Art for the People

We are holding what we believe to be the UK’s first Citizens’ Assembly on Art and Culture in Coventry in October/November 2021.

Thank you to everyone who applied to be part of our Art for the People Citizens’ Assembly.

The 50 Coventry people selected to take part will listen to expert witnesses and then contribute their ideas for how culture can impact on real lives in the city. The decisions made during the event will be used to devise new arts and creative projects that are planned and funded for Coventry in 2022 as part of the city’s year as City of Culture and will also feed into the redevelopment of Coventry City Council’s Cultural Strategy.

We would like the conversation about arts, culture and creativity to go wider than the Assembly and will post more details on our website about how you can get involved towards the end of October.

Why are we doing this?

[Short answer] All over the world, people are dreaming up bold visions to ‘build back better’ after Covid-19, forming communities in new ways, and unlocking their own creativity and potential. Talking Birds is organising Art for the People to determine what part arts, culture and creativity will play in this rebuilding.

[Longer answer] We believe that arts, culture and creativity are a fundamental part of everybody’s lives – the music we listen to, a dance around the kitchen as we cook, the rhythms we tap out with our feet while waiting for a bus, the photographs we post on social media… Our taxes help pay for our galleries, music venues and arts companies – and the TV dramas we watch, the books we read and the festivals we go to give us things to talk about. Art is a powerful part of all of our lives – it binds us together and is part of what makes us human.

We know we will need to work together to solve the huge problems facing humanity, and the arts are one of our fundamental ways of connecting with each other. If a City of Culture can’t lead the way on determining how the arts, culture and creativity can help shape a better future, who can?

[Full answer] Too long to publish here, but read this blogpost instead!

Art for the People will discuss the important question: How will arts, culture and creativity shape a better future for Coventry?


The little bit of Coventry history that inspired this project…

We’ve been working on this project for the best part of 4 years – and throughout, we kept coming back to a little snippet of history that had been given to us by Tony Howard from Warwick University. He had told us that, in November 1941, after a second heavy bombing raid had hit Coventry very badly, the people in the city were fed up and frightened. They had had enough. Morale was low and worker militancy was high. Having previously been lauded for their ‘Blitz Spirit’, the people of this city were on the verge of rebellion. This was a huge problem for the Government of the day, threatening the war effort and the social order – and so they did something unexpected – they sent art and theatre into the factories. A programme of “Art for the People”.

Depending on how you look at it, you could say this was a patrician tactic to distract the workers and diffuse the tension – but you could also say it was a kindness, a gift of beauty and imagination into lives so ground down that all hope was gone.

And in this duality is the spark that has inspired our project, also called Art for the People. We know that this touring programme of work developed over time into the formation of the Arts Council – and the inclusion of arts and cultural provision into the post-war social contract which included the creation of the NHS. And perhaps it also contributed to Coventry’s proud tradition of social responsibility, of looking after each other, welcoming strangers – of all that is best about our city?

80 years after Coventry’s workers threatened the war effort and the social order – and were placated with art – Art for the People seeks to reimagine and redefine what art for the people can and should be, putting cultural policy making into the hands of ordinary people.

[Janet Vaughan, Co-Artistic Director of Talking Birds has written a long-read blogpost about the reasoning behind the project for the City of Culture website, which you can read here]


Art for the People has been created by Talking Birds, with MutualGain and The Sortition Foundation and supported by Coventry City of Culture Trust, Arts Council England and Coventry City Council.

MutualGain is an organisation that exists to promote greater participation and active citizenship for the mutual benefit of all. They have several years of experience of running participatory processes such as this one. www.mutualgain.org

The Sortition Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that specialises in recruitment for these kinds of events, will recruit and randomly select people to take part in the event in a way that is broadly representative of the area’s population.www.sortitionfoundation.org

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