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Culture and creativity

Empowering communities through the arts

Can arts be used to empower communities? According to Katy Goldstraw, arts-based approaches are crucial for social cohesion and opening up discussion in communities.

By Katy Goldstraw, Research Assistant, Taking Yourselves Seriously Project, Arts Methodologies for Social Cohesion, School of Education, Sheffield University

To create more empowered communities, we need to think creatively. We need to open our eyes, minds, hearts and emotions to alternative ways of having conversations, building debate and holding peaceful community conflicts.

Using creative, arts-based approaches in communities offers a way of seeing what might not always be visible.

The quality of arts-based research lies in the process of its creation. Arts-based approaches can be understood either as a process, a social journey through which a new understanding emerges, or as the production of a work of art, or indeed as anywhere along that binary.

Our Taking Yourselves Seriously Project is using artistic approaches to build social cohesion. You can see more about our project and read our blogs by visiting

We have been working across three projects in Sheffield and Rotherham using artistic approaches in schools, in play settings and in community settings to address social cohesion using artistic means. We have taken a co-production approach to our work, engaging in open and honest conversations throughout.


Five themes have emerged from the Taking Yourselves Seriously Project work:

  • Knowledge: Consideration of the various forms of knowledge that we all hold; knowledge that is situated, relational and embodied.
  • Co-production and roles: In choosing to collaborate, using co-production, we have encountered the multiplicity of roles that we hold both within the community and our shared research project.
  • Voice: We have debated and discussed everyone’s voice within our projects, keen that no member of our collaboration is silenced and wanting to be open to uncomfortable conversations.
  • Ethics: Ethics has been fundamental to our collaboration, with reflexivity at the heart of our approach.

Emerging thoughts

Using artistic approaches to build social cohesion is to recognise that the process is complex, integrated and emotional. Issues of power and trust are present in conversations around inequality, identity and diversity. Using artistic approaches, we can ask questions about this and create connections from an alternative angle. Indeed, arts methodologies enliven our minds, bodies and emotions, recognising the multiplicity of our knowledge and identities.

In conclusion, arts methodologies have the potential to enrich the process of social cohesion. They offer an opportunity to build dialogue and reflect different kinds of knowledge. To create more empowered communities of the future, we think that we need to re-engage our creativity, open out discussion and use arts methodologies in research that is co-produced with communities.

Click to explore the Empowered Communities area of our website.