“We’ve been working for a number of years with a homeless centre and one of the participants told us that instead of having a bottle at his chair at home, he now has a book… and he writes and writes and writes.”
The advertising industry may talk ad nauseum about the ‘power of creativity’, but Nicky Goulder, founder of the charity Create
, has seen what that means in its most profound sense. For Nicky, creativity’s power lies not in flogging products or entertaining people – it is its ability to change lives.
Create is a charity that works to give vulnerable and disadvantaged groups access to creativity and the arts by bringing in professional artists to help them develop skills and confidence. Many of those groups face stresses that impact their mental health – for example, 86% of homeless people have reported having a mental health difficulty, as have 45% of young adult carers – to put that into perspective the general population has a 25% chance
of reporting a mental health problem.
However, the impact of creative activities on people’s mental well-being have been well documented. Indeed, just today the British Department of Culture, Media and Sport published a report called ‘Changing Lives: the social impact of participation in culture and sport’
. In particular it highlights the inequality of access to the arts that persists in the UK, as the education system has deprioritised creativity. At the same time, the report points to the wealth of evidence linking well-being and health with the arts.
“I think when you give people the chance to work with artists who are passionate about their artform and passionate about people and you enable people to work collaboratively and value their ideas and listen to them, the impact it has on their lives is just extraordinary,” says Nicky. “Time and time again people tell us that they have turned their lives around by working with a project with Create and they now realise they are valuable.”
Creativity is so important. We know the impact it has on well-being, emotional and mental health, it’s so important for building skills and it levels the playing field for people from all sorts of walks of life.
While the impact on well-being is the most important thing about the work that Create does, there’s also a secondary potential impact on the diversification of the creative talent pool.
“What I find amazing is that you can go to a final sharing and the group has all had the same starting point, they’ve all been given the same gallery visit or been given the same theme and they’re working with the same professional artist leading the workshop… and then you see this plethora of incredible artwork which is so diverse,” says Nicky. “You look at the diversity of what they’re creating and you imagine translating that into for example, an agency. It makes you think what a rich melting pot is there when you truly have a diverse group of people.”
However, despite all of the arts’ documented positive effects, in the UK austerity and changing education priorities have seen the arts drop off of the core curriculum. It means that access to cultural activities are even more unequally distributed across society.
“I think it’s very confusing because you’ve got the World Economic Forum, on one hand, who have identified that creativity is going to be the third most important skill in business by 2020 and yet we are removing from our core curriculum the creative subjects that are going to enable our young people to develop those skills,” says Nicky. “I think a lot of the children who really lose out are those who only traditionally got access to creativity in school... There’s never been a more important time for Create’s work.”
The ad industry is one place where people do get to engage in creative activities – and get paid to do so. It’s also an industry that has been struggling to broaden the diversity of its own talent pool. And so for Create and adland, interests are very much aligned.
“I think when something is part of your everyday maybe you no longer remember that lots of people don’t have access to that,” says Nicky.
It’s already got a couple of interesting partnerships underway. One well-publicised hook-up with Uncommon Creative Studio, where the agency managed to raise £25,000 for the charity at its one year anniversary. There is also an interesting partnership with the agency LIDA, who decided to support Create as their chosen charity two years ago. Part of those partnerships is that agency talent gets to attend bespoke Create projects, allowing them to engage with and learn from participants – for example with LIDA, they decided to work with an older people’s organisation, getting to better understand their lives. And, given the ad industry is often accused of existing in a middle class bubble, the chance to volunteer with different groups of people is one worth taking.
“We have amazing statistics from our projects,” says Nicky, underlining that the schemes Create runs benefit all parties, including the corporate backers and professional artists as well as the participants. “We’ve been working with a law firm and we rigorously evaluate all of our projects. And on this project 100% of volunteers felt their communication skills had improved, 80% felt their teamwork had improved , 89% felt improved job satisfaction and 90% felt more competent working with people from different backgrounds.”
Another way that the creative community can contribute is through its professional artists. Create has a rigorous selection process, working only with professional practising artists and those with a genuine passion for working with people. Understanding that what goes around comes around, Create also supports the arts by paying the professional artists for their time.
Nicky hopes that this collaborative approach will help Create continue to share the power of creativity with more vulnerable groups. Since launching in 2003, 35,809 people across the UK have benefited from Create’s work.
“It is so essential to life to be creative and to make things. It feels like something that is so essential to our society,” says Nicky. “I sometimes try to imagine a society without the arts. I imagine taking away the incredible street art and music and galleries and beautiful architecture and you can’t imagine how society could be. The creatives industries add so much to our economy as well as adding beauty and well-being.”
To find out more about Create, head here.
Photo credit Chris O'Donovan