Heart of Glass / A Modest Proposal



Collaborative arts practice is in many ways a useful but ultimately meaningless summary term for a complex artistic practice that places art and the artist in direct interaction with civil society. A lineage for this practice can be traced to movements such as constructivism – an arts practice rejecting the idea of autonomous art, favouring instead art as a means for social return, dadaism – anti-bourgeois and politicised, and surrealism – re-imagining the ordinary and breaking from convention.

We have chosen to build our organisation and commissioning ethos around these philosophies. The politics of our times have presented us with an unprecedented moment of re-evaluation. Our communities, our values, our social structures are in flux due to a number of converging agendas. Collaborative art presents the opportunity to engage meaningfully with these agendas and draw audiences into work in new and exciting ways, allowing many to add their voices to commentary on these times.

Our stated mission is about engaging more people in the arts, while our ambition is to create a vibrant and active arts ‘ecology’ that helps to shape the future of our place and directly contributes to international discourse. We want great art to be made and presented in St Helens. We want the arts to be a voice around the decision-making table, to be a recognisable critical mass and valued force in shaping and leading conversations about the future. We want the broadest range of people to be able to participate in the arts, whether as commissioners, artists, collaborators, audiences or supporters and we want artistic practice to be able to flourish from this place, nurturing talent and supporting critical dialogue. We want St Helens to be a home for thought and practice and at the same time, to be part of an international conversation, leading, experimenting and convening discussion around the role of art and artists in our changing world.

In many ways St Helens is every place, it is home to multiple and diverse communities of place and interest, with a strong sense of heritage and ambitions for the future. There are also marginalised, silenced, misunderstood, dominant, and niche communities, and we are committed to working with this diverse range of voices, supporting collaborations with artists from across all art forms to make ambitious new work that shakes, challenges and unearths.

We are interested in building communities of enquiry, in sharing skills and experience, and in placing art in direct interaction with all areas of life that form society. As we move forward, we will continue to work in partnership, we will build links, we will have reach and impact. We will question who gets to make art and where it gets made. We are drawing inspiration from St Helens’ heritage and history, from the philosophy of rugby league, working deep and wide across communities and rooted in socialist principles, to our history of innovation and experimentation, of making life-changing contributions to the world through technological and pharmaceutical advances. We see art as a public sphere, and the emerging works as important contributions to the world.

This document is an articulation of our ambition and our values. It also serves as an invitation to partner with us, to build important dialogues and be part of a shared journey.

Patrick Fox, Director WO

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