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.
How my work has developed
I’m a freelance writer, researcher and consultant with a long career in arts work with people. Between 1979 and 1994, I worked in community art with people in estates, towns, hospitals, institutions 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? (1997) and ending with Only Connect (2004).
Since then, I’ve divided my time between community art, writing, and research. I’ve been lucky to work with many organisations including public bodies, foundations and universities, and above all with arts organisations whose values I share. I’ve also served on the boards of cultural groups and institutions. My work has taken me to many countries where I’ve been able to learn about community art in different cultures. In 2010, I began working on a series of creative projects that explore new ways of understanding people’s culture. Regular Marvels values 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 free to download from the website.
With ‘A Restless Art‘, I’ve come home to the work that I first encountered in 1981, as an apprentice community arts worker taken on by Greenwich Mural Workshop. The world has changed enormously since then but the work is stronger than ever. It’s 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.
I hope you enjoy exploring the material on this website: if you have questions, please get in touch through the contact page. 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.
- Parliament of Dreams This site is a platform for talking about arts policy, evaluation and practice, and is intended principally for people working in the field. If you want to know more about my past research, lectures and community art work, this is the place to look.
- Academia Finally, there is a 20 year archive of publications on my Academia page; if I’ve forgotten writing it, it might be here.