Blog Post

64 Million everyday artists

09.10.15

Jo Hunter from 64 Million Artists and Rebecca Ball from The Cultural Spring on how self-led participation can transform culture

Around two years ago, my colleague David and I decided to launch a project with the ambition to change UK culture to one that valued doing as much as viewing. There was a lot of talk around at the time about how to get more people to ‘value culture,’ and we felt that in order to do that you really needed to change culture itself. Why would people value culture unless they felt they had a stake in it, unless they were part of it? We wanted to see what would happen if participation in the arts became a much more central part of culture. If art stopped being ‘what artists do,’ and started being what everyone does.  

We started running experiments first as 53 Million then 64 Million Artists, distilling the creative process down to something everyone could do. People would make time (20 mins a day, an hour a week or half a day a month) and would follow a simple process - Do, Think and Share. They’d do an activity they didn’t normally do (sometimes followed by creative prompts from us), take time to reflect on it, and then share those reflections with others. 

We’ve worked in factories, community groups, offices, universities and councils and had a huge response, with people finding that when they do this, all sorts of things happen – it makes them slow down and re-prioritise, it helps them look at the world differently and it encourages them to get to know different people in a different way. We also gathered lots of friends along the way who are sharing the same message as us,  Fun Palaces, Voluntary Arts and lots of Creative People and Places projects, all working towards a more democratic culture where everyone can participate. 

We started working in all three of the Creative People and Places projects based in the North East (bait, East Durham Creates and The Cultural Spring) earlier this year when they asked us to come up and work with their staff and some of their community champions to try out some ideas around Do, Think and Share. We had a great time, looking at how self-led participation might be a light touch way to engage more people, and also reminding the teams to prioritise themselves as creative people. One of my favourite things to hear was someone saying ‘it reminded me that we could have ideas for projects too – not just outsourcing it all to artists.’

Now we are collaborating on a pilot project with The Cultural Spring to develop a 10 week set of creative challenges for the people of Sunderland and South Tyneside and we’re continuing to work with East Durham Creates piloting how the scheme could work in Care Homes and other settings. We’re still in a constant stage of experiment, and trying to remember always to make it fun! We’ll be partnering with Arts Council England from November onwards to come around the country starting a dialogue and research around self-led participation, so if you’d like to be involved do drop me a line.

Jo Hunter Email: jo@64millionartists.com

The Cultural Spring 10 week challenge

I remember about a year ago reading about 53 Million Artists (now 64 Million Artists) and their aspiration for everyone to have the opportunity and the time to pursue their own creative projects and feeling really excited about the connections with our plans at The Cultural Spring. 

At The Cultural Spring we had talked a lot about our ambition for the arts to be natural part of everyone’s everyday life - ‘an everyday essential’. In consultation with the local community we had developed an extensive programme of low cost workshops in local venues across our 10 wards.  We were providing opportunities for people to take part in a wide variety of music, craft, visual arts and digital arts at all different times of day and we were actively promoting them with the rallying cry for  ‘everyone to come along’  and make time to ‘try something new’! 

We were however beginning to see some patterns of attendance at these workshops. It became apparent (perhaps unsurprisingly) that the majority of people who were taking up the offer to come and ‘try something new’ were older, often retired, generally without young families, relatively healthy and had access transport. One telling statistic was that 53% people were aged over 55, as opposed to 15% aged between 25 and 44. 

The partnership with 64 Million Artists has given us the opportunity to take our ambition for the arts to be natural part of everyone’s everyday life to the next stage. It has enabled us to provide an offer for people who find it difficult to regularly attend a workshop outside of the home – whether that is because of health reasons, caring responsibilities, lack of transport or work pressure. The 64 Million Artists / Cultural Spring 10 week challenge launched at the end of September. We are still at a very early stage of the experiment and it is too early to analyse who is taking up the offer but anything that helps pull down the barriers and enable more people to engage in the arts has to be a good thing.

Rebecca Ball, The Cultural Spring