Jane Pitt, 19 September 2012

I asked this question because I wanted to have a conversation about the nature of Participation or Participatory work and to hear what other people think it is or it isn't and how many forms it might exist in.

We talked philosophically inititally about how many levels of participation might be possible in theatre or live art, whether there is any element of participation from a viewer of a painting in a gallery..when does interaction or immersion become participation?

Many of the group feel it's a genre, a true cross art form that has evolved amongst people driven by the desire to make direct contact with people and create situations where a shared moment is experienced and a connection made. It was acknowledged that ‘participation’ is a criteria for many funding bodies but that there isn't much dialogue around the definition of participation or participatory.*

That it's an artform that without the participants/audience it doesn't completely exist but the scale can range from intimate to large with an implicite generosity. Sometimes powerful participatory projects are when it happens naturally - responsively. Participatory art creates a space for the public to step into underpinned by skill and a variety of methodolgies. That a balance needs to be consistently found between artist and public.. when to facilitate.. when to be led.. when to lead.. when to listen etc. That we all enjoy that process & dynamic of balance/discourse.

We asked is there a difference between Community Arts & Participatory Arts. Is the former a more passive experience for the public than the latter? Is Community Arts used as a method of delivering an undercurrent of strategic development? Whereas in Participatory arts - art happens and then the ‘community’ affects the art. We didn't define ‘community’ or ‘the public’. We wondered if geography can affect how artforms or methodologies evolve.. noting that there are lots of participatory artists/companies in Kent.. coincidence? Influence of Universities? Suitable working conditions? responsive audiences? Strategic funding push for Outdoor work. Should we start a regional network for artists working this way?

It's a method of working directly with other humans that doesn't suit everyone and requires an affinity.

*funding bodies define (for which read evaluate) participation using audience numbers and artist numbers. In addition there is a publication called ‘Interact (I think!) Evaluating Participation & Inclusion’ (btw the word inclusion wasn't used in this discussion) that includes useful methods of evaluating a project (& perhaps also useful for personal evaluation of practice) i.e. measuring increased levels of ownership and increased levels of responsibility or Who did you invite vs Who turned up. It was suggested that perhaps companies fall short on how we evaluate impact .. that returning at a later date or keeping in touch with participants and gathering testimonials has value - funders also love a ‘good news story’ .. this prompts the question what is our ongoing relationship (if at all) with participants. If participatory work creates a space for people to step into or to input creatively or complete somehow should artists then perhaps just step away .. if you are creating participatory work do you have responsibility to follow it up will skills development or more participant led projects or create a group become a community organiser etc.. or is that the responsibility of the individual participant.

“it's not always about the intial outcome but what happens afterwards”

“If no-one's looking it doesn't work”

Is it a form of collaboration?


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