On Wednesday I attended a meeting of the Artworks Alliance in Cardiff. The CMA is a partner organisation of the ArtWorks Alliance which is a network of national organisations across the UK who support the principle of participation in creative arts practice and engagement. The aim of the alliance is to foster a network of “partners who come together to develop and improve specific issues in participatory arts that cannot be tackled by any of us working on our own.” Resources available from the alliance include a knowledge bank and set of toolkits, reports and case studies.
At the meeting we discussed the role of participation as an ongoing process for creative engagement with people in communities. The overall view of the partner organisations in the network, which is based on their experience of planning, developing and delivering participation-based creative activities, is that participation and involvement in the process of creating media and creative works enhances the social value to the people and communities involved.
Our discussion shared our experiences across different forms of media and creative practices, recognising that when people have access to both the platforms we use for creative practice, and also the process of designing and developing the content that we share through our different platforms and practices, then we see a different level of engagement and understanding. Participative arts and media are richer, more dynamic and more transformational when they are participative, than simply working with people as if they are passive audiences, or the accumulators of skills, or the purchasers of services.
The aim of the network forum meetings is to plan how groups within the network can better support their advocacy activities with partner organisations, policy developers and funding organisations. The challenge for a network, therefore, is to share and gather evidence of the social value of participation arts.
We discussed how by forming alliances with other networks, such as the Cultural Health and Wellbeing Alliance, and the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance, it will be possible to demonstrate the benefits and social value of participative arts and media practices. If a principle is valid in more than one field of work, and can be applied in different circumstances, then it can be said to have a sound basis.
The challenge that was discussed at the forum meeting is how we can collectively and collaboratively foster greater understanding of the use of participative engagement techniques, and how we can develop evidence and verifiable evaluations of the different experiences of participation-focussed activities. Do they really make a difference in the lives of people and communities, in a way that is meaningful and empowering?
Caroline Mitchell from the University of Sunderland and SparkFM, gave a presentation about the work she is leading for an AHRC funding bid to support a networking grant that will help to support the way that it is possible to ‘bring the voice of the artist into the debate about cultural policy’. The aim of the proposed network project is to better understand the motivations and inspirations across the participative arts and creative sector.
It was well worth attending the forum meeting, especially as it is always good to meet with people who are on the same page, and who have experience of thinking ahead about to how we can better support innovative participation-based creative practices, and who are willing to share their experience and learn from one another about the challenges and the joys of supporting any sort of community engagement practice that puts people at the heart of the creative process in new and imaginative ways.