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February 25, 2015

Our Cultural Commons

Of everything that happens at a local level it is probably the creative and cultural side of community life that touches the most people. Those who are immersed in the creative arts would probably acknowledge how difficult it is to measure the value of all that activity. Some high profile projects, like Systema Scotland, are starting to make progress by producing tangible evidence. On another level, collaborations are underway to put all this cultural activity onto a more sustainable footing by establishing Our Cultural Commons.


In October 2014, the two UK-wide organisations that specifically support and represent local creative cultural activity, Voluntary Arts and Arts Development UK, launched a major new initiative in response to the changing landscape of cultural provision in local areas. Our Cultural Commons sets out to explore new ways to sustain and develop the creative lives of our communities in all their diversity.  Ways based on the assets we already know we have and can deploy rather than beginning with a deficit in what we have lost or never had.

Our Cultural Commons will:

•             collect evidence of existing innovative local collaborative practice to sustain and develop local cultural infrastructure and then promote best practice

•             provide a space for discussion of potential solutions to the problems facing local cultural infrastructure and organisation and the debate on the nature of the cultural commons that we aspire to in the future

•             empower and support the voice of those ‘local’ ambitions in debates on future national cultural policies, structures and funding.

In the next decades:

•             most of us will be able to experience the arts and cultures of the world virtually

•             some of us will travel to experience the arts and culture regionally, nationally and internationally

•             but all of us will grow up and grow old experiencing and participating in the arts and culture, locally.

Our cultural life – first and last – is local.

What can we do – as creative citizens – in our local communities and with our local authorities and supported regionally and nationally to make these ‘cultural commons’ the life enhancing places we aspire to for ourselves, our grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren throughout our and their lives?

•             What opportunities can we secure for all of us to explore and extend whatever gifts and talents in the arts we have been given and cultural interests we have developed as we grow?

•             How can we ensure that exceptional creative talent born into whatever circumstance in our community can flourish to its full potential in the world while we support, enjoy and join in that journey?

•             What places and programmes can we sustain and develop for our communities in all their diversity to:

•             congregate to enjoy and learn from each other’s creativity and cultures (including experiencing culture in different languages, or in our language of choice);

•             be challenged and inspired by the new;

•             relax in nostalgia and the familiar and

•             discover and celebrate our heritages – natural and built and intangible?

•             How can we make our cultural commons places where: joy and grief can be shared; wellbeing, concern, caring, kinship and respect are promoted; happiness and laughter, wonder and curiosity and learning are everyday experiences?

•             How do we ensure that our local programmes are designed ‘upwards’ from the assets we already know we have and can deploy rather than beginning with a deficit in what we have lost or never had?

•             How do we ensure address to two of the largest problems confronting us: the personal, social and economic costs of an ageing population and the whole life consequence of skills deficits and structural unemployment for the young?

Schools, clubs, pubs, churches, chapels, mosques, temples, synagogues, shops, community centres, sports centres, arts centres, health centres, play centres, care homes, libraries, local radio, galleries, museums, heritage sites, gardens, parks, beaches and more are the infrastructure that underpins our ambition. Creative cultural activity of all kinds, woven through these institutions, empowers and energises their potential to realise that ambition.

The rapid pace of change surrounding all our local cultural spaces, including changes to local government, and the rapidly increasing digitization of the wider cultural world, means that previous models of local cultural planning are no longer effectively providing support. However there are new and emerging models, building on local cultural assets and making links with education, healthcare, the voluntary and community sector, and local government.