The easiest way to write about how Arts Council England can create more ‘social capital’ seems to be to take a leaf from the New Hampshire Community Foundation’s book and make a list of possibly-simple actions. Some of these we do or have done already (at least in the North East) but could do more or more often, and this will remind me to do that amongst all the other stuff there is to do. Some we’ve not tried yet and I want to worry some people including myself by writing them down. Some might also be relevant to others such as local authority arts teams or trusts and foundations.
1. Make ourselves known whenever at events, openings etc. Because it’s not enough to see, we need to be seen to see, and then maybe even have a conversation.
2. Invite artists and arts workers who’ve moved into the region from elsewhere in for a chat and a drink and introduce them to people
3. When setting up working groups or project teams as have someone from outside the organisation involved even if there isn’t an external ‘steering group’.
4. Do more, smaller, cheaper ‘conversation’ events.
5. Send staff out on secondment to arts organisations and take staff in on secondment from arts organisations.
6. Open up some training sessions to artists or arts organisations.
7. Get even more artists or producers onto Regional Councils and governing bodies.
8. Have an Open Day, including the chance to observe decision-making meetings.
9. Improve our website to give people the chance to discuss the things we’ve funded – not as funding decisions (unless they really want) but as art.
10. Explore how we can employ people whilst they stay engaged in their own practice, arts development or board memberships, rather than having to give all that up to work for us.
11. Have a open ‘works outing for the arts sector’ on a beach or in a park in the summer
12. Drop in on some of the artist workspaces we’ve helped build and see what people are up to
13. Open up work place Blood Service sessions to artists so they can share our pain and see for themselves if we really are blood-sucking parasites
14. Wear our Arts Council England lapel badges at all times so people know who we work for and make it a condition of funding that all funded artists do likewise so people know who they are too and can talk to them about it.
15. Make sure all staff read two recent Demos publications. States of Trust: How to build better relationships between councils and the public, though focused on local authorities has some very relevant points for Arts Councils. Making the most of collaboration by Peter Bradwell looks at ‘co-design’ – essentially the involvement of users in designing public services – and is equally stimulating. We already do some of what’s suggested, but there’s more to think on.
Ok, not all easy or maybe even practical, and I didn't mention peer review or panels once, and at least one of those was a joke...
(I have actually got someone looking into the Blood Service idea, so not that one...)