The Award for Civic Arts Organisations was launched in 2020 by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK Branch) in partnership with King’s College London to celebrate arts organisations that are rethinking relationships with the communities they serve and using the transformational power of art for individual and societal change. The Award has encouraged the arts and cultural sector to respond to community needs, prioritise relevance, and become more inclusive and impactful. Over the past three years, the Award has shone a spotlight on organisations that are putting civic and community engagement at the heart of their work during and beyond challenging times. Their case studies have helped inspire others to strengthen their relationships with communities.
The first two editions of the Award recognised the exceptional work of arts organisations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 424 organisations of all sizes and art forms applied in the first two years. Together, they illustrated the potential of creativity and the extraordinary resilience of a sector faced with immense pressures. The recipients and shortlisted organisations were selected for championing the needs of their communities and demonstrating the transformational power of art, particularly during difficult times. The organisations have told us that the Award recognition has enabled them to scale their work for greater impact.
We have published research on what the applications from the two years can tell us about the growing movement of civic arts organisations in the UK.
The second edition of the Award sought to shine a spotlight on how arts organisations adapted to the disruption and restrictions marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a period that affected every individual and community and caused immense strain to arts organisations’ business models. Yet many used their creativity and community connections to flex and adapt in the most innovative ways. The Art House (Wakefield) was the main recipient, receiving £100,000, while In Place of War (Salford) and Project Art Works (Hastings) each received £25,000.
The three recipients were chosen by an independent panel, chaired by Baroness Deborah Bull, from over 200 high-quality applications from all across the UK for their outstanding capacity to adapt to the pandemic and for how they have all deepened their commitment to their communities over the previous two years. They were announced in a virtual event that celebrated the work of the ten shortlisted organisations. An accompanying case studies publication shares the inspiring stories of the shortlist and describes the wider movement of civic arts organisations in the UK.
‘After the long, exhausting work we did during Covid at The Art House, receiving the Award was a shot in the arm for the team, Trustees, studio holders and people we work with. It helped significantly raise our profile and enabled us to open up discussions with the country’s leading foundations and to develop a comprehensive fundraising strategy for the first time in The Art House’s history. The stability the Award provided combined with these new funding opportunities has deepened the work we were already doing and has opened up new opportunities for how we can further extend our civic impact.’
Sydney Thornbury, CEO/Artistic Director of The Art House, main recipient of the 2022 Award
The Art House
The Art House (Wakefield) received the main Award for its agility in responding to the needs of its local community and putting co-creation at the centre of its work in Wakefield, has created the first studio sanctuary for asylum seekers in the UK. Its Makey Wakey programme has provided free interim spaces to artists and creative businesses. This has contributed to bringing down the barriers between their creative programme and their community work. Art House continue to look after artists and community groups through grants, activity packs and wider social programmes.
In Place of War
In Place of War (Salford) brings its experience of working in the Global South to the UK in addressing the issues of asylum and conflict. The organisation enables change-makers to work in conflict zones across the world, inspiring hope and developing skills and creativity. During the pandemic, it worked with 12 grassroots community organisations in the UK to find 100 Agents of Change. The project involved refugees, asylum seekers, people living in poverty and LGBTQI+ communities and resulted in 100 young people connecting with artists and activists to share experiences and knowledge.
Project Art Works
Project Art Works (Hastings) champions diversity and provides a platform for people and issues that are often insufficiently recognised. Throughout the pandemic, this collective of neurodivergent artists and activists reimagined how it wanted to engage with its community and how best to help those with complex support needs. The organisation created a digital platform for their communities to participate in creative work from their homes, using tools such as letters, video conferencing and the exchanging of objects to maintain the important connection they had with the organisation.
The inaugural edition of the Award sought to highlight and celebrate arts organisations whose civic work with and for communities stood out in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Heart n Soul (London) was the main recipient, receiving £75,000, while Eden Court (Inverness), Museum of Homelessness (London), and The Whitworth (Manchester) each received £25,000.
The four recipients were chosen by an independent panel, chaired by Baroness Deborah Bull, from 260 high-quality applications from arts organisations that came from all around the UK, across the cultural spectrum and with differing ways of operating at different scales. The recipients and shortlisted organisations were celebrated in an virtual event and an accompanying case studies publication. This first edition evidenced how arts organisations are helping to shape the future – and how culture, creativity and the arts enable us to realise what it means to be fully human, individually and collectively.
‘The Award has made a huge impact on the work we do and most significantly has meant we have been able to flex, widen our reach and work with our community in more meaningful ways. The past two years have been challenging but have shown how organisations can connect and bring people together in difficult times if they let go, listen and put into practice what their communities really want.’
Mark Williams, CEO/Artistic Director of Heart n Soul, main recipient of the 2021 Award
Heart n Soul
Heart n Soul (London) came up with a system whereby staff made weekly calls to 160 participants to keep in touch and consult members on their needs, forming a steering group to co-create an online programme of activities for those with learning disabilities, including club nights, quizzes, baking sessions and an online gallery of artwork resulting from creative packs which were posted out every fortnight, providing regular work for freelance artists. They also produced easily understood guides to staying safe in the pandemic and how not to be lonely in lockdown.
Museum of Homelessness
Museum of Homelessness (London) consulted with health specialists, with partners Streets Kitchen, The Outside Project, The Simon Community and the Union Chapel, co-created a community-led Covid-19 Homeless Taskforce and published a plan to help the homeless community – to block book empty hotel rooms for the community to self-isolate, which was adopted as national strategy to bring 29,000 people into safe accommodation. The taskforce formed a group of 50 volunteers partnering with the council and many local organisations, to produce and distribute meals and connect with those in isolation.
Eden Court Highlands
Eden Court Highlands (Inverness) formed a partnership with the Highland Council and re-purposed their staff team and facilities as the humanitarian aid centre for the region. Their work with the community included activities for children of keyworkers, packing and distributing thousands of food parcels each week, and turning the venue’s restaurant windows into a temporary community exhibition site to display a collection of Black Lives Matters banners.
The Whitworth (Manchester) rewrote their mission to respond to the extreme social inequities exposed by the pandemic, adhering to three key principles: learning through making and doing; creating a place of care, consideration, and community; and taking action. The Whitworth’s expanded online programme engaged almost 300,000 people throughout the pandemic.