At the coalface: sustaining cultural participation in areas of economic disadvantage and deprivation in County Durham, North East England

Lovatt, Maureen (2021) At the coalface: sustaining cultural participation in areas of economic disadvantage and deprivation in County Durham, North East England. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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This research has been developed as part of a collaborative PhD with New Writing North, at Northumbria University. New Writing North is the writing and reading development agency for the North of England. From 2015 to 2018 the agency undertook a Strategic Touring Programme to make and tour high-quality children’s theatres to local communities in non-traditional venues across the North of England where, previously, arts and culture provision had been limited. The programme was centred on a development model that involved working closely with community centre managers and library services on an audience development plan which aimed to encourage greater participation in cultural activities amongst the under 7s and their families and to create an embedded model of participation that would be sustained once the touring programme was complete.

The aim of this research has been twofold. First, to assess how successful New Writing North’s partnership model has been in terms of sustaining arts and culture provision in those disadvantaged communities. Secondly, to research a wider question about why sustaining arts and culture provision in areas of economic disadvantage and deprivation has proved so challenging for the cultural sector.

The central research question asks:

What can the partnership model between New Writing North and community centres tell us about supporting sustained cultural participation in areas of economic disadvantage and deprivation?

Case studies are drawn from five former mining communities in County Durham with a focus placed on the community venues: in particular, the views and experiences of venue managers themselves – those working at the coalface.

The research is underpinned by a methodology of Pragmatism which supports working in a dynamic case study environment where both the delivery of the work and the partnership model continued to develop and evolve. Pragmatism asserts that beliefs should be judged against outcomes – by how useful they are in terms of a guide to present and future action. What has worked well in the past provides us with a guide to what is likely to work well in the present and future.

Therefore, the issue of sustaining provision of arts and culture in areas of economic disadvantage and deprivation is further explored by a combination of historical policy analysis and a theoretical analysis of the paradigm incapsulated by the notion of Cultural Democracy, whilst an examination of the contemporary experiences of venue managers remains central to the research.

The research makes the case that the role of community centre managers is fundamental to achieving sustained cultural provision and yet, despite this, the manager’s role remains largely hidden in traditional ways of understanding arts activity in areas of economic disadvantage and deprivation. Moreover, the thesis asserts that there is a disjoint and a lack of communication between policymakers and communities which means that there is an over-dependence on arts organisations as decision-makers. It argues that community centre managers are well-placed within the ecosystem of arts provision to achieve sustained arts and cultural provision in areas of economic disadvantage and deprivation. However, they can only do this once their position is acknowledged and the wider sector, particularly policymakers and funders, are prepared to offer the right level of support.

The research concludes with some thoughts and recommendations of how this can be made possible, of how to better approach the challenge of sustained provision, an issue that has long been a challenge for the arts and culture sector and its policymakers (Wilson, Gross and Bull, 2017).

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: participatory arts, arts in the community, cultural democracy, cultural policy in deprived areas, arts & culture in community centres
Subjects: L900 Others in Social studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Social Sciences
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2022 10:46
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2022 10:39

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