In a world in which modern societies are predominately urban there is a capacity for cultural distances between the families, individuals and nationalities who make up the often densely populated, communities within cities. Generating collective understanding and engagement is no easy feat. However to do so is a challenge which is not only fundamentally important to the success of local communities and the wider society in which they are placed, but also to the holistic well-being of the individuals who make up the whole.
Art remains one of the most democratic and accessible mediums for communication, and authentic art that resonates with the local community and visitors alike has the power to connect people to their own cultural identity or that of the locality. This in turn can be informative or change perceptions on a micro level, which given time and public access can influence on a macro level. Being part of, and engaged with something creative can open doors for imagination and interpretation. Importantly for communication, this can also engender pride in one’s surroundings and a sense of inclusion. Art, when made accessible, has a unique capacity to break down boundaries and encourage social interaction, bring purpose and to change an atmosphere. it can make a place more accommodating, and draw attention to, or regenerate, an under-utilised or under-resourced neighbourhood. In addition, successful community engagement through artistic mediums is a strong partner for sustainable development.
If more of a case in favour of supporting the arts as a tool for community engagement were needed we only have to look at the knock-on effect that desirable living environments have on empowering individual confidence and innovation, and attracting investment and creative industries into local economies. Even if artistic installations bring nothing but an aesthetic improvement to a communal space they have the capacity to generate reassessment, consideration and discussion. Reports and studies, including one by the New Economics Foundation have repeatedly come to similar conclusions that young people who participate in arts programmes are more likely to see themselves as ‘holding the potential to do anything I want to do’ and being ‘able to influence a group of people to get things done’.
So where does, or should, the funding for creative engagement come from? The answer to that question has multiple answers. It is an error to see publicly-funded, privately-funded and commercial arts and culture as separate worlds. They are each part of a cultural ecosystem that thrives off a constant dialogue between the sectors, as well as across local, regional and international networks, and which embrace diversity and difference. Let’s face it: research, development, implementation, risk taking, creative content and ideas can’t all come from the same place. If they did we would be constantly presented with the same perspective, regardless of location, context or purpose.
It is increasingly important that people are made aware of the environment they live in and how individual actions impact not just local communities but the planet we live on. This is not possible without collective knowledge, understanding and purpose. Art at its very core is a tool for communication. Its ability to cross languages and cultures, and to encompass everything from popular to high culture repeatedly enforces how necessary its role is in educating and regenerating a sense of community, engagement and responsibility in places where this has broken down.
 New Economics Foundation’s report Diversity and Integration (2013)