Recently, I attended an event discussing the future of socially engaged art in Scotland, and what issues it might face in the next twenty years. A plethora of topics was discussed, but one that resonated with me came from Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Art in Creative Scotland.(36) She was speaking about developing a policy framework for Socially Engaged artwork and responded: ‘[Participatory Practices] are not a set of rules to enact, but a set of circumstances, and we must resist them being instrumentalised or inflexibly formalised.’(37) As a practitioner, I feel this acutely, and I want to emphasise that I am not suggesting there is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of working with people: what I want to underline is that the field of participatory art needs deeper examination in relation to its policy or policies (if indeed one could even call it a cohesive ‘field’).
The questions of policy are probably of little concern to the people I worked with and their daily lives. I return to the original set of questions I asked at the start of this text: to what extent are all agents of participatory projects – from framing to experiencing – ‘participating’ in these works? Are we really all in this together, or are we only individually ‘participating’ in isolated segments and therefore only witnessing small, isolated glimpses from our particular train windows? What are the failures of such siloed thinking? How could it be different? Could we imagine a project in which a national policy-maker participates in and with a highly localised community project? What is the legacy of CPP, and of its agenda to ‘widen participation’ in the arts? The Warwick Commission’s most recent report, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, states:
… the two most highly culturally engaged groups account for only 15% of the general population and tend to be of higher socio-economic status. The wealthiest, better educated and least ethnically diverse 8% of the population forms the most culturally active segment…(38)
36 – Scotland’s National Arts Council body. The event was called Praktika II, hosted by Deveron Projects, held in Huntly, 3 December 2016.
37 – Amanda Catto, Head of Visual Arts, Creative Scotland, at the PRAKTIKA II event, Deveron Projects, 3 December 2016.
38 – Warwick Commission, Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth, Warwick: Warwick University, 2015.