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Art for All: Inspiring, Learning and Transforming

Dr. Helen Bowcock, OBE | The Philanthropy Workshop | 30 June 2017

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One of the lessons that I took away from TPW back in 2009: to be an effective philanthropist you need to have a sharp focus on impact. But how often are the organisations we support so busy delivering services that they take some of their own value for granted and do not have the resources to report on it?

For some years our Trust has provided funding to Watts Gallery, well known for housing a collection of work by one of the country’s most intriguing artists, once described as ‘England’s Michelangelo’. It is far less well known for its artist in residence at a local women’s prison, for its role in a pioneering youth justice system and for delivering on its mission of ‘art for all’, engaging some of the most marginalised people and inspiring them through art.

When Watts Gallery prepared to bid for a significant piece of public funding it was apparent that this was a story that needs and deserves to be told and, with a doctorate in Sociology, I undertook to write something that could do justice to what the organisation does and why it matters. Having started with a clean slate, I took guidance from NESTA’s* ‘Standards of Evidence’, taking the perspective of a critical friend as I interviewed staff and sat in on workshops. TPW taught the importance of looking for a theory of change; and, it became clear, through many discussions, that the staff at Watts Gallery has a well-rehearsed series of steps to engage, inspire and, quite often, transform through art. For example they are good at collaboration; they use the collections to inspire people, motivating them with the opportunity to exhibit and they find an artistic medium that works for the individual.

It was a great joy to be able to animate the report with examples of work from some of the hundreds of people whose lives have greatly benefited from their engagement with Watts Gallery. They include the woman serving a long prison sentence who demonstrates a consciousness of time, renewal and hope through her well-painted acrylic and the young offender who shows how clearly he understands the stark choice he faces when released from custody.

Although the report was intended to be largely qualitative, more and more hard data emerged during the research with numbers that far exceeded my own and others’ expectations. It has now provided key evidence not only for the public funding bid but also for numerous applications to other philanthropists and foundations. I hope that it will serve as a framework for impact reporting going forward and will provide the basis for defining a theory of change. I hope also that it provides another example of the way that philanthropy is not just about money and demonstrates the value of our time and advocacy.

*A UK based innovation foundation headed by Geoff Mulgan who was keynote speaker at TPW’s programme in 2015

 

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