This project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of its Connected Communities programme and is due to run 2012-2016.

Cultural intermediation is a process which connects different kinds of communities into the creative economy and wider society.  It plays a critical role in raising aspirations, upskilling and building confidence, all of which are vital to allow people to engage with and benefit from one of the most dynamic sectors of the contemporary UK economy.

Individual artists, professional networks, events, festivals, commissioning bodies, creative businesses, arts and cultural organisations both large and small can all play intermediary roles.  Some of the most exciting opportunities for research in this area are occurring in the city regions.  In part this is because of their size and multiplicity of cultural resources, but also because these areas have large concentrations of communities suffering multiple deprivation who are being left behind by the post-industrial creative economy.

Investigations undertaken as part of developing this research project revealed that those individuals and organisations undertaking cultural intermediation are coming under significant pressure.  Public sector funding cuts and a new agenda of localism are changing the relationship that intermediaries have with the state, requiring a reappraisal of their activities.  The ‘Big Society’ agenda places an emphasis on community-led activities at the same time that the institutional support for capacity building in those communities through cultural intermediation is being squeezed.  The creative sector is itself highly fragmented with weak connections between different sectors, different communities and policy processes.  So-called ‘hard-to-reach’ communities remain disconnected, suffering multiple deprivation, social disenfranchisement and exclusion.

Acknowledging the importance of cultural intermediation, the research asks to what extent these processes meet the needs of urban communities in the 21st century and how they might operate more effectively.  The aim of the research is to discover how the value of cultural intermediation can be captured and how this activity can be enhanced to create more effective connection between communities and the creative economy.  The objectives of the research are to: create new ways of measuring value; analyse the historic development of cultural intermediation to inform current practice; examine how intermediation fits within the existing policy landscape and the governance of relations between the different actors; explore the effectiveness of intermediation activity from a community perspective; design new forms of intermediation through a series of practice-based interventions; and reflect on the process of working across and between disciplines and sectors in order to enhance practice.

The research has a number of key applications and wider benefits.  In providing a means to capture the value of intermediation, policy makers and practitioners will be able to foster better practice.  This is of particular importance given the shifts in the governance and funding landscape, particularly within the public sector.  The historical material, will provide a crucial evidence base situating understandings of intermediation, providing lessons to current practitioners.  Those creative intermediaries directly involved in the interventions will receive training in research methods in order to analyse and improve their own practice.  A subsequent ‘how-to’ research guide will disseminate these lessons more widely.  Academically the research will make a major contribution to debates on: creativity and valuation; the historical evolution of the creative economy; governance and localism; practice-based methods; interdisciplinarity and epistemic communities; and the role of culture in connecting communities.

We’re lucky to have a number of partners on the project, including ACE, AIR, a-n, Brighter Sound, Chris Jam, The Community Development Trust, Creative Partnerships, MADE, Manchester City Council, Manchester International Festival, RSA, Sampad,  Unconvention, Visiting Arts.

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