As the global ecological crisis accelerates, more and more people have come to realise that the challenges faced by life on earth are not simply technical of managerial – but deeply political, cultural and ideological. Shifts are needed in the most fundamental ways in which humans relate to each other, to other species, and to the planet. Among those interested in helping to bring about better futures, there is an increasing interest in the power of art and creative practice. Creative practices resonate, at their best, with the deeper parts of our individual selves and our collective experiences and ways of being. But there is a lot we still don’t understand about the change potential of such practices.
CreaTures as a project was started to explore and investigate how creative practices might stimulate change toward better futures. Universities, as well as artists and designers worked together during the project. A core element of CreaTures has been the laboratory, which includes twenty ‘experimental productions’ – diverse and imaginative examples of creative practice focused on more sustainable futures . These experimental productions, produced all over Europe in both digital and live spaces, have been the basis for CreaTures research into the change potential of creative practice. Though each experimental production is very different from the others, what binds them together is the creators’ intent to help stimulate and inspire a better world, based on connected ideas and values about what a better world might look like.
As researchers, we worked with our artist and designer colleagues throughout the development process of these experimental productions. Collectively we gathered reflections and data about what was happening in the development process as participants, visitors and others interacted with the work. We also observed how creative practitioners reflected on their own efforts. Out of this reflective work between creative practitioners and researchers came many in-depth insights about specific experimental productions.
We also aimed our research beyond the CreaTures project. All around the world, people are exploring new ways to use art and creative practice to help stimulate better futures. CreaTures is, in that sense, part of a much larger movement. Within the observatory we mapped out and researched over 140 examples of imaginative and potentially transformative creative practice. By finding common themes and approaches in this work this enabled us to identify of a number of ‘creative pathways’ that can help creative practitioners, funders, policy makers and researchers see the possibilities inherent in creative practice aimed at eco-social change.
As part of our work on evaluation we identified early on in the project that there was a need to find new ways to communicate, reflect on, and evaluate creative practices in terms of their links to societal change. Creative practices don’t happen in a void – they are supported by funders and policy makers. Creative practitioners were looking for better ways to show the value of their work; and funders and policy makers were looking for better ways to understand its value from their perspectives. We saw a need for approaches to evaluation and reflection that were based on an understanding of eco-social change, one that captured more of the richness of creative practice. Through a series of interviews with our artists,designers, policy makers, funders, as well as in-depth literature reviews, we developed a system of nine dimensions that can capture this richness and allow for better communication, reflection and evaluation. These nine dimensions were developed as a tool for use beyond the project; but they also offered us a way to organize the CreaTures research results and to develop synthesise across the different experimental productions, yielding new insights.
Our new approach to reflection and evaluation was further supported by a set of guidelines for thinking about evaluation itself as a leverage point for change. After all, creative practitioners have to respond to evaluative criteria, and when the evaluation of creative practice by funders and policy makers changes, so does the work that creative practitioners produce.
This CreaTures Framework is full of all the fruits of 3 years of research together. We’re very excited to present it all to you in one place!