Hearts for the Arts 2021 Shortlist – Paul Cowell

Medway Council's Paul Cowell has been shortlisted for Best Arts Champion - Local Authority or Cultural Trust Worker in the 2021 Hearts for the Arts Awards.

Medway is an area of high deprivation and traditionally low arts engagement and relatively low arts investment. In his role, Paul Cowell has responsibility for culture, libraries and festivals and is an unstinting supporter of the arts – of organisations and individuals – within Medway. He consistently advocates for the importance of the arts within Medway Council and has been responsible for a sea change in the area with the community-engaged development of a new cultural strategy, and with the ambition raised for a City of Culture bid.

Paul has also enabled a change towards a more collaborative and inclusive environment that encourages a wide range of groups, organisations and individuals to have their say and play a role in shaping Medway for future generations. We now have a cultural strategy produced by open space events and genuine participation, allowing new, diverse voices and opinions to come through. He has successfully brought people together in a shared vision to attract resources and deliver projects in Medway. Paul’s outreach has attracted engineers, creative industries and heritage professionals as well as members of the public to a series of Open Space events that continued in spite of the pandemic by going online and were responsible for a properly co-produced cultural strategy.

In addition, the bid for City of Culture has engaged very widely with NHS, Medway business and voluntary sectors, with public health (particularly in relation to social prescribing), as well as with some of Medway’s diversity led groups like Medway Diversity Forum and Medway Afro Caribbean Association.

A recent example of one of Paul’s projects is ‘Electric Medway’: a brand new digital festival delivered in lockdown, which has brought lots of new groups together with a sense of shared enthusiasm, optimism and energy to work together in and for Medway. He has been consistently calm, positive and supportive at a really difficult time for communities and the arts sector.

What the judges said:

“Paul Cowell has been a powerful advocate for the arts, in an area of typically low arts engagement. He has been responsible for high levels and engagement from a wide range of cultural and cross-sector partners.”

“By developing a new cultural strategy, and putting forward a City of Culture bid, Paul has shown that he is committed to the importance of the arts to the population of Medway, and that he is willing to champion bold and optimistic projects underpinned by long-term strategic thinking.”