Pat Thomson – A critical review of the Creative Partnerships archive: How was cultural value understood, researched and evidenced?

What can the Creative Partnerships archive tell us about cultural value?

Creative Partnerships (CP) was the biggest and longest running arts and education intervention in the world. CP aimed to transform students’ experiences of schooling, expand teachers’ classroom approaches and dramatically improve the ways in which schools functioned and performed. Its focus was on ‘creative learning’ and whole school change. CP operated in England from 2002-2011 and worked intensively with over 2,700 schools, 90,000 teachers and over 1 million young people. It touched 1 in 4 schools in the country, and over 6,500 national arts and creativity organisations were involved in CP. Because 70% of the funding went to support creative practitioners, Price Waterhouse Coopers estimated that each CP£1 generated £15.3 of economic value.

CP understood itself as making a cultural offer. It supported teachers and young people in extended cultural experiences – working on a project with an artist (for example a dancer, sculptor, film-maker, story-maker) or a company (from the Royal Shakespeare Company to a local community arts organization) or a public institution such as a gallery, library or museum.

It was presumed that through these projects young people would both learn creatively and learn to be creative. Within CP there were strongly held views that the cultural offer supported children and young people to develop imagination, critical and reflective thinking, leadership, confidence and motivation, wellbeing and a strong sense of responsible empowerment.They were thus able to learn successfully, act as good citizens in their schools and communities and were prepared for 21st century life work and life (Thomson, Jones, & Hall, 2009).

While the aims of CP were not to produce cultural value per se, many of its explanations of creative learning overlap with the AHRC framework. For example, CP staff and texts always talked of the importance of reflection – “the ability to question, make connections, innovate, problem solve and reflect critically” – and citizenship -“imagine how the world could be different and have the confidence and motivation to make positive change happen”.

CP produced an enormous range of artefacts, ranging from literature reviews, research reports, publicity and promotional materials, demonstrations in the form of films and posters, to the annual plans and evaluation reports that each funded school had to submit. To date there has been no analysis of this material to assess what understandings it might have to offer. The archive, now housed at The University of Nottingham, has the potential to contribute further to international understandings about creativity, culture, reform, learning and organizational change.

Our project will systematically examine, for the first time, the CP archive in order to see what its literature reviews, research reports and annual plans and evaluation reports might have to offer the AHRC cultural value rubric. As its considerable body of research used highly diverse approaches, this project will use an interpretative approach to critically assess a range of key texts. The project will investigate and document how a cultural experience was understood, and what methodologies and methods were used to investigate CP’s cultural offer and the cultural experience of teachers and young people, and will show what kind of data the various approaches produced. On this basis, the project will then offer an assessment of the value of particular kinds of research methodologies and methods, and identity any areas for possible further investigation. It will also offer a synthesis of the various ways in which cultural experience was theorised.

We have begun by scoping the 150 plus commissioned research reports, focusing on the question of well-being. We can already see that this has been defined in different ways by researchers – for example it is taken as synonymous with general health, being the same as resilience, as an economic benefit, as a meaningful subjective evaluation, as a necessary component of a ‘good’ social life and as an end point in itself. Our plan is to write about our interpretations of the research material in a short summary paper then go on to other parts of the AHRC framework. When we finish with these research texts, there is still a very considerable digital archive to tackle!

Professor Pat Thomson (PI) and Dr Jan Keane, (research fellow), School of Education, The University of Nottingham

Thomson, P., Jones, K., & Hall, C. (2009). Creative whole school change. Final report. London: Creativity, Culture and Education; Arts Council England. See also http://www.artsandcreativityresearch.org.uk.

Pat is also the PI on a Research Development Award funded by the Cultural Value Project entitled: ‘The experience and value of live art: what can making and editing film tell us?’ You can read about it here: http://www.tate.org.uk/about/projects/experience-and-value-live-art-what-can-making-and-editing-film-tell-us

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