What participatory art needs: Resources

Participatory art receives more public funding today than it did, but that is still a very small proportion of public budgets for culture. What’s more, the expansion of funding has produced an increase in volume of work rather than changing the conditions of its creation. Many participatory art organisations and artists are not much better resourced than they were in the past—there are just more of them. Commitment and imagination overcome a lot, but quality cannot be separated entirely from materials, equipment, facilities, training and time. Underpaid, overworked artists cannot do their best work. Participants are short-changed: most in need, they receive least. And, over time, the artists themselves burn out.

There have been attempts over the decades to set minimum fees and working conditions for freelance artists but it requires commissioners to take responsibility for their own expectations. that is easy to avoid while there are idealistic young people looking for work. Unpaid ‘training opportunities’ and internships are symptoms of an abusive system whose actions betray its words. As ever, they privilege those with existing capital. the conditions in which participatory artists work should match those of other artists (and they should be better and fairer across the board). Arts Councils could be working with the participatory arts sector to set benchmarks that protect artists and participants.

This is not only about rates of pay. It also concerns what is paid for and the security that permits people to build a practice and a life. A shift towards project funding in the 1990s placed an unreasonable burden on individual artists and small organisations, whose core costs do not disappear because they are not covered by a grant. All funding bodies should expect to contribute to the overheads artists have to meet, from premises and training to insurance and sick pay. they should also recognise the full extent of the project cycle outlined in Chapter six and be willing to pay for the time involved in planning, negotiating, evaluating and reporting on work. In short, it is time to end the relentless pressure to deliver more for less. Good participatory art can be created on relatively modest budgets (at least in comparison with other types of art production) but better work depends on adequate resources. Participatory art prioritises people who don’t already engage with public cultural services, those who, not by coincidence, often have least resources. ensuring that they can exercise their right to participate in the cultural life of the community and enjoy the arts takes more care and money, not less. Fair funding of participatory art is, ultimately, a matter of respect.

Tomorrow – Part 3: Trust

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