Arts and Society

Arts and Society pic1The RSA's commitment to the value of the arts and their capacity for enhancing social good is both long established and renowned.  Programmes such as Arts and Ecology and Art and Architecture in the recent past have strengthened the RSA's international reputation for highlighting the effectiveness of the arts in affecting social change.

The theme of Arts and Society emerged in 2010 alongside the Arts and Social Change programme in Citizen Power Peterborough which explored the role of the arts and creative practice in creating new connections between people and where they lived in order to strengthen participation in community life in Peterborough. Arts and Society also responded to some of the challenges articulated in the RSA pamphlet, Arts Funding, Austerity and the Big Society.

There is a unique and valuable role for the RSA to play in the current global climate of austerity and intense change, given our breadth of Fellowship to act as broker, enabler and innovator for new models of ways of working needed as society attempts to make sense of 21st century needs.  Arts and Society has focused upon how the arts can motivate change for new ways of working and inspire new frameworks for partnerships. We connect practice with policy with attention to people's everyday experience of arts and culture.

The primary activity comprised these programme strands:

State of the Arts

State of the Arts

This report follows a series of seminars, held jointly with Arts Council England, which explored new ways for the arts to create, understand and articulate its value. As well as offering recommendations to inform future policy and practice, the report includes the following essays:

  • Martin Smith asks for a new industrial strategy for the arts, to make the most of 'the prickly, sometimes antagonistic but always necessary relationship between art and commerce'
  • Alex Jones asks for cities to be more honest about their capacity to be so-called creative hubs – not all cities can be – and more intelligent about the way they understand the impact of cultural spending on regeneration
  • Mandy Barnett and Daniel Fujiwara argue that "the cultural sector needs to agree a single framework within which to talk about value, whilst disentangling the social from the cultural in the process."
  • Sue Horner, in calling for a 'grand partnership' between education and cultural sectors, suggests how both sectors need to step up to harder-edged collaborations.

Download the report: Towards Plan A - A new political economy for arts and culture (PDF, 619KB)

Arts and Social Change


This strand addressed socially engaged arts practice, loosely defined as the facilitation of an experience or set of relationships that will impact upon positive social change. Projects were underpinned by recognition of a creative pedagogy. 

The Arts and Social Change strand was built upon the following propositions:

  • That the arts play a transformational role in affecting people's behavioural patterns with each other
  • That arts practices can impact upon social innovation through creating new perspectives and ways of seeing the world
  • That experiences in the arts are available to all and lend 'voice' to the 'voiceless'

The primary project in this strand has been Arts and Social Change in Peterborough, which has now completed. The Arts and Society team of Jocelyn Cunningham and Georgina Chatfield took part in RSA place-making projects that explored cross disciplinary collaborations for creative new approaches such as Plymouth and Chelmsford but also in arts-based place making initiatives such as Prosper in Kent.

This strand now continues with a new partnership with Wiltshire Council.

Knitting Together Arts and Social Change argues for a central role for the arts in ensuring sustainable systemic change and offers examples from Arts and Society of how creative practice strengthens a willingness for people to engage with each other and build co-productive behaviour, and critically reflects on the challenges uncovered by this kind of work.


A series of roundtables held at the RSA explored changes in ways of working, be this within the arts communities or in wider partnerships, for example with higher education. Each roundtable was a curated event with a broad cross section of expertise and experience to bear on the debate. Documentation for each seminar took the form of a series of drawings. Below is an example of one that took place in the Spring of 2012.

From Spectator to Engagement 'From Spectatorship to Engagement': a dialogic approach to involving audience participation in conventional settings.  Co-facilitated by David Edgar, and Dan Rebellato of the British Theatre Consortium and Jocelyn Cunningham, RSA, this event had a wide range of contributors from leaders of arts organisations in many art forms and academics representing health, neuroscience and economics.

A visual artist, Alice Maggs recorded the discussion through this set of ‘visual minutes’.

Download the From Spectatorship to Engagement visual minutes (PDF, 805KB)

New models of Partnerships: Creative Intersections

The RSA has been a strategic partner in the King's Cultural Institute's Creative Futures programme with our first project, Creative Intersections coming to a conclusion in December 2012. A description of this project, reports and evaluations are all on the dedicated website.

Creative Intersections explored innovative models for effective partnerships between artists and academics across a wide range of art forms and disciplines in order to gain a deeper understanding of the conditions necessary for the co-design and co-creation of cross disciplinary work.

Participants in Creative Intersections came from a wide cross section of both the arts and academic communities of Kings College London and included academics from the Institute of Psychiatry, Digital Humanities and English as well as arts organisations such as Entelechy Arts, Spread the Word and Action Space as well as individual artists such as Inua Ellams and Sarah Butler.

Arts and academic practitioners conducted ‘experiments’ together in small groups over the summer of 2012 and shared their work in the autumn at both Kings College London and at the RSA.  If you are interested in knowing more, please get in touch with the programme via the Creative Intersections website.

Creative Intersection Creative Intersections hosted a roundtable in October 2012 with others doing similar programmes across the U.K. A visual artist, Alice Maggs recorded the discussion through this set of ‘visual minutes’.

Download the Creative Intersection visual minutes (PDF, 5MB)

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