How can further insight into the relationship between artistic and socially added values of arts and culture initiatives result in new ways of working together? 

Collaborating with the KultuurLoket of VRIJDAG Groningen and contributing to the Artistic Platform currently being set up in Veendam, researchers from the professorship Image in Context of the Hanze University of Applied Sciences have composed a visual method to develop a ‘Social Artistic Values Canvas’. This  method initiates a ‘feedback flow’, which allows researchers and participants to work together, arrive at new insights, and trigger new forms of social artistic action. Measuring impact thereby creates impact: an emergent approach which allows a new ecosystem to arise.

For once no endless meetings at conference tables, no set patterns with the same invariable speakers while others trail off in thought, keeping quiet because nothing ever changes. This time we created an open and inviting zone in the form of a huge map of Veendam that could be walked upon. During four sessions, spread over time, participants continually entered and re-entered. Everyone engaged in spontaneous but also guided conversation, made connections and observed what was unfolding and developing in real time. Artistic interventions and visual tools were used to bring new visible layers to the surface to respond to. Each session, the map was staged as a new setting at a different angle and level with new attributes. Participants explored their place in the bigger picture and discovered how they were able to relate to other participants and institutions as well as the culture they are part of.

Step by step, activities and connections created in the municipality were mapped out. The visual method thus reveals what already exists, and elicits opportunities and room for development. Specific social and cultural values (for the Platform and its participants) were linked to the map via helium balloons, enabling a visual and tangible meta-level to emerge transcending individual interests. Furthermore, important underlying principles and ambitions arose. Layer by layer, the Social Artistic Values Canvas materialized.

In addition to the on-site mapping, the designing researchers compiled the findings and results into a game format for participants' daily practice, to further develop and exchange ideas. This tool allows values to be embedded ever more tangibly in all communications, internally and externally, with both the municipality and its residents.

What did we learn about the success of the emergent approach? 
An ‘emergent’ approach always leaves the door open, as it were, to welcome new movement. As such, the Platform continues to remain visible, and people can join in or take a step back as and when it suits them. This allows the Platform to evolve into a dynamic organizational structure that can contribute, both visibly and tangibly, to the social artistic values of the arts and culture sector, locally, regionally, and nationally.

During the process we came to articulate the following principles that were key to the success of the emergent approach:

  1. People are triggered by the power of the image.
  2. New things emerge through play.
  3. Play encourages participants' autonomy. 
  4. The power of the collective stems from the input of participants. 
  5. The facilitator should be people-oriented and group-oriented (not organization-oriented): everyone matters and has an equal voice.
  6. The facilitator should be present with an open attitude, should have faith in the people, and should act in accordance with their pace and interests.
  7. Meet them where they are”: the facilitator accompanies participants in the moment of their development, without drawing conclusions, leaving this for the participants.
  8. The facilitator should be sensitive to any potential influences, attuned to the opportunities created, and should ensure that anything hindering a constructive attitude is vented.
  9. The facilitator should encourage people to take agency, as individuals and as a group, and should be aware of their part in the setting, and where it is appropriate to take steps forward or back.
  10. There is a conversation that only these people can have in this space right now. Be sure to find it.

How did it work out? 
Together, relationships have been established and the first initiatives are being shaped — like the first Veendam’s summer festival in August 2022, with various cultural organizations involved. A fledgling but clearly tangible connection has arisen, and the first meetings are now being organized by the Platform itself. As a research group, we advocated an open artistic attitude which was now embraced by the participants who, as enthusiastic ambassadors, are welcoming newcomers and are exploring new opportunities by using the Social Artistic Values Canvas game. 

The emergent strategy, the visual methods, and the principles have shown and inspired Kultuurloket Vrijdag to use this new approach for the development of future artistic platforms throughout Groningen.