What’s in a name?

When I began thinking about this project, several years ago, I was determined to avoid the marshlands of jargon. Participatory art practices now go under a host of labels, each more refined than the next, but often incomprehensible to people outside the arts. So I decided to use only two terms – participatory art and community art. Even that may be one too many.

By participatory art, I mean the whole vast field of artistic co-creation. In the book, I try to explain why this is a different form to all other art practices, but as such it is now very large and diverse. It includes a lot of work that I admire, even if I wouldn’t do it myself, and some that makes me ethically, politically or artistically uncomfortable – and that’s probably a good thing too.

I see community art as a kind of participatory art although, paradoxically, it emerged first. It is rights-based, rigorous, theoretically-informed and politically engaged. It is artistically independent, adventurous and innovative. It is much less common than participatory art, because it is often challenging, both as a practice and in its results. It is committed to the concept of cultural democracy.


These thoughts were prompted by watching this film, made a few years ago by Dublin Community Television, in which a dozen or more people active in the city’s participatory art scene talk about language and ideas. Some of them struggle a bit, which is not surprising, for the reasons I’ve just touched on: this is conceptually complex stuff. And it’s not surprising that the film have three titles, as they juggle with names. They were made as a series of short films, and have only now been put together as a sequence (be patient with the quite long gaps between them). They make a fascinating collection, showing something of how people in one city are grappling with language and ideas as an inevitable consequence of working at the edge of current practice.

Thanks to Ed Carroll for drawing the films to my attention.