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Connections & Partnerships: The Value of Culture in Communities

The Stove’s CEO, Matt Baker, recently participated in a summit between Scottish Government and COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) called ‘Connections and Partnerships: The Value of Culture in Communities’.

The aim of the event was to encourage partnership working in culture, at local and national level, to support cultural activity at community level.

Exploring challenges, opportunities, and potential actions for change, the event was also attended by some cultural leaders to inform discussions.

a man standing in front of a screen reading from a script to an audience,
Angus Robertson MSP Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, External Affairs and Culture introducing the event.

We caught up with Matt to find out what he was chatting about and how the idea of shining a spotlight on ‘Cultural Value’ can positively impact those working in the creative, social, environmental, and economic sectors at local level.

Matt’s talk followed a presentation by Inverclyde Council about their Culture Collective project 2021-23.

(Culture Collective is rightly celebrated in Scotland, and beyond, as an innovative new approach to connecting national and local cultural opportunity for communities).

‘Like Inverclyde, Dumfries and Galloway had a Culture Collective project which built capacity in community groups to work with creative practitioners to support their work in communities, particularly people and places that had been hard to reach previously.

WWDN Culture Collective Project for Dumfries and Galloway

The legacy of this project for Dumfries and Galloway is the WWDN network which was formally launched earlier this year. This is a vision of our region working together to share resources, capacity and knowledge, using culture to benefit communities.

The principle is that community anchor groups are supported to build experience in working with creative practitioners.

Different communities work together on joint initiatives and all this activity will support a population of local creative freelancers and small cultural organisations.

Community groups and creative practitioners are members of WWDN and use the network to develop new projects and share best practice etc.’

Matt then turned to the practice of Creative Placemaking as an example of one working methodology which can support partnership working across different sectors at local level and draw new support for culture into communities.

‘This approach builds on 12 years of work by The Stove implementing creative placemaking practice in Dumfries town centre.

Our work centres on a simple idea; to use creativity as a tool to support community-led change. Change for individuals, for groups, for social enterprises and for places in their entirety through place planning and the like.

At The Stove we call this ‘Grow Your Own Culture’, a belief in the intrinsic value of participation in creativity, that people making their own culture is equally as important as consuming culture made by other people. This approach often leads to unexpected outcomes right across the spread of social, economic and environmental impact.

In Dumfries, creative projects with communities shaped a conversation across the town about its future, and critically how local people could be involved in making that future. To cut a very long story short, this led to a campaign to ‘buy back our high street’, which became the Midsteeple Quarter project.

Now, five high street buildings are in community ownership and are being developed by the community with over £10M inward investment to date.

What has also become clear through this work is that forming partnerships and bringing culture into collaboration, with other placemaking agencies, helps the creative sector to thrive. In the last year The Stove has cascaded partnership projects to local creative freelancers with 180 individual commissions worth over £200,000 in total.

This year, with South of Scotland Enterprise, The Stove released ‘A Creative Placemaking Approach’ which is published on a creative commons licence and free for anyone to use.

The document aims to lay out a methodology for creative placemaking so that the opportunities and impacts for partnership working across different sectors are clear, and local authorities, for example, feel confident to approach cultural partners about potential collaborations on placemaking projects in health, education, community development, innovation, regeneration and place planning’

Highlighting recent developments in Dumfries and Galloway with the Local Authority taking a creative placemaking approach to connecting larger strategies for economic development with communities on the ground through a place-based approach, Matt went on to talk about practical examples of this work in practice.

This diagram from the publication gives an idea of the spread of impacts from partnership working with the creative sector in the context of place.

Creative Placemaking Impact Diagram – From ‘A Creative Placemaking Approach 2024’

‘We believe this area of work has huge potential for connecting culture with other sectors through the shared agenda of placemaking for the benefit of both.

By way of example – the Economic Development department at Dumfries and Galloway Council is seeing the cultural sector as a vital bridge between strategic infrastructure planning and local communities.

With the advent of Levelling Up and Community Empowerment it is now critical to national funding that communities are directly involved in the design of capital projects – yet in D+G there is a wide gulf between economic development and the grassroots of communities.

In Stranraer, cultural organisations have been commissioned by the council to conduct creative community engagement which is giving less-heard communities a voice in the shaping and delivery of the capital development of the former harbour area and a former hotel on the High Street.

Discussions are also underway about using creative activities as catalyst to bring communities together to develop new ideas which feed into the economic development pipeline.

This work has proved so successful that six weeks ago, Dumfries and Galloway Council advertised, what we believe is, the UK’s first ‘Creative Placemaking Framework’ to enable the council to more easily procure the services of local arts organisations to undertake creative placemaking work.

Of course, there are challenges but it was very encouraging to see this area of work highlighted in the recent National Culture Strategy Action Plan (see S7) and I hope a greater understanding between COSLA and Scottish Government will play a significant part in delivering parts of that action plan.

Matt Baker is CEO and one of the founders of The Stove (est. 2011). The Stove was a progression of his practice as a public artist. Through his career Matt became increasingly concerned with the potential for creative process to empower communities. He sees The Stove as a long-term experiment in embedding a creative resource within a community – the work is a co-directed journey with local people and Matt remains completely absorbed and fascinated by where that journey is leading.

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