An analysis of some London arts companies that have participation and engagement at the heart of their arts creation and delivery models. The review involved organisations that work in some of the most challenging circumstances possible in London – in prisons, in hostels for homeless people, in healthcare settings, in daycare centres for people affected by dementia, for example. This analysis discusses the theory and motivation behind participatory practice and gives recommendations for how this sector of the arts could be strengthened and increased.
Making sense of the aesthetics of participation is not easy. All of the companies we spoke to consider themselves to be arts organisations first and foremost. They engage in creative discourse and explore aesthetic. There is considerable sensitivity towards negative external perceptions of the participatory artist. High standards are often a necessary requirement of participation, and the learning involved can be rigorous. The complex relationship between the artist and the adult participant is a rich seam of experience that informs and adds to creative practice and one which is increasingly relevant to the mainstream.
Effective assessment and evaluation
In order to compete and tender for contracts, effectively obtain access to funding and build a robust case for adult participatory arts nationally, a more coherent and strategic approach to evaluation and assessment is required. As a starting point the companies in the review have the opportunity to develop a set of shared criteria for evaluation and to empirically describe the outcomes of their work, which might then be shared more widely.