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Creative practitioners and communities: raising standards in Wales

With thanks for the photo to Dance Blast the community dance development organisation for Monmouthshire

What do the words ‘community artist’, ‘artist working in the community’ or ‘artist working in a participatory setting’ mean to you? It’s easier to focus on what they have in common: using their skills/artform to help other people to get actively in involved in the arts. But beyond that, there’s a myriad of different ways of working, ethics and values, and purposes to what they do – as well as end results.

The latest development in a longer-term project attempting to explore these issues, and to support and raise the standards of these different types of work, is called ArtWorks: developing practice in participatory settings. It’s a Paul Hamlyn Foundation Special Initiative with support and funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Creativity Culture & Education (supported by Arts Council England) and the Cultural Leadership Programme.

Savoy Youth Theatre

With thanks for the photo to Savoy Youth Theatre, Monmouth

Artworks Cymru

Last week, I met with Rhian Hutchings who’s leading the project in Wales (Artworks Cymru – see more links and contacts below), as part of a partnership of seven organisations, plus a professor of arts and society. It’s early days yet so there isn’t a great deal to report, but I hope to blog more about the project as it progresses.

It’s important that this is happening in Wales: both because community artists here (certainly community musicians) have been asking for support for years; and because Wales has a strong tradition of community arts – from older organisations such as Valley and Vale Community Arts to newer ones such as Head4Arts, to independent practitioners and smaller organisations working in youth theatre, community dance and other artforms.

Rhian is determined that one of the outcomes of the project is to effect real change – even though there’s a lot of understanding to go through first. They’re already tackling the ‘big questions’ head on. In some cases, the action research projects have matched artists who often come from different ends of a particular spectrum (for example, the degree to which participants are involved and have ownership; the nature of delivery – teaching vs facilitation; the balance of outcomes – artistic vs social). They’re gradually finding ways to work together and learn from each other, and the learning is being shared through social media and in videos, so anyone can get access to the insights and research, and join the debate. Here’s the project in a nutshell:

What it is
A workforce development scheme that will result in a structured way of supporting people in their professional development and training. It consists of five pathfinder projects – in Wales, Scotland, north east England, London and a UK-wide alliance (‘Navigator’) of the main sector organisations.

Who’s involved in Wales:
Welsh National Opera  Community Dance Wales  Community Music Wales   Head for Arts   National Dance Company Wales      Sherman Cymru  Streetwise Opera Professor Hamish Fyfe

What’s happening:

Phase 1 – 2011/12
Audit of existing training, online survey of artists’ own development experiences and case studies (completed); consultation events (to end of January); development of projects, partnerships and links with stakeholders eg Arts Council Wales, HE and FE.

Phase 2 – 2012/13
Five action-research projects addressing different questions/themes, and the skills artists need:

Each project has one of the following research themes – quality, ownership, collaboration, transformation, process – and will run four ‘learning group’ meetings during the course of the project. They’ll also publish artist blogs, and information and insights on Facebook and Twitter.

Phase 3 – 2013/14
Symposium to distribute and discuss findings, recommendations for training network, roll-out of resources.
The programme doesn’t go so far as the broader development of the sector – encouraging more work to happen strategically and tactically – so it would be good to see a next stage that includes advocacy and marketing:

  • raising awareness of the value and impact of the work (eg amongst potential ‘purchasers’ ranging from local authority commissioners of services to community groups);
  • helping those ‘purchasers’ to understand how to find a practitioner that’s right for them;
  • helping practitioners to connect with people/organisations who could benefit from/fund their work.

For more information:

Wales websites: OR

Twitter @ArtworksCymru

Lead contact: Rhian Hutchings, MAX Director, Welsh National Opera,

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