Social Artists for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion - SAFEDI

Lead Research Organisation: Manchester Metropolitan University
Department Name: School of Art


This fellowship supports social artists and people from under-represented communities to challenge the exclusion of both groups from the visual arts. Research shows that the arts are failing to reach people from the global majority, those who are disabled, excluded by gender/sexuality and/or those who are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and the intersections of these characteristics. It also shows that the visual arts do not make use of the diverse talent in the UK and that artists who work with under-represented communties are themselves not properly supported.

The fellowship builds on the applicant's 2015 research into how social artists receive validation and extends and augments a new model of validation for social artists resulting from the applicant's research partnership with Axisweb (2017-20). Although social artists work daily with some of the most under-represented communities in the UK, their skills and expertise are under-acknowledged and the voices of community members under-heard in debates about visual art. The fellow and partners' aim to reposition social practice as lead champion of EDI in the visual arts. In doing this the ambition is to improve the cultural offer to under-represented communities in dialogue with audiences, develop satisfactory support for social artists and share learning with other parts of the visual arts sector.

The fellowship is urgent given current civil rights movements which have prompted UK cultural organisations to review their collections and policies to see if these reflect historical issues around colonisation and racism. This is highlighted in arts institutions, given their representational and symbolic power around definitions of civil society. Due to the covid-19 emergency, large arts organisations want to recover audiences through engagement programmes but do not have a set of guidance or criteria on ethics and safeguarding to help them achieve this. The fellowship recognises the urgency of these intersecting situations and sets out to bridge knowledge between social art / artists and the mainstream visual art world, to benefit both, making sure community voices are centrally repositioned, respected and heard in the process.

To establish ways to achieve this, six art projects in diverse UK sites will work with artists, people from under-represented communities and partner organisations to better understand barriers to culture and creativity. Creative outputs and outcomes from the art projects will then be reviewed against participating organisations' equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) policies. These will be revised to reflect what has been learnt about communities' and social artists' cultural and creative needs. Staff from larger organisations will also take part, learning from the smaller organisations, artists and community members how to create 'evergreen' EDI policies. As culture and society evolve, policies on equality, diversity and inclusion will reflect these changes through a constant process of renewal.

The partners supporting the project are Axisweb (Axis), the national artists' digital membership charity with +5000 members and Social Arts Network (SAN), a UK-wide artist-led initiative, committed to achieving visibility and agency for the field of art and social practice. The Director of Research at Arts Council England, Andrew Mowlah, will also be involved, meeting with the fellow and team twice over the course of the fellowship to discuss progress and policy-related learning.


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AXIS (2023) Social Works? EDI

Title Enshrine 
Description exploring potential roles of collaborative creativity to affect lively, liveable, embedded, embodied, change in organisational development The enSHRINE project is led by artist and researcher Lady Kitt in collaboration with composer & producer Sarah Li, illustrator & gender equality activist Sofia Barton and socially engaged artist & architect Dan Russell. The project sets out to explore and share effective creative techniques for organisations developing policy, whilst working in consultation with a cross section of staff / audiences/ constituents. enSHRINE aims to test methodologies which can be used by organisations to develop / disrupt / queer / (re)craft, grow and change their own organisational practices, focussing on access, care and environmental responsibility. Kitt has a social art / community / participatory arts background. Through their projects Kitt uses collaborative art making as a way of building cohesion, understandings, enthusiasms and agency within groups. Often running craft workshops where participants make objects together, whilst discussing complex challenges in their communities or lives. Over the course of several years Kitt began to find an unexpected consequence of working in this way: often groups where making changes in organizational policy and procedure based on the conversations they had whilst crafting. This prompted Kitt to consider more deeply the potential for collaborative creativity in developing organisational structures and systems to affect positive change and contribute to social and climate justice work. In 2020 Kitt was successful in applying for research and development funding from Arts Council England (ACE) to further explore these connections. In 2021 Kitt (working in collaboration with BALTIC Center for Contemporary Art, Gateshead) was commissioned as part of SAFEDI (Social Art for Equality Diversity and Inclusion)* to continue this work. "In my experience, one of the biggest challenges for organizations developing policy is the fear of getting it "wrong". I refer to this as cultures of caution. It often leads to organizations not sharing their policy work with the people it will effect until it's "finished", which in turn leads to people being unaware that the organization is taking any action, feeling disengaged, or even actively let down/ ignored. The initiatives end up not being fit for purpose because those they aim to support have not been consulted or included. None of these are conducive to initiatives becoming welcomed, use-able, lively, embodied aspects of an organizations practice. Using creative methodologies, tools and approaches can support organizations/ staff /constituents build relationships from which they understand one another's needs, priorities and capacities, developing policy and procedure that supports cultural, behavioural and structure change, based on care, access, mutual understandings and respect." 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2021 
Impact Specific policy application 1: Safeguarding and saver / braver spaces policy Specific policy application 2: This activity is useful as a starting point for general policy discussions and can be used specifically for conversation around health and safety, safeguarding and saver / braver spaces policy. 
Description (interim report as this data is still being collected and analysed)

