Creating Meaning: a book about culture and democracy

edited by Jerry Rothwell


Creating Meaning explores some of the issues that are raised by attempts to broaden participation in cultural activity, through looking at the development of a single organisation. Valley and Vale has been working in the Vale of Glamorgan since 1981 and in the Ogwr district since 1983. Its growth has inevitably reflected both the changing social and economic structures in Britain in general, and the tumultuous developments in South Wales in particular, in the last eleven years.

The book is based on articles written over the last decade which explore key areas of Valley and Vale’s practice and relate them to a broader set of ideas. It doesn’t try to be an encyclopaedia of work accomplished or a series of project reports. Instead, it aims to give an insight into how ideas about ‘community arts’ have developed since 1980; from its initial motivation based on the belief that participation in the arts should be a ‘basic human right’, towards the development of issue-based work stimulated by the desire to support specific campaigns, through to the more recent attempts to use the arts as a tool for longer term development, as part of a process of building broader local involvement in the decisions that affect the lives of our communities.

The articles are grouped into sections which aim to give an insight into the thinking which has accompanied these different ways of working:

The Prologue is a broad outline of the ideas that now underpin Valley and Vale’s practice;

Striking Images looks back at work undertaken in support of particular campaigns;

Global Wales demonstrates the importance of an international cultural perspective;

Making History describes the thinking behind arts work which examines and celebrates ‘people’s history’;

Taking Control explores issues which arise out of the use of the arts as a tool for self-advocacy;

Changing Places looks at arts activities which have empowered communities to take part in local planning;

and The Epilogue suggests the relevance of ‘community arts’ to current world developments.

The Chronology which runs throughout the book, aims to give a sense of what else was going on in the world, and the degree to which Valley and Vale’s work reflect it.

In 1985, Owen Kelly wrote in Community Art and the State:

“The community arts movement…has no clear understanding of its own history. It has neither documented its own history, nor drawn any conclusions from it. Community artists have therefore failed to develop a consistent set of definitions, with the result that the movement has staggered drunkenly from one direction to another.”

This is unfortunately as true now as it was then. Creating Meaning is part of the attempt to rectify that state of affairs, to understand where the movement has been and to contribute and stimulate debate about where ‘community arts’ should be going.