University of Huddersfield and Creative Scene

Professor Steve Swindells and the team within the University of Huddersfield’s School of Art, Design and Architecture have been working with Creative Scene (North Kirklees’ Creative People and Places programme, funded by Arts Council England) since 2015 to examine how the work of Creative Scene impacts upon the local cultural ecology, and helping to conduct evaluation and support on arts commissioning and event programming, as part of Creative Scene’s overriding aim to make art a part of everyday life – acknowledging that inclusive, vibrant and accessible communities all rely on accessibility to cultural amenities, human and physical resources, including the powers of expression to foster sustainable creative livelihoods that empowers all.

The partnership is founded upon regular meetings and consultation to measure the engagement of, and affect upon, local communities as well as artist development, and how training, monitoring and evaluation can inform future programming.  Research also envisages the programme’s relevance to other sectors (such as health and economic policy) and how cross-sector collaboration might be fostered to support further positive impact on the region.

Engaging a variety of evaluation systems, including drawing upon ethnographic methodologies, the evaluation report findings for May 2016 revealed Creative Scene events utilised over 340 volunteer hours across 60 different events, reaching an estimated 68,871 audience members since their conception.  A significant factor in Creative Scene’s achievements to-date is the production of a diverse programme that attracts a variety of audiences, and incorporates an array of spaces. The programme has become a source of pride for residents across the area, helping them feel connected to others and the locality.  Events are highly accessible and attractive to large audiences as well as dedicated targeted groups, often combining multiple art-forms in a single happening.  Additionally, the programme enables both local and national artists to engage in creative activity with North Kirklees community representatives and audiences.  Producing high quality cultural activity of all kinds empowers, energises and drives ambition for all involved.

The changes Creative Scene are implementing are impacting upon new and emerging models of participation which build on local cultural assets to link with business, education, healthcare, the voluntary and community sectors and local government. This report establishes the importance of policy in framing the context for cultural organisations focused on socially engaged art practices, as well as the value of remain conversant with policy developments by forming critical positions.

Of particular note in first stages of the evaluation was the role SceneMakers – volunteers/advocates – play in Creative Scene’s success, including the impact of the programme on SceneMakers themselves. The importance of their role as cultural advocates is further supported by social theory research into the ways in which people connect with one another and share common values and interests, providing a social resource for mutual benefit (Ewbank et al, 2014) – this includes both strong relationships (family and friends) and ‘weak ties’ (acquaintances), the latter which most noticeably foster networks and ‘bridges’ between social and cultural worlds (Field, 2003).

The ADA Research team are developing a programme of creative CPD & team building events for the SceneMakers to nurture and celebrate their involvement, and further develop their capacity for working successfully within programmes of engagement activity and the promotion of these to differing demographics throughout their area.

A recent evaluation structure was developed to evaluate the effectiveness of Creative Scene’s commissioning process in association with Batley Festival. Creative Scene’s aim was to raise the festival aspirations from local funday gala to arts festival, by carefully planning in quality and creativity to the daytime performances, activities and stalls, and by commissioning an arts company to devise and perform an arts spectacular event to conclude the festival in the evening.

The call-out process undertaken was analysed, and the team conducted direct interviews with the Creative Scene staff, Batley Festival Director and commissioned artists (Perilum) pre and post event, in combination with an online audience survey and focus groups.

Moving forward, Creative Scene and the University team are embedding evaluation as an integrated participatory approach within programme events to inform documentation, reflection and understandings of community engagement, and adopting the principles of creative evaluation as an approach to human connectivity and personal stories that capture a variety of views to ensure data collected enables analysis which reveals meaningful and useful conclusions on how the programme affects people’s lives.

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