Citizens' assembly creates culture

07. May 2024
New Art Exchange

In Nottingham, England, the world's first permanent citizens' assembly is being launched with the aim of making art and culture a matter for all residents. The permanent citizens' assembly in the Hyson Green district is intended to help residents to  to connect and contribute to shaping the vision and strategy the work of the cultural institution "New Art Exchange" (NAE) in the neighbourhood.

12,000 randomly selected residents of Hyson Green and the surrounding area were invited to apply for the VOICE Assembly. The mini-public was randomly selected from the applications. The aim of the VOICE Assembly is to give a voice to the aspirations and ambitions of neighbourhood residents so that the future of arts and culture in Hyson Green can be shaped together.

Three-pillar model

Together with the Executive Team and the Board of Trustees, the VOICE Assembly will form a Three-Pillar Leadership model. "This signifies an ongoing, evolving dialogue with our neighbourhood, shaping the future of art and culture in a meaningful, citizen-led manner," says the New Art Exchange website.

NAE claims to be the largest art gallery in the UK dedicated to contemporary visual art from the global ethnic majority. "We set out to reshape the contemporary art narrative by championing diversity and inclusivity and by providing a platform for underrepresented voices in the art world," the gallery's self-promotion states.

Global concept

The world's first permanent citizens' asssembly of its kind is intended to be a constantly evolving model, developing and maturing through the engagement of the cultural institution and feedback from the VOICE Assembly. "We aim to create a global blueprint that enhances cultural institutions’ relevance, legitimacy, and sustainability by fostering deeper connections and collaborations with the communities and citizens they serve," write the Citizens' Assembly initiators.

NAE CEO Saad Eddine Said explains about the project: "As a migrant in the UK, I was often confronted with questions that are centred around who gets to make decisions and who doesn’t. I found myself in environments where I felt that I had no power to shape any matter that impacted me and my surroundings. My voice was absent and my participation seemed inconsequential, creating a profound sense of exclusion and invisibility.

Seat at the table, voice in the conversations

This experience became a catalyst for my commitment to ensure that every individual, regardless of their background, has a seat at the table and a voice in the conversations that shape our communities and futures. As the CEO of New Art Exchange, I am deeply invested in transforming these insights into actionable change, to create a space where everyone can shape the future.

Today, we become the first major cultural organisation worldwide to launch the integration of a permanent Citizen Assembly as a core part of our leadership structure to shape all of our neighbourhood’s overall strategy, investments, programmes, and policies.

Citizen leadership

Today we share an ambition and a vision with the hope that it might contribute to a wider reimagining and redefining of how we, as a sector, hand in hand, with citizens, can push beyond participation and beyond co-creation to engage with real citizen leadership and decision-making to build a stronger foundation for co-shaping the future. We call it our VOICE Assembly.

While citizen assemblies have been utilized globally in various contexts - from climate change to urban planning - what sets the VOICE Assembly apart is its permanent integration into the core leadership structure of NAE with the ambition to design and articulate a blueprint for other major cultural institutions.

Inspiration and purpose

Our journey, to this point, has had its fair share of challenges and we recognise that sharing and handing over power can be scary. We have experienced many moments filled with doubt and times when the path forward seemed unclear. However, we have also witnessed numerous milestones of collective celebration that continue to strengthen our commitment and excitement about our work and vision. This is where we find our inspiration. This is where we find our purpose.

Our aspiration for the future is simple: A neighbourhood where culture is driven and defined by its citizens. We dream of a community where everyone feels profound pride, belonging, and ownership over their community’s future, building an international and replicable blueprint that showcases the potential of citizen-led cultural regeneration. Driven by, crafted for, and built with the people, because your VOICE matters."

First assembly meeting in May

The VOICE Assembly will meet for the first time from 23 - 25 May 2024, where participants will learn about NAE, and about the programmes it delivers in Hyson Green while exploring how the future of art and culture in Hyson Green can be shaped.

Members will then be invited to participate in three follow-up meetings to delve deeper into how Hyson Green’s cultural landscape can be enhanced, drawing on insights from national experts. These sessions will focus on further learning, deliberation, and finalising recommendations to NAE. They will be facilitated by an independent facilitator and the recommendations will be made public.

"New Art Exchange" will cover participants' travel costs, provide lunch and offer additional support if needed. Each participant receives an allowance of £100 per session day.

Participation from the age of 18

Participation is open to anyone aged 18 or over who lives in Hyson Green, except for government officials, political party employees, council employees, NAE employees and their immediate family members and NAE Board members and their immediate family members. We want a group that reflects our community’s diversity.

The VOICE Assembly operates on a cyclical basis, with each assembly serving a term of no more than 24 months before recruiting a new cohort of citizens through a randomised selection process. This ensures continuous evolution and strengthens our connection with the community. To maintain continuity, up to 20% of the outgoing assembly members have the option, if they wish, to join the first series of meetings of the new cohort, facilitating knowledge transfer during this transition.

Other citizens' assemblies on culture

Citizens' assemblies on arts and culture have already taken place in other cities. In Coventry, England, in October and November 2021, randomly selected residents took part in a mini-public to discuss how art, culture and creativity can contribute to a better future for the British Capital of Culture 2021.  In November 2023, randomly selected society forums were held at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn and the Kunstgewerbemuseum Dresden (both Germany). Their aim was to reassess the importance of these cultural institutions in terms of their role in society.

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