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After thirty years at the frontline of grassroots creativity, Voluntary Arts has relaunched as Creative Lives. David Bryan reflects on the work of the organisation to date and the role everyday creativity will increasingly play in post-pandemic life.

Group of men performing music
A highlight from Get Creative Festival Wales 2019

Voluntary Arts turned 30 this month and relaunched as Creative Lives, reflecting the evolution of our work and our vision for the future. While our name is changing, our role in supporting community-led creative activity to flourish remains consistent. For 30 years and for many more to come, we have been and will continue to be an advocate, champion and campaigner for grassroots creativity. Creative Lives expresses the organisation’s role as a voice for positive change, working to improve opportunities for everyone to be creative as part of their everyday lives. 

We have all had to dig deep to get through the pandemic and find ways to rise above the unimaginable disruption to our lives. Covid-19 has compounded entrenched health, social, economic and racial inequalities, but brings opportunities for real change. Most of us have made adjustments to how we live and work and things will never be as they were. 

We have changed. We want more out of life. One of the dramatic shifts has been the explosion of creativity both on and off line, amateur and professional, blurring local, national and international borders, filling the void and affirming people’s passion for a richer, more considerate, creative life.

The work we do supports and endorses this self-initiated creativity, locally driven by passionate enthusiasts who give their time to be creative with others, thereby contributing to civic life.  We are proud to be their champions and see a vital role for community-led creativity in supporting communities to rebuild and thrive after the impacts of Covid-19, where we have witnessed so much of civic life come under threat. We will continue to enable and champion creative activity at a local level to get the recognition it deserves and demonstrate the vital role it can play in rebuilding communities post-pandemic. 

Creative Networks

Like many organisations we are evolving, adapting and ensuring our continued relevance in an ever-changing landscape and whilst our core mission remains the same, we are improving what we do and aiming to reach more people through new initiatives. We have always been an agile online organisation. This year our understanding of remote working became our key strength, enabling us to quickly provide an online offer via our daily Creative Network sessions, which supported local creative communities through this extraordinary time of adjustment.

The organisation has gone through numerous, sometimes radical, changes over its 30 year life. It built a credible devolved structure to represent England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Not satisfied with creating a UK and Ireland network, it went on to develop a European network for active participation in cultural activities – AMATEO. 

Several years later it embarked on improving its understanding and relations with culturally diverse groups, this led to a process of Open Conversations with what we described then as the ‘Voluntary Arts BAME Advisory Panel’. This resulted in a number of changes, most notably a significant diversifying of the board. 

Advocacy and research

Over the last 30 years we have played a substantial role in advocating for legislative changes across the UK and the Republic of Ireland to support community creative activity to thrive. You can learn more about our work in our new publication From Voluntary Arts to Creative Lives: 30 years championing creative activity for all.

We have also initiated and supported research to expose the richness of a previously under-appreciated part of the wider creative ecology. Before everyday creativity was the popular concept that it is today, we were advocates for policy change, providing ‘how to’ briefings, research and creating platforms to demonstrate that the creativity of everyone is valued and needs to flourish. 

Explosion of online arts

The new Arts Council England strategy Let’s Create is an acknowledgement that a wider ecosystem is essential if the cultural life of the UK is to enrich everyone. The pandemic has temporarily slowed the implementation of ACE’s new policy but not for long. Surprisingly, especially for those wedded to the established canons of artistic life as enacted by major arts institutions, the arts have exploded online and on terrestrial TV with programmes such as Portrait Artist of the Year, The Great British Sewing Bee and The Great Pottery Throwdown just to name a few, demonstrating exceptional talent, trained or self-taught. 

Our transition to Creative Lives is accompanied by an improved output that builds on the work and experiences we have developed over the years. Our sector support offer will include a new suite of tailored online training: Creative Learning, which covers topics from fundraising to producing digital content. Our Creative Network sessions will continue and grow, in their complex mix of open discussions. 

Our partnerships with BBC local radio, now known as Creative Lives on Air, will expand with new projects starting at BBC Radio Sheffield, BBC Radio Suffolk and BBC Radio Norfolk.  And we will be launching a new consultancy offer for local authorities who are seeking to deepen their understanding and engagement with local arts and creative groups. 

Creative Lives will be forging new and varied partnerships going forward – I invite you to get involved and be inspired. Please sign up to our newsletter at www.creative-lives.org and follow us on social media @creativelivesCL.

David Bryan CBE is Chair of Creative Lives.

This article is an advertising feature sponsored and contributed by Creative Lives.




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photo of David Bryan


Having been one of the people consulted as part of the review of VA, Its a pleasure to see the birth of Creative Lives. Looking forward to seeing how things unfold and in particular the role CL can play in being a strong and purposeful voice for those working deep in communities - these are the parts of the sector who are regularly the unheard part of our ecology's national narrative..