In early 2021, the Barbican Centre undertook an in-depth process of consultation about its civic role. This process made clear the imperative to place the ‘civic’ at the heart of its work. In particularly, it became evident that addressing inequities across society and within the Barbican itself is necessary for a truly inclusive organisation that both reflects and serves a diverse society. The realisation of a new future for the Barbican – one that is anti-racist, socially committed, and community-based – requires substantial shifts that should arise through increased dialogue with external stakeholders and partners both nationally and internationally.
The initial phase of this project, funded with a £22,250 grant from us, identified historical institutional barriers related to the Barbican’s fulfilment of its civic role. These can now be addressed at a moment when the organisation has just fully reopened after lockdown and a new Director of Arts & Learning has taken charge. This is an opportunity to rethink and restructure the Barbican’s creative vision for the future with a civic agenda at its centre. The project’s main question is: how can a global arts centre leverage the creative capacities of the local community to help address local challenges, and create social impact in its neighbourhoods?
‘Barbican Futures’, the developmental phase of the project, further funded with a £100,000 grant from us, takes the organisation’s world-class cross-arts programme as its starting point. This movement will be supported by an ambitious public programme of talks and debates, while also being embedded in sector-leading, community-based activity that will provide greater access, career-enhancing education, and opportunities for creative enterprise. It takes on the metaphor of arts organisations as ‘colleges’, identified by our research: places of lifelong learning, enabling everyone to reach their potential. The strategy is a reflection on, and a response to, the many changes and challenges that emerged over recent years; most specifically the events of the past 19 months and their effects both on the Barbican and beyond.