The artist as changemaker

Bringing histories and heritage to life using collections and archives

The challenge

A drawing of a historical battle

Manchester Histories is a not-for-profit organisation focused on community collaboration to reveal, share and celebrate Greater Manchester’s diverse histories and heritage. In 2019 Manchester Histories worked in partnership with Great Place, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and Greater Manchester Libraries and Archives to deliver the ‘Artivist Greater Manchester’ pilot project, which saw archivists and artists collaborate on creative ways to bring heritage collections and archives associated with the Peterloo massacre 'to life’ to mark the 200th anniversary of this historic event. 

As a result of lessons learnt from this major 2019 event, this project aims to create a model of best practice to facilitate and inspire co-production projects between heritage organisations, artists and the public, in the form of a toolkit and practical guide. 

The solution

The Research Team has developed a mixed methods approach that includes:

  • Research on co-creative processes that include art practice, heritage collections and archives
  • Primary research on the challenges faced by artists, archivists and the public in the process of creating community-based projects through focus groups, one-to-one interviews and an online survey.
  • The creation of a toolkit able to a) Facilitate discussion around challenges and solutions that partners might experience in the collaborative process. b) Provide guides to working with archives for artists and community groups by incorporating experiences and best practice from similar co-production projects. c) Assist archivists and curators, who are largely the project initiators and managers of such projects, with communication between artists, archivists and the public, and ensure projects maximise the potential of historic collections.

Research Team 

  • Anna Balazs, PhD Researcher in Social Anthropology (University of Manchester, School of Social Sciences)
  • Jessica Mancuso, PhD Researcher in Sociology (University of Manchester, School of Social Sciences)
  • Hanna Steyne, PhD Researcher in Archaeology (University of Manchester, School of Arts, Languages and Cultures)
  • Euan Winton, PhD Researcher in Design Dementia (Lancaster University, Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts)


The team showed great professionalism and showed an excellent response to the needs of the project; furthermore, the research and tool kit produced was of a high standard and will be beneficial to Manchester Histories and the people we work with.

Karen Shannon / Manchester Histories CEO.
  • This research project offers clear recommendations on how cultural organisations may collaborate with artists and the general public, and maximise the potential of their historic collections.
  • Following a literature review, interviews, a series of focus groups and a questionnaire with leading cultural professionals, researchers collated the insights of industry experts to form refined and creative solutions to co-production.
  • Researchers created an interactive toolkit with information on common approaches, best practice and the recognised value of public engagement. It also offers insight into the challenges that may arise during co-production, and the mitigation of these in light of existing and emerging knowledge.
  • This is the first toolkit of its kind; offering invaluable support to archivists, artists, publics and institutions who wish to undertake co-production activities for the inclusion of marginalized communities.


This project was completed in 2019-20 as part of the Collaboration Labs programme, created by REALab, with funding from the ESRC, the NWCDTP and the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at the University of Manchester.