International cooperations and transnational projects have long since been Intercult’s forté, but times and focus have changed during recent years. We have therefore expanded our focus. For Intercult to remain relevant, on a local, national och international level, we needed to adapt. International projects are no longer the primary interest of our financial beneficiaries and our audience, so we have explored our roots and started honing our local community skills instead. This way, our projects have real communal impact but at the same time we can offer our audience, partners and community a knowledge of international context.

The I_improve project is a wonderful example of an interlocal project. There is the international aspect where we learn together with our international partners, and we visit them (pre pandemic) to exchange reflections and ideas. But there is also a very strong local element to I_Improve, as each organisation collaborated with a local changemaker to develop their own project and learning methodology on a local level.

At the C6 activity, where our partner organisation City of Ostend visited Stockholm to learn from our changemaking process, we at Intercult stated our goal with the collaboration. We had yet to decide upon a changemaker (as we were working with three possible changemakers at the time), but our goal with the partnership would be to develop a new approach when working with cultural creative actors.

Method: building social capital

On a national and international level, Intercult has always had a big community. Intercult is one of few organisations in Sweden that works with culture from an international perspective, and has a clear spot in civil society by being a part of reference groups in the City of Stockholm as well as for the Department for Culture. We have a strong social network and deep knowledge about which key players there are in the cultural sphere. Through Access Europe and Europe Direct projects, for example, we offer project development and cultural policy expertise. All this means that high social capital is one of Intercult’s organisational strengths.

Despite this, Intercult is not that well known by Stockholm’s general public and we wanted to reorient our organisation towards more local actions, especially those connected to the Arts. We decided to try methods of building social capital as a way to use our own social capital, our organisational strength, to enhance the position of others within the local and international cultural/creative sector. Simply put, this method means fostering links both horizontally, between different groups in society, and vertically, by levering resources, ideas and information from formal institutions in the community.

Putting this method into practice has involved strengthening other organisations by providing informational and instrumental support. We focused mainly on building bridges, which is one variety of building social capital, which has meant helping organisations reach and engage with new audiences and communities, locally and internationally. We have focused on providing organisations with access to other networks as this supports them in scaling up and having a broader network of their own where more privileges, resources and opportunities are available.

Through the development of multi-actor projects, we have created spaces where new personal relationships can develop. This is an important part of our ‘bridging work’ as it provides an area where people from different perspectives and sectors can work together. Participant’s long-term engagement can also embed local actors in a broader system of opportunities. Our long-term goal with project-based work is to stimulate more cultural actions locally and cross-pollinate ideas between those who wouldn’t otherwise meet.

You can read about our work with Livet Bitch! here and here. We’ve also been exploring our method further with the Time Stroller project. Read about the local artists we’ve worked with here.

Ideas for how to build bridges and develop social capital in your community:

— consistently look outside of yourself and your already established collaborations

— stay in touch with trends and current affairs to see what is relevant

— be generous: supporting others who are doing well in their communities is an investment in your own growth 

— be discerning: identify your own core values so that you can recruit those whose values are aligned into your network

— identify resources and opportunities which can address other organisations’ needs, not just your own

— ensure your relationships are meaningful by getting to know other organisations and their needs personally

Why Livet Bitch as our changemaker:

A large part of our internal work with our changemaker, Livet Bitch! (Life Bitch!), and indeed the whole I_Improve project, has been around identifying our core values and artistic vision. Who are the actors that we want to collaborate with and support through our method? Reconnecting with theatre and performance by working with Livet Bitch! has answered the question of who our method is directed towards, both now and for the future, namely local professional actors working in the creative and cultural sector.

We realised that one of Intercult’s strengths is recognizing the artistic passions of local creatives and artistic actors in our community. There is nothing so enticing and inspiring as when someone is passionate about what they do. This is why it took us a while to settle on our final changemaker; there were so many inspirational people and organisations to work with. We had met and workshopped with three talented community actors, and while we knew a deeper connection with the Arts was important to us, making a final decision became very challenging.

We soul searched, took a step back and thought about Intercult as a whole – apart from wanting to work with and boost other people’s artistic passions, what made our creative hearts beat? The answer lay in our roots – Intercult has had long standing connections with the theatre community. As our organisation had continued to expand and develop, we had lost touch with that community in recent years. We realized that this is what we longed for; to connect with these roots and that community again.

As soon as we realised where we wanted to focus our organisational growth, we started a collaboration with Livet Bitch! as our changemaker. The work Livet Bitch! does is highly inspirational: they invite young girls and women from their local community in Södertälje into a safe, inclusive space to share experiences and from those stories they collectively create art. Their core of social-engagement and theatre practice naturally struck a chord with us.

Social impact

An important part of our methodology is that it doesn’t end with us – social capital is not an individual commodity, but something that is built and shared with others – we want others to be able to follow in our footsteps and realize the importance of local community engagement. If future actors use this methodology to further their own bridging social capital, it is our hope that they find our work to be inspirational and resourceful.

The long term social impacts we are hoping to see with this methodology are, in short, more cultural actions and higher levels of local engagement with and from the community. We are confident that our approach can lead to this as it incorporates said community, which lies at the heart of our work, as well as being concerned with growing the capacity of the community to act. We also hope that by using this methodology, you find it easier to find and connect actors and organisations to each other and to you.

Having a receiver for the cultural statements that are the result of your work and collaborations is a vital part of arts and culture. Without that connection and exchange, we believe it renders the work we do to be poorer and less nuanced. Intercult wants to create and sustain dialogue with the work we do, and for that to happen we need to reach and communicate with our audience and community. This is why the collaboration part of the methodology is so important: developing meaningful relationships and collaborating with others has had the result of growing and diversifying our own audience and visibility.

We hope to have inspired others and proved that this method of building bridging social capital is successful. The connection to and collaboration with local community, whether in the culture and arts sector or in other sectors, is vital for the future relevance of an organisation or company.