Many artists who work with people now find themselves with time on their hands as governments escalate measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. Some, like me, are obliged to stay indoors; others have just found their projects suspended or cancelled. The practical and psychological challenges are substantial, as I’ve written elsewhere. But the enforced idleness could also be an opportunity to step back and think about our work. Community and participatory art has been under-resourced for 50 years. Those of us who earn their living here always struggle to make time to nourish our own ideas, practice and creativity.
The book at the heart of this website is my attempt to do that work for myself and to make the results available to others. I worked hard to make it readable as well as rich, but I know that it takes some effort to grapple with its wide range of ideas and examples. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, perhaps this is the moment to have a go. You can download the free PDF and it’s still available in print for those who prefer books on paper. There’s a 10 minute version to get you started, and the book is designed to be dipped into as well as being read through. If you’re most interested in ethics or quality, you might just dive into those chapters.
Alternatively, a lot of the thinking and projects that went into the book were initially tested in blog posts on this site, so you could scroll through some of the shorter pieces here to spark some ideas. These are some of the most read posts – but not always the best – as launch points:
- Who gets paid – and why?
- Co-creation (trying to work out what this slippery term means)
- English visionaries: John Fox, Sue Gill and Welfare State
- Men & Girls Dance – Successful risk-taking in participatory art
- Connections and differences between participatory art and community art (this was an early effort of what I think I later explained much better in the book)
- A (very short) history of the British community arts movement
An invitation to conversation
All of which leads up to an invitation. If you have issues about community art – or participatory art, socially engaged practice, applied theatre, art for social change or whatever you call your work – that you would like to talk about, please take this space when your work may be suspended to talk about them. You can get in touch by leaving a comment below, by emailing me through the contact page, or via Twitter, and I will respond in a blog post here during the coming days. (It doesn’t seem likely, but if I’m overwhelmed by questions I might have to revise that promise.)
To be clear though, I’m not the fount of all knowledge on community art. I know what I know, which is never more than a bit of this world, and I think what I think, which is also just one approach, one interpretation. I have always, genuinely, valued all sorts of ways of making art with people that I would not practice myself. I value cultural diversity because human beings are diverse. So I’m inviting you to join a conversation, to raise issues, to express your thinking and question mine, to share your experiences. But please do so in the spirit of this blog, which respects diversity of opinion and practice, and remains always open to the possibility of being mistaken. I hope, in this way, we might make this time of waiting more enjoyable and productive.
Firstly, can I say how much I enjoy all your blogs and posts about community art? They are the best newsletters I receive – always fruitful in challenging, entertaining and developing my work. Your words are so beautifully written and you have such a great arrangement of so many qualities that you bring to the fore when you are describing your work alongside others. I manage the Arts Team at York Hospital as well as continuing my freelance wrok as an artist who works in the community with people of all ages. We have currently, understandably pulled all our programnmes at the Hospital for now and are working where there is most need. I am going to try to create some online material for Converge in York this afternoon – a group I have been working with at York Art Gallery – so I will try this new platform! There are so many questions and uncertainties – I’m sure I will come back to you with many over the next few weeks as we move forward – but I suppose the hardest thing is will be where at present we still can find a perch – will it be online at the moment – will that be the best and will it have purpose? I struggle in the Hospital context more than with the groups who can access potentially from home. I will go back to Restless Art and re-read some of this – it is such a wonderful read and to those who haven’t had chance do take this opportunity to read and be moved by it – in any way or form – challeneged, delighted or provoked! I was and will look forward to more opportunity to enjoy it. A huge thank you for all your insights – let’s hope the people we work with can lead us in some way to show us what works in these times. Best for now Griselda
Thanks so much for this. You can imagine how happy I am to know that what I write speaks to you. I’ve always thought writing is a hopeful act, in the sense that peopleI do it in the hope that someone will read it, understand it, like it, respond to it. I don’t often meet readers, and every time is a treasure.
You have a really difficult challenge, one shared with all community artists, because our work is with others or it is nothing. so how can it exist when we can’t be with others? There’s a lot of talk about going online, and that can be really valuable, but not everyone is online or finds it easy. I’m not making any work at the moment (there was a project planned for April – June, but that isn’t going to happen) so I don’t have to solve the difficulty in that way. I am spending a lot more time on the phone now, and my basic contract gives me unlimited minutes, which means it’s not even expensive. I wonder whether there are creative ideas that could connect people in isolation who might not want to use the internet – maybe composing a story by phone, with daily ring round so that each person can share what they’ve done since yesterday? Just the beginning of a thought triggered by your comments.
Good luck and stay safe. I do hope you can find some ways forward.
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