cultural, economic and public value without conflict.


Research has shown there is particular need for this kind of space in Bath: it was recognized by the City Identity project from Bath and North East Somerset Council, which aims to support and foster the cultural climate in which the creative industries flourish and prosper.  A report by Nesta (2010) identifies this area as a creative hotspot, but also that there is a need to retain creative talent from Bath’s universities and colleges to foster the local culture (Florida 2002); and research by Mickeldore (2012) which demonstrates the need for a creative hub to grow the city’s creative economy.















We have built up a remarkable array of partner organisations involved: Bath University, Bath Spa University, 5x5x5=creativity, Illuminate Bath, Bath Festivals, Bath Film Festival, Buro Happold, WOMAD and Real World Studios, TEDx Youth Bath, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Demuths’ Cookery School, Grant Associates, Bath & NE Somerset Council, Patrick Woodroffe Lighting design, Invisible Studio, and Niki Turner Designs. We also have Stuart MacDonald, founding Director of the Lighthouse, Glasgow, and Toby Jackson, former Head of Education at Tate Modern consulting on the business case to take the artspace concept forward.

Bath is already an extraordinary city, evidenced by the remarkable achievements of our two universities, the scale and significance of Bath’s creative and technology industries, and the talented national and international figures who are based in the area. Blessed with an outstanding heritage of radical entrepreneurialism, human creative genius and wellbeing, the city of Bath is ideally positioned to build on the existing strengths of the community to achieve recognition on the international stage. Artspace will be a powerful catalyst in making this happen, engaging the latent creativity and talent of the local culture by hosting and showcasing the best of global cutting-edge art and innovation, fostering a uniquely attractive and vibrant city culture.

ARTSPACEHow you can get involved

In partnership with the RSA we have launched a crowdfunding campaign to support this initiative.

Our funding campaign is live on kickstarter and we are aiming to raise £10,000 by 16 October. We would be very grateful if you could pledge your support, or help spread the word by sharing our campaign with your contacts. To find out more please contact me by email (p.hay@bathspa.ac.uk) or via Twitter @PenAHay.

Take advantage of a special launch offer to the first 200 crowdfunding pledges made by RSA Fellows. The RSA will match the campaign(s) you have backed to a maximum of £10 if you tell your network which project you’ve backed via: a comment in the RSA Fellows LinkedIn group discussion on crowdfunding; tweeting using the #RSACrowdfunding hashtag; or posting a status update on the RSA’s facebook group.


What’s the secret to learner engagement?

At the RSA Family of Academies we are working with four schools in the West Midlands who are about to embark on an arts audit.  By reviewing what activities are already taking place across their schools they will be able to examine the ways that the arts and arts experiences could be woven through the curriculum and the school day.

One of the priorities for RSA Academies is ‘enabling learners to achieve a broad range of qualifications, skills and competences’ which poses some interesting thinking.  How do you enable learners to achieve not just qualifications but also a broad range of skills and competences – and further still, confidence.  And how do you get the disengaged interested in learning again?

A new report from the Arts Council of Wales explores arts and creativity in schools and the impact that arts experiences which take place in schools have.   The headline figures are conclusive and striking.  Of the 42 schools and colleges involved in the research, 99% said they felt that an involvement in arts activities had improved learner engagement.  Dai Smith, Chair of the Arts Council of Wales follows this: ‘teaching in and through the arts, far from detracting from literacy and numeracy should be seen as an enabler to driving up standards in academic priorities’.

The research also identified that 98% and 99% felt that the arts developed emotional wellbeing and interpersonal skills of the pupils.  The report provides evidence of the enrichment and progression of learners as a result of arts organisations coming through the school gate and through outside visits to theatres, galleries and exhibitions.

Which thinking about it, most of us will have our own experiences for which this rings true.  I can still vividly remember a trip to the Barbican to see Romeo and Juliet with Tim McInnerny just mesmerising as Tybalt.  The act itself of the trip to a big city, visiting the vast concrete megalith that is the Barbican and then to be wowed by the strange language of Shakespeare is the sort of stuff that stays with you at the tender age of 13.

Ben Kelly with Arrow Vale RSA Academy students

Ben Kelly with Arrow Vale RSA Academy students

Beyond this, the arts enables young people to explore identity and self-expression, to create and to experiment.  Last week one of the RSA’s Royal Designers of Industry, Ben Kelly joined Arrow Vale RSA Academy in Redditch for the day.  Designer of the interior of the Hacienda, Ben is a real life example of a rule breaker and innovator, and he inspired years 9 and 12 students with a new sense of what’s possible and attitude to success.

