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Power and change: leadership, lived experience and coproduction

A joint blog by the Arts and Social Outcomes Network

27 July 2022

This is a joint blog conceived by a small group of networks, all focused on socially engaged creative and cultural work: Age of Creativity, Arts & Homelessness International, Counterpoints Arts, the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, the Happy Museum project, Hear Me Out, the LENs (lived experience network), the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA), and Unchained Poetry.

At a recent WhatNext? meeting the cultural thinker Suzanne Alleyne asked this question of Arts Minister Lord Parkinson:

"As we know, there is a very small subset of society that holds power in the publicly funded arts sector. Research shows that human beings fundamentally don’t like change, and that often those in power do not want to share it with those who don’t have access to it. What do you think the steps are that we need to take together to change this?"

Our organisations have been built on the idea that power dynamics can change. Like many of you, we want to work out how to share what power we do have. As networks we are also all about collaboration. Thinking about what we might usefully do together, we realised that we shared a desire to ensure that the work is led by the people who understand the need for it best. A shorthand for this might be ‘leadership by lived experience’. Our first step was to explore where we are all at with this work – and to share an example of an organisation or project we feel is leading the way. This blog describes what we discussed and is a way for us to share our own messy experiences as we try to build or change our organisations.

Hear Me Out's response

Hear Me Out has been making music in UK Immigration Detention Centres since 2006. We work with artists and people held in detention to make sound tracks which we record in detention and platform to the world, in as many ways as possible.

Our artistic work is always co-created. Detention strips agency, co-creation creates empowerment and makes space for people to lead, create, assert and express themselves. We also work with people who have recently been released from Immigration Detention, which includes consultation, running a touring band for musicians we met in detention and we are now creating ongoing support programmes.

Through this work and organisational commitment to Black Lives Matter, we are now looking at the necessity of power-sharing and the opportunity this brings to transform our work and its impact. As an organisation, we have committed to developing co-creation across our structures as well as our artistic output, ensuring decision-making flows from a combination of lived experience and organisational know how. This means finding ways for power to be authentically shared with the people we are here to support, and changing how our governance, our board and our staff team operate.

We’re still at the early stages of this and are beginning to bring lived experience into our team and trustees. We are changing recruitment processes and fundraising narratives, devising procedures to help us support the complicated challenges the people we work with face and to learn from them. We are also rethinking how we can counter patronage, to ensure agency.

There are many challenges and few prescriptive solutions. Co-creation for us is linked to trauma-informed practice and trust, we know we need to make challenges and create safety as well as a continuing to ensure authenticity. A big asset for us, as we grapple with these challenges, is our extraordinary team of artists, who have been working in these ways since our inception.

Read the rest of the blog on the Culture Health Wellbeing and Alliance website, which also includes responses from Age of Creativity, Arts & Homelessness International, Counterpoints Arts, the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, the Happy Museum project, the LENs (lived experience network), the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance (NCJAA), and Unchained Poetry.

This blog was originally published by the Culture Health Wellbeing and Alliance on 6th July 2022.

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