Moving Roots Touring Network announces nationwide partners to explore creative solutions with local communities. Partners named as The Old Courts, Wigan; Lyrici Arts, Medway; Action Factory, Blackburn; Jumped Up Theatre, Peterborough; and Common Wealth, East Cardiff

The project develops learnings and contacts made during Battersea Arts Centre’s 6-year Collaborative Touring Network (CTN), which reached audiences of 50,000 people who would otherwise have little or no access to live performance in their hometown. Co-created works to be led by communities, sparking social change in the areas they live and work

The project centres cultural democracy, working towards a “fairer, more inclusive and more vibrant cultural future.” (Tarek Iskander, Artistic Director & CEO, Battersea Arts Centre)

Battersea Arts Centre is proud to launch the Moving Roots Touring Network and announce its first artistic partners, spread across the UK. Moving Roots will take place over three years, working with producers in Wigan, Peterborough, Medway, Blackburn and East Cardiff, to deliver co-created projects to generate positive social change in underserved communities. The co-created projects will have live performance at their heart and will be a vehicle for local people to engage with their communities’ most pressing needs.

The aims of the project are:

  • Co-creation works as a mechanism for change, starting direct and impactful social change in towns and cities
  • Local people have increased agency and take an active role in shaping creative activity in their hometown
  • Partner locations are perceived locally and nationally as artistically vibrant places

Tarek Iskander, Artistic Director & CEO, Battersea Arts Centre said:

“It isn't about organisations 'reaching out' to people in underserved communities - it's about bringing people together for a common creative purpose, as equal partners, as joint collaborators, as 'co-creators' in the deepest sense of the term. These ambitious new partnerships and ways of working have a simple idea at their heart: that it is possible for us all to achieve a fairer, more inclusive and more vibrant cultural future."

The network has received £887,000, including £587,000 from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and £300,000 from Garfield Weston Foundation to support the project. There is also a collective fundraising target from partners of £122,500 over three years.

Responding to the Gulbenkian Foundation’s Inquiry into the Civic Role of Arts Organisations, which promotes the idea that cultural organisations are part of the civic fabric of our communities and should strive to be better connected to the interests and concerns of those communities, the project aims to revolutionise participation and develop a new model of touring co-created work that engages local people in deep and lasting ways.

The Warwick Commission survey from 2015 showed that arts subsidy failed to reach many of the country’s least served communities. One reason for this is that, with some exceptions, touring work often connects with only the most affluent and socially advantaged audiences. People often drive to their local theatre and back home out of town after the performance. Much nationally toured work represents a metropolitan or urban view of culture. This is reinforced by critics, funders and artistic directors, who themselves largely come from a relatively narrow frame of reference.

The Moving Roots network will support work that is intrinsically connected, and vital to, the place in which it is made, thanks to the practice of co-creation. It aims to prompt a shift in the fundamental nature of national touring – away from a model of patrician culture in which touring work is ‘served-up’, to one where the work itself is co-created in partnership with communities.

Co-creation seeks to push beyond the narrow model of participation that asks people to “come and join in with what we do,” and instead champions a model which invites people to “come and create.” Co-creation delegates leadership to participants and invites a wider range of voices, encouraging dialogue that continues beyond the immediate life of the project itself. It challenges old hierarchies in which the arts can be seen as the authority, and community members as learners or beneficiaries, instead giving individuals agency to shape the project, with the cultural partner acting as the facilitator to help them achieve their vision. In order for the work of national companies to have more resonance with communities, we believe that it needs to be co-created with, or led by, those communities.

Cardiff-based Common Wealth make site-specific theatre events that encompass electronic sound, new writing, visual design and verbatim. We make work that is political, contemporary, and relevant, and addresses concerns of our times. We seek out places to stage our work that are right in a community; a residential house, a boxing gym, places where people who might not go to the theatre might come to instead.

Rhiannon White, Co-Artistic Director, Common Wealth, said:

“Common Wealth are delighted to be part of Moving Roots – in a time where we are losing our community spaces it feels more valuable than ever to be part of this national project. We are excited about sharing live performance with our community, historically, East Cardiff has had very little resource and access to the arts – this will see world-class performance arrive at our doorstep. Co-creation will be at the heart of Moving Roots, this means we will be working directly with the community to make, create and discover new ways of working. Common Wealth are passionate about working-class communities and social change – Moving Roots will be a celebration of all of this and more.”