£150k civic arts prize shortlist announced

Ten arts organisations that have made special contributions to their communities during the pandemic have been shortlisted for the first £150,000 Civic Arts Awards, it was announced today.

Artists and organisations have submitted projects as varied as creating a cultural hub through bread-making, club nights for those with learning difficulties and a weekly local soap opera.

The shortlist has been chosen from 260 applicants from across the UK in the scheme organised and funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (UK) in association with King‘s College London. There will be one award of £100,000 and two of £25,000 each, with the winners announced in March.

The new awards sprang from the foundation’s 2018 report Rethinking Relationships which showed the need for the arts to work more closely with their communities and were open to publicly funded organisations across the art forms.

“Up and down the country arts organisations have been playing a pivotal role in sustaining our communities, providing connection, joy, and hope” said Andrew Barnett, director of Calouste Gulbenkian (UK). “The ten shortlisted organisations are each uniquely modelling what it means to have a civic role. Their approaches will inform and inspire the work of others at this challenging time."

The ten shortlisted are:

  • Deveron Projects (Aberdeenshire), based in a rural market town, for whom lockdown led to a rethink of their local-global artist in residence policy. They collaborated with a local craftsperson to produce and sell bread and cakes, and locally made facemasks leading to a local honesty shop with a baker in residence, becoming a local meeting place from which developed an online global slow marathon for walkers.
  • Eden Court Highlands (Inverness), Scotland’s largest combined arts organisation, formed a partnership with the Highland Council and re-purposed their staff team and facilities as the humanitarian aid centre for the region. Their work with the community included activities for children of keyworkers, packing and distributing thousands of food parcels and turning the venue’s restaurant windows into a temporary community exhibition site.
  • EGO Performance Company Ltd (Coventry) remotely filmed and streamed a weekly soap by their members, “Corona-nation Street”, building creative skills and reflecting the everyday experiences and talents of a diverse, young and largely marginalised community.
  • Friction Arts (Birmingham), set up to create social change through the arts, responded to the pandemic in a range of ways from supporting freelance artists, setting up a “directory of creative enquiries” at two food banks, allowing their outdoor spaces to be used for local community groups to meet – when social distancing rules permitted - to create new online expansions of their youth programmes.
  • Heart n Soul (London) built an online programme of activities for those with learning disabilities, including club nights, quizzes, baking sessions and an online gallery of artwork made from creative packs posted out every fortnight, and provided regular work for freelance artists.
  • Key Changes (London) developed Studio Connect that allows specialist music mentors and artists with mental health challenges to be connected remotely, accompanied online by choirs and workshops for participant artists living in high-risk settings.
  • Museum of Homelessness C/O The Outside Project (London) consulted with health specialists to create a community-led Covid-19 Homeless Taskforce, bringing together frontline and grassroots organisations with arts organisation to help the homeless community by block booking empty hotel rooms for the community to self-isolate, bringing 29,000 people into safe accommodation. They formed a group of 50 volunteers partnering with the council and many local organisations, to produce and distribute meals and connect with those in isolation
  • Quiet Down There CIC (Brighton) is a community interest company that creates environments where individuals, artists, communities and organisations can articulate and develop their own culture. This year it prioritised those most affected by the pandemic providing community meals and one to one meetings in outdoor locations for the vulnerable, highlighting for instance, the overlooked stories of laundrette staff who continued working but had not been acknowledged as key workers, forming creative community hubs involving 6 artists and 30 launderettes (main image).
  • The Big House Theatre Company (London) works with young people who have experienced the care system and makes theatre with them, liaised with support services which were difficult to access due to the pandemic, and provided counselling and financial advice, as well as new online theatre courses and workshops. This resulted in The Ballad of Corona V, co-written to address the harsh reality of what has happened to some of the city’s most marginalised young people.
  • The Whitworth Art Gallery (Manchester) rewrote its mission to respond to the pandemic, adhering to three key principles: learning through making and doing; creating a place of care, consideration, and community; and taking action. The Whitworth’s expanded online programme has engaged almost 300,000 people through the pandemic so far.

“It was a privilege to review the range of submissions to the award, which came from across the whole of the UK and which demonstrated the imaginative ways in which the cultural sector has responded creatively and with great resilience to the challenges of this exceptional year” said Baroness Deborah Bull, vice principal at King’s and chair of the judges. “We were inspired as a panel to see how organisations large and small had connected with their communities to serve local needs while continuing to deliver life-enhancing opportunities through culture and creativity.”




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