Whitley Academy head boy, Prince Chivaka leads a series of podcasts in a project with RSA Fellow Fran Plowright called Frontline Voices.  Across the RSA Family of Academy schools, Prince and his fellow students explored questions of what it means to be a young person today growing up in an uncertain and changing world.  Fran explains more about the project in her What about tomorrow? blog.

And take a look at Whitley Academy in Coventry.  Their art website, Whitley Arts was created to showcase and sell their unique student artwork.  It has also opened students’ eyes to the possibility of their work being in the public realm.  The site acts as a focal point, a potential destination of work whilst underpinning learning and personal development.

We are working to create more of these moments of inspiration and practical projects where creativity is fostered as a core skill, and where hopefully more learners become more engaged as a result.

The RSA Whole Person Recovery, Co-Design Learning Journeys, June / July 2013 – Some reflections…

September 9, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Arts and Society, Design and Society, Recovery 

As Lead Recovery Community Organiser within the WPR programme, one of my responsibilities is to ensure there is a quick and responsive capacity on the part of my team, to meet the emergent requirements of the community of c.600 service users within the west Kent region that we work in.  Earlier this summer in June, I had a seemingly random conversation with one of my colleagues from our principle partner organisation CRI – www.cri.org.uk about the prospect of somehow transforming the rather standard and corporate ‘social care facility’ non-aesthetic (that is a space designed and decorated, without any real design-sensibility informing the look, feel and function of the space) at the Tonbridge hub.

I jumped at this opportunity as I immediately saw it as a chance for us to work in a genuinely co-designed / co-produced approach with the service users in the programme. I was quickly able to speak with other colleagues within the Hub, specifically the key workers who are the principle formal point of contact between service users and the WPR programme. From these informal conversations, a meeting was scheduled to explore with service users that had expressed interest in what such a project might look like in terms of the process, timeframe and the outcome(s). The meeting was very dynamic, lively and really good fun. Many of the service users at the meeting commented on how exciting and positive it was to actually feel they were involved in shaping the direction of a real project that would have concrete outcomes and reflect their ideas and concerns. We explored quite a lot of possibilities as to how the design / build project could progress. Some of the ideas were pretty crazy, some of them were rather tame, but a lot of them were really creative and achievable – given the real constraints in terms of money (low thousands) and time (just three months) to get from first meeting to post-snagging of designed, built and installed solution…Heady stuff!

The agreed outcomes of this kick-off scoping meeting were to recruit a team of service users interested in continuing to contribute to the project (about 10) and agree a process – this consisted of a mood board workshop session and a number of visits to some (hopefully) inspiring working-spaces in London that demonstrated a pared-down fairly minimal ‘boot-strap’ / up-cycling aesthetic. It was also agreed that a good move on our part would be to find a partner organisation that could help us to take the project forward. Enter The Glass House Community Led Design! – www.theglasshouse.org.uk We were fortunate that Maja Luna Jorgensen, Strategic Projects Manager with the charity was able at very short notice to be available to help us with design and community engagement input. She helped to shape a schedule of appropriate buildings and locations around London that we could visit for inspiration and insight, into what makes a successfully designed creative working space, able to accommodate multiple uses, designed and built on a shoestring budget that works well and looks beautiful. Not only did she help shape a schedule, but she accompanied us on our first visits and provided us with the very capable input of her colleague Melissa Lacide for our second trip. The first  journey consisted of our co-design team visiting the following organisations / locations:

• The Arcola Theatre – www.arcolatheatre.com • Eastern Curve Garden – http://dalstongarden.org • Global Generation – www.globalgeneration.org.uk

Our second Learning Journey consisted of our team visiting:

• Camden Collective – http://camdencollective.co.uk • Hub Westminster – http://westminster.the-hub.net • Myatts Fields Park / Playground – www.myattsfieldspark.info

All of the organisations, buildings and environments we visited delivered! Where we were hosted by representatives of the organisations, they were friendly, open and generous in sharing their time and some of the backstory of how their projects had developed, and how they’d come to make the design choices they’d made. We were definitely inspired as a team by what we saw and we gained a real sense of the creative possibilities open to us through the diverse examples we got to see across the six sites, in terms of materials, scale, construction methods and feel.

The next stage for us in our design process is to get down to the actual designing bit of the project. We’re all very excited and I know that within the team we have some very creative and considered thinkers and makers. Check back in a month’s time for an update on how the project has developed. By then we should be a good way through the fabrication stage and maybe have even started installing the Pods too.

A big thank you to all the generous staff and volunteers form the six organisations / locations we visited. A big thank you too for the expertise and guidance we received from our colleagues Maja and Melissa from The Glass House.




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