Blog: Can the arts be a tool for change in communities?

Published: 16 Feb 2018

Author: Dan Boyden
Blog: Can the arts be a tool for change in communities?

I’m a theatre practitioner who travelled to Croatia, New York and Brazil in 2013 and 2014 on a Churchill Fellowship, spending time with organisations that use theatre techniques to engage young people on the margins.

In New York I ran theatre workshops in some of the city's most deprived neighbourhoods with an organisation called Theatre of the Oppressed NYC. They were building solid partnerships with community organisations across the city to help tell the stories of groups that were often under represented and whose voices weren't being heard. In Brazil I worked in the favelas and saw first-hand how the arts and culture can offer marginalised young people a new identity.

As a result of my Fellowship and work I’ve done subsequently, my passion and belief in the arts as a powerful tool for social change has grown stronger. I’m now running an organisation called The Change Collective (TCC), a group of applied arts practitioners – including a filmmaker, poet, visual artists, theatre performers and directors and a dancer – coming together to explore how change happens through the arts.

Below: watch Dan’s TedX talk on Creativity and the Alchemy of Groups 

We’re interested in what could happen if we combine our skills and experience of using arts in complex and chaotic conditions. Are there any new approaches or ideas that could support organisations and communities to move forward, to have better conversations and to find new ways to connect? We want to bring together the people who are making the decisions with the people who are affected by those decisions, and as many of the people in between.

TCC were recently asked to run a workshop with the Barbican Centre in London for creative entrepreneurs about health and wellbeing in the arts. We’ve worked with the Greater London Authority at City Hall, where we designed and delivered a workshop for young people looking at what London means to them, as part of an event where almost 300 young people took over City Hall and made their voices heard.

Soon we'll be working with The British Council, sharing our experiences of arts and social change in the UK and Internationally, and during 2018 we hope to keep building on these partnerships and testing our methods and ideas.

We definitely don’t know all the answers, but we can help people to ask each other the right questions and use the arts as a shared language to help this process. We’re also looking outside of the arts at maths, science and tech and seeing what we can learn from what’s working elsewhere. If you’re interested in keeping in touch, sign up to our mailing list or follow us on Facebook and we’ll let you know about upcoming events and ways to connect in 2018.

Read Dan’s Fellowship report

Apply for a Churchill Fellowship