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Together We Will: The Blueprints of Our Collective Future

Togeth­er We Will is Visu­al Arts South West’s 6‑month pilot pro­gramme of sec­tor sup­port launch­ing in Jan­u­ary 2021.


The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have emphasised that small organisations, independent artworkers, young people, and primarily Black, People of Colour, disabled and neurodiverse art workers are at the highest risk of losing their livelihoods and over-represented in precarious employment. These circumstances constitute the strategic priorities of our sector recovery plan.

Various arts sector bodies are conducting research to estimate the financial impact of the pandemic upon our professional community whilst also tracing the structure of the sector, how it is funded and who makes up its workforce. We have also seen an impactful surge of antiracist activism within the Black Lives Matter movement internationally, and the light that it has shone upon the arts sector and its systemic problems that affect Black and POC cultural workers.

It is crucial that our sector comes together now at this time of crisis, with a strong collective voice that equally represents all of our colleagues and partners as well as sector newcomers, to protect the future of our art form, to improve our working practices, and to advocate for the impact that visual arts can have on our social, political and daily lives. This is the ambition of the next phase of work for VASW, working alongside the national Contemporary Visual Arts Network.

Our long-term aspirations

In 2019/2020 we undertook extensive research into what our sector needs in the South West. Five key areas surfaced as the top priorities for development, all of which are increasingly pressing as we navigate through COVID-19:

  1. Sustainability and resilience to thrive instead of just surviving
  2. Developing connections within a dispersed region that lacks infrastructure
  3. Talent development and retention
  4. Equal access to all levels of the visual arts sector across all demographics
  5. Supporting entrepreneurial attitudes and building connections with business

VASW's long-term aspiration is to see the sector become interconnected, supportive, equally accessible to all, and able to respond to the economic challenges ahead. We also want to make contemporary art more relatable to the multiple publics across our local and regional communities, and connected to other art forms. Collaboration is critical, and diverse local knowledge is essential to achieve these goals.

The 6-month Pilot

The pandemic has further brought to light how the visual arts sector continues to marginalise many with ingrained working practices that create inhospitable and exclusive work environments. Undoing this culture is an essential part of dismantling whitesupremacist, ableist, heteronormative and patriarchal structures, which constitute the most pressing challenges to cultural development in the UK. The core aim of Together We Will is to ensure that values of care, collaboration and solidarity lead us in the future.

Contributing to our two-to-five-year plan, this 6-month pilot will enable us to test ideas and activate a broader understanding of what can be achieved collectively. The programme is rooted in establishing specialised groups as part of our region-wide professional network. In collaboration with these groups, we will develop an action plan to increase equal access to the arts by addressing specific needs and barriers. This sector-led approach will test new ideas and bring an array of voices, lived experience and knowledge to the forefront of our work, calling for all arts organisations and practitioners in the region to establish new standards for best practice.

Programme Strands

Our four core programme strands will be informed by an intersectional approach to developing interconnected aspects of our sector. The overall programme will be informed by new sector support groups, which will be established for Black and POC, LGBTQI, and disabled and neurodiverse art workers contributing to the visual arts ecology in our region.

  • Young People: A cohort of regional experts will be brought together to define a strategy based on the barriers that young people face accessing the visual arts sector.
  • Talent Development: A cohort of Associate Programmes from across the region will be brought together to activate a joint programme that offers strategic development for artists and independent art workers.
  • Development: A regional network of organisations will be brought together to support and increase the visibility of the visual arts.
  • Intersectional Governance: National experts will support our work to establish policies that increase inclusivity and access to regional workforce and leadership positions. A critical issue in our region is the absence of multiple voices and experiences at a governance and leadership level.

Together We Will will launch in January 2021.

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