Connecting Communities through Culture

Birmingham City Council have partnered with DCLG and Arts Council England in funding a research and development project; that sees local arts fora develop projects that are genuinely informed by local residents and involve arts activities relevant to their area.

The Connecting Communities through Cultural Co-design programme is focused on how local residents with artists create the conditions for integration to happen. Instead of large-scale, centrally led and funded programmes, we want to inspire and enable communities and local areas to take action on integration issues that are important to them through high quality arts activity.

Through this programme we aim to develop a body of evidence that highlights Birmingham’s Connecting Communities approach as a national model of good practice that can be replicated in other cities.


Pilot: 2013/14 Igniting the Spark (read the pilot evaluation report)

The programme started with three pilot projects the Castle Vale, Balsall Heath and Shard End areas of Birmingham. The pilot trialled a new way of working and ran alongside a community based budgeting pilot in the three areas. 


Year 1: 2014/15 Towards Cultural Co-design (read the evaluation summary report)

The Connecting Communities Through Culture (CCC) programme is part of the Arts and Communities initiative to develop a bank of good practice in arts and culture that bring communities together that can be disseminated nationally. This initiative also supports programmes in Bradford, Bristol and Burnley. Each city took a different approach to achieving the aims of the Arts and Communities initiative. 

At the start of this programme of work in 2014 Birmingham decided to allocate equal amounts of funding across the city's ten districts to stimulate ten locally developed arts projects co-ordinated by local arts forum lead organisations.

The core outcomes for the Birmingham programme were:

- increased participation and engagement across a range of diverse groups and communities using arts and culture

- local arts infrastructure transformed through resident engagement in ownership, design and production of local arts & cultural activities

- models of good arts practice that demonstrate improved shared understanding of values, aspirations and common ground

- common evaluation framework                                                                                                                                                              


Cultural Co-design

The approach taken in Birmingham approached the arts and communities initiative by embedding co-design as the delivery model this was based on the C2 Positively Local asset development model which was used during the 2013 - 14 pilot as a process for developing co-production and co-design in arts and culture.

Cultural Co-design is a way of creating a product, programme or cultural activity where arts professionals empower, encourage, and guide participants to develop solutions for themselves.

Co-design encourages the blurring of the role between participants and artists, focusing on the process by which the art product or programme is created.  This process believes that by encouraging the artist and the participant to create solutions together, the final result will be more appropriate to and ‘owned’ by the participant.

It is accepted that the quality of the art work can be increased if the interests and ideas from the participants are considered in the process.

Connecting Communities Symposium (read the evaluation report)

On 13th March 2015 a Connecting Communities Through Culture Conference took place to explore the first year of the Arts and Communities programme in the four cities of Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol and Burnley. 

The aim of the event was to:

• Explore the issues and challenges of this kind of work through debate and discussion

• Showcase good practice in arts and culture that brings communities together by increasing participation, building common ground and promoting stronger and more integrated communities.

• Share a bank of good practice that can be used to inform policy development, inspire communities and practitioners, and advocate the beneficial impact of the arts

• Disseminate learning to inspire further activity at a national level

• Celebrate and profile Birmingham’s innovative approach to local people taking responsibility for arts and culture in their own neighbourhoods.

Year 2: 2015/16

Year Two of the Arts and Communities programme in Birmingham seeks to deepen the arts engagement with specific communities of interest and local neighbourhoods within the 10 Districts led by 10 Local Arts Fora lead organisations and community arts producers. 

The programme builds on the partnerships established with communities of interest and specific locations and includes a refined model of cultural co-design and co-production re-named 'CHOICES' to refer specifically to arts and cultural activities. 

C - Co-ordinator / Community producer to undertake conversations with stakeholders and residents to locate ‘energy for change’ – individuals to lead change

H - Hone positive vision by listening to issues raised by residents and developing into a plan and budget with LAF / Arts Champions and steering group

O - Offer opportunities to artists and arts organisations and to tender and engage residents in selection, writing briefs, panel selection

I - Initiate arts activities, Inspire residents to engage as participants, audiences or volunteer artists on programme and involve them in creating local ‘buzz’

C - Continue creative engagement and check-in with steering group to focus energy on key events – build community marketing and local buzz to maximise audiences

E - Evaluate programme, gain feed-back and comments from attenders, stakeholders and artists and establish participant and attendance data with case studies

S - Share case studies and lessons learnt in Symposium for national / regional / local audiences                                                                                                                  

For more information about the Birmingham Connecting Communities through cultural co-design programme contact the Culture Commissioning Service on 0121 303 2434 or email