Why is participatory arts better than the aerospace industry? Because it’s worth more – however you measure it.

Kathryn Deane reflects on how the power of participatory arts to make change is describable in so many ways…

You return four times the GVA of the automotive industry and nearly 10 times that of aerospace. You drive growth and innovation in other sectors, such as manufacturing. You are fast-growing, highly productive, innovative and world-renowned, with enormous potential to deliver more.

Recognise yourself? You will if you think you are part of the creative industries, and especially if you are the Creative Industries Federation responding to the government consultation Building our Industrial Strategy. It’s much harder to think in these terms when your work is, say, helping people with Parkinson’s Disease move more easily, or bringing a disparate community together with a textile project, or using music technology with disaffected young people and helping them back into school. Which of your funders is likely to be swayed by the proposition that the industrial strategy aims to improve economic growth by increasing productivity? How can we – how dare we – monetise a music session for people with dementia in our care homes?

And haven’t we been here before: hands up those who remember Myerscough’s work in 1988 on the economic importance of the arts, and other attempts to prove that, far from being a drain on the Treasury, publicly-funded arts pays back in tax contributions five times what it takes out (hey! a really easy way of eliminating the deficit: instead of a measly £2.35bn return to the Treasury just increase arts funding tenfold, and return £23.5bn).

But, as CIF’s A blueprint for growth frequently alludes to (though never quite gets to grips with), participatory arts is a key driver in innovation, community development, healthcare reforms, social mobility and much more. Punch Records in Birmingham ‘helps young people at a grassroots level to see their potential’; the National Autistic Society uses creative technology for public health campaigns. And, closer to home, ArtWorks Alliance partner University of Sunderland’s ground-breaking work linking with local creative industries including the National Glass Centre and community radio station Spark FM.

And if we believe participatory arts is about making change for the better, measuring that change in financial terms (better outcomes for patients saves NHS money, young people helped into work improves their own wealth) is a key way of describing our value, not only to commissioners and funders but also to strategists and governments.

The marvellous thing about participatory arts is that its power to make change is describable in many ways: social capital, community cohesion, lower crime rates, better health, fun, learning, insightfulness. And money, too. All we need do to make our case is to deploy the right argument to the appropriate audience, whether that’s Gross Value Added to the Creative Industries Federation, or shorter hospital stays to your local Clinical Commissioning Group.

And that’s what ArtWorks Alliance partners, working together, are well placed to do.