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An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with AMA CultureHive banner

Top-down programmes will never bring about meaningful change, says Cath Hume – so it’s time for arts organisations and funders to shift their approach.

A photo of a protest march with women holding signs
Women's March in Chicago

Do you have a desire to see change? Are you committed to a cause? There are so many battles to be won and so much injustice in our society – and most of us in the arts sector want to have a positive influence on these. How do we do this and what can we learn from movements for change?

Change is driven by people who are passionate and have clarity of purpose

We can start by supporting existing movements and learning from them to help us deliver our own change – whether that’s in our organisations, our sector, our communities or our wider spheres of influence. 

There is no formal definition of what a movement for change is, but here’s a definition that works for me: “Social movements are formed and propelled by people who believe that their rights are being abridged, and who – as a result – are compelled to organise around common problems and shared identities to obtain redress. Acting together, people from communities that historically have been excluded from power are more likely to have influence than people acting individually.”

Social movements for change most often grow from individuals and groups of individuals who have lived experience of injustice. If we are beginning from a more privileged position, we need to think carefully about how we use that privilege to support, grow or give birth to change. 

Clarity of purpose

One thing successful movements have in common is their clarity of purpose: they can all clearly communicate the change they want to bring about. The mission of Women’s March, for instance, is to harness the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change. Their call to action is clear: ‘Join the movement: We’re marching. We’re mobilising. We’re making history’. Similarly, the TIME’S UP movement against sexual harassment insists on ‘safe, fair and dignified work for women of all kinds’.  

Both of these groups also take the step from words and debate to positive action.

Developing change from the ground up

The 2017 Nesta report ‘We Change the World' says that “when a social movement grows, it spreads a vision and set of collective actions to attain it, as opposed to traditional change programmes which encourage the adoption of an intervention, product, service or programme”. The latter describes how a lot of change programmes in the cultural sector work. We see a challenge, create a programme to address it and implement that programme, often attempting to involve ‘communities’ who have had no input into the activity designed to make change.

If we want to bring about genuine change, we need to find other people who share our need for it – and then work together to craft a vision, build a community and develop activity from the ground up. This means a shift in approach for many of us, and many of our funders. 

Work with your community

Nina Simon, Spacemaker and CEO at the US-based OF/BY/FOR ALL network, has been working with colleagues to test ways that organisations and the people within them can make change in their communities and/or support the change the people around them are trying to make. During her time as CEO for the Santa Cruz Museum of Arts and History, Nina set up a global movement dedicated to making cultural organisations become of, by and for their communities. 

When we work in organisations we can choose how we want to develop our programmes, but Nina emphasises that “you have to be of/by/for all if you are working with marginalised or oppressed communities. Because when you work with communities that have been chronically disempowered, chronically oppressed, if you don’t work of and by them you are contributing to their oppression”. 

OF/BY/FOR ALL is being supported by the AMA and we are sharing the work coming out of the movement on AMAculturehive. To get a snapshot of where your organisation succeeds and struggles when it comes to being of, by, and for your community you can complete this 7 minute self-assessment. 

Learn from success

Organisations I observe with admiration include Julie’s Bicycle, who support the creative community to act on climate change and environmental sustainability. Their vision is a creative community powering action on climate change. Built on a collective vision of the future where “festivals were powered by solar, venues were off-grid and covered in flowers, museums were community energy providers, artists were united as beacons for change”, they have grown over 12 years into a positive, impactful force for change. 

Their successful partnership working looks to be driven by their clarity of vision. When times are tough we have to resist the temptation to make partnerships that may help us with short-term challenges but distract from our long-term vision. 

Museum Detox is an impressive network of BAME museum and heritage professionals. They serve as “a catalyst towards the recognition, value and respect of a shared cultural agency and the 21st-century audiences we all serve”. This network, run entirely by volunteers, has rapidly become an influential movement that is making genuine change happen. As individuals and as a collective, Museum Detox has raised and pushed forward essential questions about our sector.

Next steps 

So what can we do? We can support, make space for and learn from these movements. It’s exhilarating and inspiring to see the change that is being driven by the many collective movements around us. And what can we learn? That this change is driven by people who are passionate, have clarity of purpose and see impact as they build a network around them. 

Above all, start now – use your position, time and influence to find your own way to be part of the growth of these movements, and make a positive difference. 

Cath Hume is CEO at the Arts Marketing Association.

Tw: @CathHume | @amadigital

This article, sponsored and contributed by AMAculturehive, is part of a series sharing resources and learning from the online library for the sector.

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Photo of Cath Hume