An interim evaluation of the programme finds progress despite challenges and points to the need for new thinking on arts infrastructure in areas of low arts engagement.

Photo of an explosion of confetti in Dagenham Village
Les Vernisseurs cause a colourful explosion at Dagenham Village for DAGFEST

Anita Adeshina

A new report summarising the interim outcomes of Arts Council England’s Creative People and Places (CPP) programme points to positive signs of change, with people from locations that offer fewer opportunities for engagement in the arts being involved in a range of different ways.

Building Whilst Flying: Learning from the Creative People and Places programme’ was commissioned by the CPP network as part of a national evaluation managed by A New Direction. It reports that over 800,000 people attended at least one of over 1,200 CPP activities between October 2013 and July 2015. Three-quarters of them came from neighbourhoods likely to have medium or low arts attendance, and half came from neighbourhoods with the lowest attendance.

Action learning is at the heart of the CPP programme and the report also examines many of the challenges faced so far. The time needed to set up projects and build effective partnerships emerges as a key issue, with places “struggling to balance the requirement to fit a large programme’s structures and timings with the commitment to a creative and experimental learning approach”. Related to this is the time needed to set up appropriate partnerships that could be key to creating activity that is sustainable beyond its initial funding. Researcher Ruth Melville noted that CPP is a programme that’s “working in areas with real challenges in terms of participation, so changes will inevitably be slow to take effect”.

The report lists a wide ranges of issues that arise from the new thinking prompted by CPP, including “the need for new definitions of what arts infrastructure looks like”. Holly Donagh, Partnerships Director at A New Direction and consortium member for Creative Barking & Dagenham, said: “One of the most interesting aspects of the programme are the ways places are disrupting some of the old hierarchies – amateur/professional, artists/audience. As the programme continues, this is where we will see really interesting learning that could profoundly change the way the cultural sector works.”

The report is published shortly after Arts Council England announced it was drastically cutting funding for CPP. Only £5.2m was distributed through the latest phase of funding awards, compared with £15.9m when the scheme was launched in 2012.

Liz Hill