Art for the People

06. May 2022

50 randomly selected residents of the English city of Coventry held a citizens' assembly in October and November 2021 to discuss how art, culture and creativity can contribute to a better future for the UK Capital of Culture 2021. On 28 November, the assembly participants decided on their recommendations to politicians.

The Citizens' Assembly participants had agreed on 17 recommendations, with nine recommendations supported by more than 80 per cent of the participants. No recommendation received less than 60 per cent support. Suggestions include a free arts pass for Coventry residents aged 15-25, a funding pot for hosting cultural events and a network of creative hubs in the area.

Cultural policy in the hands of citizens

The creation of public art, for example on Coventry's central ring road, is also an issue. The proposed city-wide Encounters with Arts and Culture programme aims to increase the visibility of arts provision and establish a local artists' advisory bureau.

"The Citizens' Assembly has put cultural policy making into the hands of ordinary people," commented Janet Vaughan, artistic director of the Talking Birds project, which organised the assembly. Citizens' assemblies, she said, appeal to a wider range of people and offer a broader range of perspectives than a traditional public call, which may only attract creatives.

"The commitment of the citizens was enormous"

"The investment citizens put in was massive. They felt a real sense of responsibility for making the right decisions for the city," Vaughan said. "Residents are harnessing arts, culture and creativity to shape a better future for themselves and their city." Vaughan said she “couldn’t recommend a citizens' assembly enough” to other areas considering it. 

The Assembly’s recommendations have been presented to Coventry’s Cultural Compact and some of the ideas have been incorporated into the city’s Cultural Strategy refresh. Talking Birds is now working with Assembly members, to create pilot projects that test out the recommendations in neighbourhoods across Coventry, and start the work of making the Citizens’ vision a reality.

Meetings in October and November 2021

In September 2021, 15,000 randomly selected households had received invitations to the UK's first Citizens' Assembly on Arts and Culture. Citizens' Assembly meetings took place online on six weekdays and as face-to-face meetings on one full weekend between the end of October and the end of November 2021. Participants received an allowance of £300 as a thank you. Additional needs, such as support with the use of a computer or childcare, were also provided.

All over the world, people are dreaming up bold visions to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19, forming communities in new ways, and unlocking their own creativity and potential. Talking Birds is organising Art for the People to determine what part arts, culture and creativity will play in this rebuilding.

"Art is an important part of our lives"

Talking Birds' website says: "We believe that arts, culture and creativity are a fundamental part of everybody’s lives – the music we listen to, a dance around the kitchen as we cook, the rhythms we tap out with our feet while waiting for a bus, the photographs we post on social media… Our taxes help pay for our galleries, music venues and arts companies – and the TV dramas we watch, the books we read and the festivals we go to give us things to talk about. Art is a powerful part of all of our lives – it binds us together and is part of what makes us human.

We know we will need to work together to solve the huge problems facing humanity, and the arts are one of our fundamental ways of connecting with each other. If a City of Culture can’t lead the way on determining how the arts, culture and creativity can help shape a better future, who can?"

Citizens' Assembly as a collaborative project

Art for the People was developed by Talking Birds in collaboration with MutualGain and The Sortition Foundation. The project is supported by Coventry City of Culture Trust, Arts Council England and Coventry City Council.

Talking Birds is a Coventry-based artist ensemble known for its gently provocative projects that explore and seek to illuminate the deep and complex relationships between people and places. The ensemble places a strong emphasis on access, human connection, social and environmental responsibility and nurturing the next generation of artists and theatre makers, particularly in Coventry.

More information: Talking Birds