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Notes from the Chair 23/1/12

I’ve been working on the Arts Development UK response to the national well being consultation. One part of the response, as you would expect, focuses on the absence of culture from the proposed measures of well-being: culture came through the first national consultation as an important part of the mix, but somehow this has failed to translate into a identifiable measure.  Not only is culture absent in terms of what people do, but also in relation to the environment, which seems to be limited to measuring the quality of, and access to natural environment only, with DEFRA working with the ONS on a new measure. So, along with many other cultural organizations, the ADuk response points to the Taking Part and Active People surveys, and references the Foresight Mental Capital and Well Being Project, and their five ways to mental well being.

 A second question that kept coming to mind as I worked on the response was the way in which national well-being was being extrapolated from individual well-being, with community appearing only as a function of how an individual perceived it.

 My experience of working with communities and the arts felt at odds with this approach: some communities have a rich tradition of arts activities, and for an individual taking part is a relatively simple process of turning up and benefiting from a collective knowledge, a culture if you like, of ‘doing art’. In other places, particularly new communities, the individual who wants to put on, say, a community play, is often literally starting from scratch, having to build everything as they go (a bit like that fantastic scene in The Wrong Trousers where Gromit is building the train track underneath him to catch a criminal penguin – apologies if you haven’t seen this, if not you really ought to).

 The two experiences are different by orders of magnitude and I just don’t think a purely individual focus to well-being can capture the difference between a well established, active community and a new town struggling to find its way. For me, and I suspect many other ADuk members, this difference is at the heart of my work, helping to develop the skills and experience within communities to support that culture of doing art.

 So, I remembered the excellent study Our Creative Talent, carried out by Voluntary Arts England, which provided a remarkable insight into the amount of community and amateur arts taking place in England, and suggested that a measure that looked at the density of community activity could provide some measure of community well-being.

 Briefly returning to the point that many other cultural organisations are also responding to the consultation, I’m pleased to report that attended a meeting at the Theatres Trust with a wide representation of arts and cultural bodies that are continuing to work together to tackle the absence of arts and culture from the proposed National Planning Policy Framework. Although these are very challenging times, by working together we are more likely to get these messages across. So, although the consultation on National Well-being closes today, if you haven’t already responded please see if you can find five minutes to do so here.
Jane Wilson
Chair of AD:uk
Tel: 01353 669022 Email: jane.wilson@adec.org.uk