The continuing validity of community development

For all their differences, for all the good they do achieve, these schemes have two things in common: they’re supposed to solve problems that arise – directly or not – from past policy decisions, and they are all time limited.

François Matarasso

In preparation for a visit to meet Northern Heartlands in County Durham, I’ve been reading about their community projects and artists’ residencies, and watching some of the videos that capture the feel of some very good work. As so often when I see this kind of initiative, I’m struck by the continuing validity of community development, as a theory and a practice, and whether or not it involves participatory art. Community development emerged in the context of post-war decolonisation – it was Congress Party policy under Nehru – and came to the US and UK in the 1960s, sometimes linked with the civil rights movement. At the time, it was defined by the United Nations as:

‘a movement to promote better living for the whole community with active participation and if possible on the initiative of the community’

Craig, G. et al, 2011The Community Development Reader, London, p.3

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