Community engagement inspiration from ArtsEngageCanada
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Your community engagement inspiration: Winter 2020
Over the last few months, we've been collecting a number of fascinating case studies and articles on the topic of community engagement. We hope that these resources will support and inspire you as you seek to create new and meaningful connections with your community in 2020!
New in the Idea Box:
Our Space, Theatre Royal Plymouth

This case study explores Our Space, an innovative and inspiring program at Theatre Royal Plymouth, UK.

The case study was first published on AMAculturehive (, 2019. This post was written by Sara Baldwin, Engagement Manager at Theatre Royal Plymouth, with additional posts from practitioner Lee Hart and participant Clive Rowe. 

What is Our Space?

Our Space began life with a simple invitation. In 2009, Theatre Royal Plymouth invited people sleeping rough outside the theatre and using drugs in the toilets to come in and have a chat with us over a hot drink.

Now it its tenth year, it has developed into a creative programme for adults with multiple and complex needs. Its members come from all walks of life and may have faced challenges involving homelessness, mental health issues, re-offending, substance misuse; or they may feel isolated for other reasons. The project continues to evolve and respond to the needs of the community.

Our Space offers three levels of engagement:

  • community hub drama workshops held in partnership with local services and organisations;
  • weekly workshops in drama held at Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Production and Learning centre at TR2;
  • Project X – a bespoke training programme for longer standing members to make work together and gain further skills that are transferable to everyday life.

Building Trust

Our Space offers members a place to go where they feel welcome. It provides regularity and routine with people they become familiar with and get to know. It offers the opportunity to build positive social networks, with genuine and on-going support. This framework enables people to build trust, they start feeling valued, start to regain and rebuild their self-worth and through this are able to recognise who they are and what they can contribute. As Jason Brownlee, who has been through Our Space and Project X says,

“we’re all together in a safe environment where we can create something amazing.”

Person-centred and co-created

Our Space is funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. We are currently in year two of four in this iteration of funding. The project has gone from strength to strength over the course of 10 years because it continues to be rooted in a person-centred and co-created approach that relies on building meaningful relationships with partners as well as participants. This way of working takes time, as you need to gain trust and allow time for change to happen; the journey is different for each person.

"It’s a bit like my lifeboat. Any time I’m not feeling very well, I just think pitch up at the theatre, think theatre, and the nasty thoughts drift away."
- Clive Rowe, participant


Across 10 years we’ve worked with 41 partner services to provide 544 individuals with opportunities as part of the Our Space programme. In April 2018 Our Space became a social prescription through the Wolesley Trust, working with 28 primary care providers across Plymouth. We couldn’t run the programme without building and maintaining strong partnerships with local organisations and services.

Read more about Our Space
Explore more case studies in the Idea Box

The Arts and Well-Being

Drama masks and health symbol
Increasing attention is being directed to the proven, positive connections between the arts and health/well-being. The resources in the righthand sidebar begin to explore this topic, stressing the importance of inclusive organizations that allow all people to access the benefits of arts engagement.

Additional reports and articles on this topic continue to surface, for example:
NPR Health explored a powerful project that improves well-being in seniors and youth by connecting the two generations through creative projects (click here for more).
Social prescribing is increasingly being discussed in Canada. This integration of health, culture, and community is referenced in the Our Space case study above, was discussed at the Communicating the Arts Conference, was the topic of a recent Professional Arts Organizations Network for Educators (PAONE) event, and is being piloted in Ontario.
The World Health Organization recently released a powerful report that analysed the results of over 900 global publications and suggests a strong link between arts engagement and positive mental and physical health and well-being (click here for more).
"The examples cited in this groundbreaking WHO report show ways in which the arts can tackle ‘wicked’ or complex health challenges such as diabetes, obesity and mental ill health. They consider health and well-being in a broader societal and community context, and offer solutions that common medical practice has so far been unable to address effectively"
- Dr Piroska Östlin, WHO Regional Director for Europe
New in the Resource Centre
These recently-added resources explore how and why we can make our organizations empathetic and person-centred, for the betterment of our communities.

Arts Advocacy Through a Political Lens

""Those of us with lived experience understand the profound transformative power of the arts; yet... Art is still perceived as a luxury for the privileged, not a necessity for all. Cultural organizations need to recalibrate efforts and partner with local, regional, and national agencies..."

Read more here

Empathy, Inclusivity, and Well-Being

ArtsEngageCanada team member Natalie attended the Communicating the Arts conference in Montreal and brought back a number of case studies and resources on the conference topics of Empathy, Inclusivity, and Well-Being in arts and culture.

Read more here

The Empathetic Museum

The Empathetic Museum is a concept supported by a group of museum professionals who “value and advocate for diversity of thought and authentic integration of empathy in museum practice.” While geared towards museums, their ideas and resources are highly useful for anyone in arts and culture with an interest in embedding empathy into their organization.

Read more here


OF/BY/FOR ALL is an organization that "envision[s] a world in which all people are empowered to share their talents to strengthen their communities. Communities in which people feel safe, welcome, and connected to the strangers who cross their paths every day." They offer both a paid program and free resources to equip civic and cultural institutions to become of, by, and for their communities.

Explore resources here
Explore the Resource Centre
Working on an engagement project? We want to hear from you!
Whether you are just developing an idea, or have completed a full project, we would love to hear your community engagement stories. 

Let us know what you have going on, and feel free to ask questions. We want to share and learn from each other!
Contact the Arts Engage Canada team
Explore projects or share your story in the Idea Box
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