Findings: EDI research processes need themselves to model any intended outcomes; artists have reported widespread alienation from policy through their own negative lived experience of how it is both ignored and applied - by engaing artists with policy and policy making, it becomes possible to develop inclusive policymaking for stakeholders; successful EDI co-creation requires right time, right scale, right match (of what org. needs and artists can do), and right relationships.
Exploitation Route Next steps include maintaining an ongoing relationship with partner arts organisations and Councils (ACE, AHRC) to support their ongoing policy making work as informed and strengthened by the arts. Supporting the further development of specific artists' work to continue the research around decolonisation through e.g. decommissioning of statues and monuments. The development of the conference presentation at Social Art Summit 2022 and through this the creation of a network of policy changers and influencers across the UK. Presentations in 4 cities through Social Art Network of the research findings through public social art peer forums.
Sectors Creative Economy

Description Medium term outcome: more inclusive and representative decision and policy making amongst the particpating organisations. Long term impact: More representative collections - e.g. artwork made by one of the commissioned artist groups has been accessioned by national arts partner organisation Baltic.
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural

Policy & public services

Description New Narratives Fund
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation Manchester Metropolitan University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2022 
End 07/2022
Description Axis 
Organisation Axisweb
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Researching the potential for social practice art and artists to include participants in arts and cultural organisations EDI policy making
Collaborator Contribution The partners contributed leadership and knowledge from the arts sector in order to make the research possible.
Impact EDI policy change in Axis' own organisation
Start Year 2021
Description Failure of Policy talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk at FailSpace: How can the cultural sector learn better from failures? Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh Wednesday 7th December 2022
9am - 5pm. Attendees approx 300.
Are we being honest about failures when it comes to access, inclusion and diversity? Social Art For Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (SAFEDI): social artists as leaders towards inclusive cultural policy
The talk was a critical account of SAFEDI an equality, diversity and inclusion Arts and Humanities Council-funded Engagement Fellowship that responded to concerns in the wake of Black Lives Matter (BLM) and the coronavirus pandemic. During six artist commissions, artistic processes and outputs became the means to 'translate' experiences of exclusion, and new possibilities of access to cultural partners. Despite evidence that impacts were met, with the commissioned artists' approaches enabling cultural partner leaders to reflect anew on their structures, provisions, intentions, practices and formal policies in relation to the people they want to reach. The question remained, why are cultural organisations failing at true inclusive access and how can social art be a catalyst for recovery from that failure?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Riga festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A talk and workshop about social artists and particpants affecting policy making given jointly at Riga Stradins University and Riga Pasaules Film Festival
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Symposium at Brighton's new Centre for Contemporary Art 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A one-day symposium exploring and sharing practice-based research in art, architecture & design that uses socially engaged or participatory methods. The programme brought together artists, researchers, curators and writers to ask:
-How do socially engaged and participatory methods offer different understandings of what research can be?
-What sort of outcomes do they produce? How can this work be documented, and shared in ways that acknowledge the collaborative and dialogic nature of the research?
-What sort of challenges come with socially engaged and participatory research for the researcher and the participant?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022