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.