Fergus Evans, 14 January 2017

This session came about through frustrations with the way in which ‘community art’ is

seen as secondary art form to ‘proper art’, and the assumption that only community,

education and participation teams in venues have responsibility for ensuring their

spaces are welcoming and relevant.

There was a conversation about what lots of people tend to mean when they say

‘community’ or the dreaded ‘the community’ - which many people in the session was

just a way of saying non-white non-middle class people (or really any category of

otherness. We talked about how drawing attention to the assumed norm - white,

middle class - and the fact that they are also a community could be a political way of

drawing attention to the assumptions people make when they say the community.

One person in the group offered a really great suggestion. As a health check,

whenever anyone is talking about ‘the community’ insert ‘the group of people’. If the

sentence sounds bonkers, you're probably not using the word community in a very

useful way. What you may mean is:

- The people who live over the road from my venue

- Young Somalis living in South Manchester

- BAME choreographers

And it can also mean white able-bodied middle class people who see a lot of our


Another point raised was that it's important to remember that some people may not

see themselves as part of ‘the community’ you have put them in. Communities should

be things people feel a sense of belonging to, not necessarily the groups you put them

into. That's another thing that gets obscured when we talk about ‘the community’.

Also, amateur doesn't mean ‘a bit crap’ and professional doesn't mean' excellent.

Professional means that you make a living from your art, but it doesn't mean your art is

better or that you're more talented.

A REALLY important point is that this conversation was not about sidelining or

obscuring expertise - artists and producers who are great at holding spaces, inviting a

wide group of people who may not consider themselves to be artists to collaborate on

work, or making sure that our venues are relevant and useful. This work is VITAL! We

talked about spaces which are great at welcoming in a wide range of people like

libraries. Can / should / are arts centres the new civic space now that libraries are


We also talked about how the best work made in collaboration with people who may

not primarily consider themselves to be artists:

- makes clear that it is not the artist who presents the work, it's all of the collaborators.

- takes its form and its content from all of the people making it, not the agenda of the


- isn't always issue-based (unless that's what the collaborators want).

A conversation was had about whether some of this language came from the

expectations of funders. But we were also reminded that funders are often smart,

lovely people who get it! They don't necessarily think these words work either. Maybe

we can be a bit more honest about what we mean, rather than what we think they

want to hear.

We had a great crunchy conversation about what happens if ‘community’ disappears

from how we talk about some work or some people's jobs. For instance, what would a

Community Arts Festival be called? But some people were really excited about that

possibility - one person suggested that we think about artists like plumbers. Some

plumbers come to your house, some plumbers keep things working behind the

scenes. They're all plumbers.

The conversation on the whole was wide-ranging, passionate, and really thought

provoking. We might not have reached a consensus, but here are some possible

actions we could take away:

- Stop referring to ‘the community’

- If you find yourself talking about ‘the community’ substitute THE group of people. It

will sound silly and hopefully make you be more specific about who you mean.

- If you're collaborating with a big group of non-artists, try to step back as much as you

can. Don't make assumptions about what the work is about or who it's for. Let it come

from the collaboration itself.

- Celebrate the experts - the people who are great at holding spaces, chatting with

people and collaborating.

And finally, whether or not All art is community art let's remember that white, middle

class theatre goers aren't the norm and everyone else isn't ‘the community’. We all

belong to communities we choose and groups we're lumped into. Let's be more

considered and thoughtful about our language.


participatory arts, Inclusion, Engagement, community art, Participation, inclusion,

Audience Development, engagement, participation, Diversity, Audience development,

diversity, audience development

Comments: 2

Caroline Williams, 17 January 2017

This is really useful. Thanks Fergus. x

Caroline Williams, 17 January 2017

This is really useful. Thanks Fergus. x