Why I do what I do

My writing, research and work in community and participatory art rests on the belief that everyone has the right to create art and to share the result, as well as to enjoy and participate in the creations of others. Shaping your own cultural identity – and having it recognised by others – is central to human dignity and growth.If people can’t represent themselves culturally how can they do so in any other way, including politically? If people are only imagined and portrayed by others, how can they be full, free and equal members of society?

And yet, in every society, people’s access to culture is very uneven. Those who identify with dominant cultures have no difficulty creating and promoting their values. Others, passively or actively denied cultural resources, platforms and legitimacy, remain on the margins. My work engages with those issues through research, support for cultural groups and writing.

FM at ICAF - 1
Not karaoke, but in a discussion about community arts at Rotterdam (photo © Kevin Ryan – Charnwood Arts for ICAF 2017)


How my work has developed

I’m a freelance writer, researcher and consultant with a 35 year career in socially engaged arts practice. Between 1979 and 1994, I worked in visual arts, theatre and as a producer, with people in neighbourhoods, hospitals, care centres and prisons.As my interest in the ideas behind this work grew, I became involved with research and its implications. From 1994 to 2003 I undertook a series of studies of arts and culture, often with Comedia, including Use or Ornament? and ending with Only Connect. 

Since 2004, I’ve concentrated on writing, supported by freelance work with people working in participatory art. Over the years I have worked with all sorts of organisations including public bodies, foundations and universities, but above all with arts organisations whose values I share. I’ve also served on the boards of cultural groups and institutions. My work has been widely published and I’ve been asked to work or speak in many countries. All these experiences have shaped my thinking and practice. In 2010, I began working on a series of creative projects that explore new ways of understanding people’s culture. Regular Marvels celebrates the richness and diversity of people’s everyday art practice, especially when it is disregarded by power. Five books were published in the series and – all are freely available to download from the regular marvels website.

With ‘A Restless Art’, I’m looking again at the practice of participatory arts that I first encountered in 1981, as an apprentice community arts worker taken on by Greenwich Mural Workshop. So much has changed since then but the work flourishes. It’s high time to think again about what it is, how it is done and how those who practice it respond to the critical challenges it presents them and the world.

You can see more of my past work on these sites:


Regular Marvels documents a project that explored alternative ways of writing about people’s experience of the arts. Working with an artist on each project, I used literary and artistic methods rather than academic ones, with the intention of producing short books that the people whose stories they told might actually read. The five books look at areas that the art world generally undervalues: amateur theatre, artists in old age, migrant artists, churches as artistic centres, and rural touring. You can download copies of each from the site or contact me if you want the printed version. The Regular Marvels project is currently hibernating while I work on A Restless Art. http://regularmarvels.com


This site is a platform for talking about arts policy, evaluation and practice, and is intended to be principally of interest to professionals. Some of my recent lectures and publications can be downloaded here. http://parliamentofdreams.com


Finally, there’s a set of publications, stretching back about 20 years, on my Academia page; if you’re looking for something I might have forgotten writing, this would be the place to start. https://rgu.academia.edu/FrançoisMatarasso