Get creative: it's in everyone's interests

Friday, 11 April 2014 - 12:00am

Exploring the potential for creative activities to transform people's lives.  

Cafe Art's Big Draw event at Spitalfields Market.
Cafe Art's Big Draw event at Spitalfields Market.

When I first began my work on Get Creative: Arts for All, I found myself questioning the value of the project.  Weren’t there far more pressing concerns that needed to be addressed? How was I going to convince services to focus on arts activities when they were facing a whole host of pressures that meant they were struggling to meet the most urgent and basic needs of their clients? I was also not a very ‘creative’ person – how could I promote activities to others that I would never even think about doing myself?

Over the last two years, my feelings on both of these initial reservations have changed.

I have been lucky to visit many inspiring projects and support numerous others to be set up. Whether participating in sessions myself, or talking to staff and service users involved, I have been overwhelmed by the passion, enthusiasm and energy these activities ignite.

'Homeless populations possess a great deal of talent and a great depth of experience that can make an invaluable contribution to the richness and diversity of community life.'

For those directors, funders and commissioners who require evidence of outcomes, I would strongly encourage you to visit some of these projects yourselves; participate in a session; speak to those involved. The transformative power of such activities will be evident, and quantitative data will never do them justice.

I have realised that to think of creative activities as just a nice ‘added extra’ to tag onto a list of other, ‘more valuable’ forms of intervention, is a big mistake, and one that is made all too often within the homelessness sector.  I now wholeheartedly believe that creative activities are a means by which to achieve a vast array of outcomes – an essential component for all services claiming to provide a holistic offer of support. 

The influencing paper that we’re launching today captures some of the innovative practice and touches on some of the outcomes that have been achieved:  the improved well-being, the skills for work, increased social inclusion and an improved public understanding of homelessness. These are just a few of many.

While creative activities are most often associated with references to ‘soft outcomes’, such as increased confidence and improved self-esteem, we often fail to appreciate the true weight these outcomes bear. Increased confidence gained from performing in front of an audience can lead to a successful job interview; the sense of pride that someone feels when their work is displayed in an exhibition can really motivate them to change their behaviour.

Perhaps most importantly, the chance to visit a local museum, or participate in a community workshop, can give people a voice, a sense of belonging and social connections that can help prevent the isolation and loneliness that can so often keep people dependent on services, or lead to a return to homelessness once they have moved on.

Creative activities cannot, therefore, be confined within the walls of homeless hostels and day centres. In order to harness their true potential they must connect to opportunities within the community and wider society.

We therefore appeal to arts and cultural institutions and urge them to be proactive in engaging with this excluded group of people. Homeless populations possess a great deal of talent and a great depth of experience that can make an invaluable contribution to the richness and diversity of community life.

As for my fears about my own lack of creativity, I’ve realised that it really doesn’t matter. It’s not about being an amazing artist - it’s about being part of a group sharing a therapeutic experience and having fun. Get Creative has given me the opportunity to try a wide range of activities myself and I have always left with a smile on my face and a feeling of positivity that has lasted for hours afterwards.

Sometimes I feel a huge sense of calm at having cleared my thoughts and focussed my attention on something different. At other times I feel a great sense of achievement and exhilaration at overcoming a challenge that I felt intimidated by. Either way, I am convinced that creative activity can greatly affect my well-being.

This is important for everyone, but while most of us can pay to go to the theatre or join a pottery class, many of our clients cannot.  We must work together to ensure that homeless people are not excluded from these opportunities – especially as they are some of the people that need them the most.

Download the Get Creative: Arts for All paper below to find out more about the project and our reccommendations.

Get Creative: arts for all - position paper

Drawing on research and good practice gathered as part of our arts project, Get Creative: Arts for All, this short briefing presents and celebrates the value of creative and cultural activities for people who become homeless.