Institute for Social Renewal

Arts and Culture

Arts and Culture in Social Renewal


Arts and Cultures are fundamental to social renewal: as practice, process, product and in their impact. They affect senses of identity, community, place and self, while also making a significant contribution to national and regional economies, particularly here in the North East where we have strong cultural heritage and vibrant artistic activity.

The central question for social renewal is: how can people thrive in times of rapid transformational change? The arts are central to this endeavour in three key ways which are the focus of the arts and culture strand of social renewal.

Culture is about how we see ourselves and others especially in times of intensifying globalisation and deterritorialisation. Because of this, research and advocacy in the arts are critical not only for understanding identity and belonging, but also for helping to reshape and reimagine our communities. Understanding how we talk to and about each other, how we represent ourselves artistically through sound, text and image helps us to achieve this, and to recognise that the arts are not a luxury part of our lives, but for rich and poor alike, they are central aspects of our daily lives.

Secondly, the creative arts sector as an industry in the UK is the fastest growing sector of the economy and has been for some time. The challenge for those of us working within the sector and in research is to understand the relationships between cultural, social and economic capital and how these complex exchanges shape our sense of self and others.

Thirdly, because of the pervasiveness of media in the form of online video, social media, radio, television and public art, it is essential for us to be able to robustly understand the efficacy of arts and culture in the combatting racism, intolerance and simplistic, polarising views of society. Globalisation and capitalism are intensifying the discourses around ethnicity and nationalisms, and these are two areas where cultural organisations and artists can take a lead in the public conversation and public policy.

In these ways arts and culture are absolutely a key part of social renewal, and in many ways lie at the heart of understanding ourselves and others in a rapidly changing world.

Theme Champion: Dr Simon McKerrell, School of Arts and Cultures

Dr Paul Fleet opening a gramophone as part of 'Hearing History' project.

Northumbrian Voices

This performance and recording by Kathryn Tickell epitomises social renewal. Interweaving songs, tunes and narrative, it leads listeners on a magical, moving, humbling and often hilarious journey through the culture and lore of the North Tyne Valley. 

In the words of one reviewer, Northumbrian Voices encapsulates the experience and self-expression of people who live on the land, and who earn their living from it. People who know their surroundings as they know the back of their hand...”  These voices both enshrine the past and speak to the future. They eloquently transcend their particular locale to evoke the timeless cycles, necessities, hardships and consolations that still shape human existence everywhere.

South Africa

Southern African Cultural Leadership

Funded by the European Union’s ‘Investing in People’ scheme, the Southern African Cultural Leadership project takes place in South Africa and Zimbabwe from January 2012-January 2014. This grant supports an exchange programme involving Newcastle University students travelling to Southern Africa to conduct research and teach music workshops at area schools and colleges. SACL is a governance and capacity-building initiative that is establishing public and private partnerships within cultural and creative industries that effectively bridge regions and nation groups while facilitating exchanges between policy-makers, artists, cultural and development specialists and civil societies on the importance of culture for development.

Contact Us

If you would like to be involved in this theme or find out more, please contact Newcastle Institute for Social Renewal Administrator Jenny Hasenfuss or telephone: 0191 208 6850.


Using art and culture to allow residents to map their community and area.

Focused on engaging governance stakeholders in considering creative processes for community engagement on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Julie Crawshaw arranged nine creative workshops on Lindisfarne. Residents and governing representatives ‘mapped’ the island from their perspectives.

This was through photography, drawing and painting, theatre, dance, and sonic collection. Through participant-observation, the research contributes a nuanced understanding of how the art experience engages participants in thinking through doing. In the fields of cultural policy and planning, there is a broad interest in the social role of art as a way to engage community participation.

As well as engaging residents and stakeholders in participatory activity, these workshops also engaged stakeholders in reflecting on their role and approach: suggesting a role for art as a mediator towards partnership working and communicative governance. Resident and professional participation in the creative programme mediated communication between neighbours, as well as reflection on the approach to community engagement by the Holy Island Partnership (HIP).

There is a growing interest in how to capture the ‘cultural value’ of arts practice. In the HIP workshops evaluation, participants state they would like to continue to explore the island through creative activities. Encouraged by this enthusiasm, HIP professionals are also interested in integrating creative activities as part of development working.

Through participant-observation of the visual art, performance and sound workshops the research makes a descriptive contribution to our understanding of how the transactions of art between people, material and things soften hardened positions to enable new conversations to take place.

Ruins at Lindisfarne