For us at Paul Hamlyn Foundation, social justice is the golden thread that underpins our work. Sometimes, just sometimes, I struggle to justify to myself the merits of funding arts and cultural activity when, all around us the needs of people experiencing disadvantage are so great, the problems so complex and the solutions so hard to grasp.
And then…I see first-hand some of the projects and people that we support and experience the impact and the doubts fade. There’s nothing ‘worthy’ here, just inspirational individuals and environments giving high quality, artistic opportunities to all sorts of people.
Projects like Intoart whose mission is for people with learning disabilities to be visible, equal and established artists and where I recently learnt to screen print, taught by one such artist who could see so much better than me where I was going wrong and who had the confidence and skill to put me at my ease.
Buildings like the Roundhouse, ostensibly a music venue, but with values writ large to focus on young people who have been excluded, marginalised or disadvantaged by society and work to enable them to find pathways back into education, work or simply to enjoy a wider cultural life. “The Roundhouse took me to my first festival, helped me write my best work, gave me some of my best mates and gave me gigs which then got me paid gigs” said one.
Programmes like Fine Cell Work that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework undertaken in the long hours spent in their cells to foster hope, discipline and self-esteem. This helps them to connect to society and to leave prison with the confidence and financial means to stop offending.
It’s probably not the done thing for a funder to admit to the occasional doubt, but if funders can’t share, then who can? After all, with our funding and networks, we can do something to address such doubts. We want to show that the arts make a very real difference to people’s lives, so we will continue to tell stories and share best practice and we are committed to helping to build the evidence base so that others, including governments and individuals, can understand that difference and support the transformation.
I could continue, but I’d rather encourage you at this giving time of year to the websites of these wonderful companies or to those of your local arts organisations. They need support from all of us and they give it back in so many ways.