Why are we talking about Failure?

Recently, researchers at QMU Rachel Blanche and Anthony Schrag brought together 30 people – 10 artists, 10 commissioners/arts managers and 10 researchers – to consider the concept of a “Failure of Participation”.

The workshop had emerged out of an understanding that art projects were invariably required to “provide evidence of their benefit to the economy, urban regeneration and social inclusion” (Maclean 2012) for continued fiscal support. In parallel, there is a contemporary push for cultural project to have a more public face, and ideologically the more ‘public’ an event is seen to be, the more ‘successful’ it appears (Bishop, 2012). Thus, to ensure continued (financial) survival, artists and organisations seem to only ever be able report successful projects. This dependency on the ‘positive’ successes of participatory arts has led to a lack of criticality: what are the effects of these hidden failures and assumed successes? This has significant implications for how the arts are funded and supported, especially by the (public) bodies that require reporting and evaluation, but also for the artists who deliver those projects that the (public) participants within them. Central to Blanche and Schrag’s thinking is to ensure that these intersecting fields – the policy makers, the commissioners, the managers, the artists and the participants – all have an equal say in how ‘participation’ is framed, enacted and supported.

The event – titled Failure of Participation 1: Good Failures – was the first in a series of seminars that hoped to explore these subjects. It aimed to give an overview of the field, revealing the kinds of projects occurring and what infrastructures – or gaps of infrastructure – exist in order to complicate the relationship between artists, funders, organisations and policy makers. It was the first in a series of three workshops which are designed to be thematic, exploring specific subjects in an interconnected, rhizomatic way. Future workshops proposed include:

Failure of Participation 2: People and Practitioners asks Who is failing, and how? (November 2019) This event will drill into more depth about the personal, practical and pastoral realities of participatory projects and to blur the boundaries between people operating in the field in order to find touchstones. FOCUS: Participants and Artists

Failure of Participation 3: Policies, Infrastructures and Futures asks What will be our future failures? (May 2020). This event will examine what policies and strategies are currently operating and how they might be adjusted or adapted to avoid future failures as a collective field, from our various positions. FOCUS: Policy Makers and Managers

To be kept updated on these events and to be invited to future workshops, please email aschrag (at) qmu (dot) ac (dot) uk

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