Creative spaces: a variety of approaches

Creative spaces are dynamic places. Some have their origins in institutional programmes while others owe their existence to community-based initiatives. Rather than conforming to one set of practices, different creative spaces can, and do, achieve similar outcomes using a range of approaches or principles.

It is, therefore, worth considering some of the different theories and ideas that have developed over time because many spaces work with various approaches.

One thing that most creative spaces have in common is the fact that they work within a wider community context. Some spaces operate on a low profile basis, providing services to their target clients and fostering some awareness among the local community. Others, however, are actively involved in advocacy and placing their work in a more political arena.

Community cultural development

People working in creative spaces may be disadvantaged within the community and see in their work wider implications for the community in terms of social inclusion and justice. Intentionally or not, many creative spaces work within a framework of “community cultural development”.

As a practice, community cultural development is based on the idea that culture can be a powerful force for change for both individuals and communities. Active participation in a community’s cultural life is an essential goal of this.

Social change through community cultural development can be characterised as less threatening and polarising than other vehicles for change. It can also be seen as capable of creating deeper connections.

Community cultural development is based on a partnership model, where all participants are equal, each bringing different but equally valuable skills, abilities and knowledge to the process. This approach is an acknowledgment that all participants can (and must) learn from each other.

Community cultural development principles are useful to consider when trying to understand the role of creative spaces. However, it’s important to remember that the focus for most creative spaces is not solely on bringing about social change. For most, equal value is given to both the process and the product, whatever this may be, with an emphasis on achievement in both of these areas.

Arts, health and wellbeing

Creative spaces will also hopefully experience firsthand that the services they provide can greatly improve the health and wellbeing of the individuals involved. “Arts, health and wellbeing” is a term recognising the value of the arts within a holistic approach to health and wellbeing.

Traditionally, this approach has seen the positive effects of this work as improved health benefits for the individuals involved. More recently, individual health is being seen as an indicator of the health of a community. Community wellbeing builds on a social view of health with interrelated social, cultural, economic and environmental factors.

This has resulted in a shift from arguing about greater inclusion in the arts because of its health benefits to a view that the arts part of a broader social inclusion strategy that has associated wellbeing outcomes.

Social inclusion

The term “social inclusion” describes the notion that everyone has the right to participate in social activity, and that socio-cultural activity is important for the health of individuals.

One important measure of social inclusion is involvement in economic activity, and some spaces actively pursue income generation opportunities for their artists. This may be through attached galleries, art auctions, exhibitions at other galleries, the licensing of artwork to design agencies, and the production of saleable items such as clothes, prints and cards.

Art therapy

A limited number of creative spaces have been set up specifically as sites for art therapy. This is a very specific discipline, and one in which the artistic process is secondary to the therapeutic one. Art therapists usually work in conjunction with a range of other health professionals, as it is primarily a health intervention rather than an artistic process. Unlike traditional artistic expression, the final aesthetic product is not emphasised.

Many spaces use a combination of approaches, outlined in this article. Their approaches change as the needs of the participants and surrounding community change as well.

Most importantly, all creative spaces work to provide access to creative expression for people who may otherwise lack this access.



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