Knitting Together Arts and Social Change completes a set of five case studies on the Arts and Social Change programme within Citizen Power Peterborough, a two and a half year partnership between Peterborough City Council, Arts Council England, East, the RSA and the citizens of Peterborough. There are a suite of papers, evaluations and films to be found on the RSA website. This document will not repeat the intentions of those documents nor act as an advocate for the programme. It is instead, a ‘call to arms’ that arises from the learning in Arts and Social Change and is directed towards local policy makers and those in the arts communities with the view that this particular partnership is sorely needed for a thriving society.
This paper explores how the arts can open up new ways of working which impact upon social capital, the identity of a place and our attachment to it and encourage active citizenship. It argues for a central role in ensuring sustainable systemic change and offers examples 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. Of course, innovation is about understanding barriers and stopping what is not working as much as about trying new things. One of the key lessons from the Citizen Power programme and other similarly ambitious programmes lies in the consistent underestimation of the resistance to innovation and change.
This paper explores some of the ways we need to take this resistance on board through how we invite new interventions into places to address challenges and the need to build legacy in from the outset with all the key actors engaged in re-imagining new scenarios and solutions. It explores the conditions that are necessary to sustain new kinds of creative partnerships between the arts and public sectors and stresses that sustainability for any inspiring arts project relies upon the active participation of those already working within the public arena. It finishes with a set of practical recommendations. An impatient reader may wish to skip straight to these recommendations and take advantage of the many resources in the footnotes and appendix.