The structure of funding therefore seems an exceptionally ‘top-down’ process, and there is a question as to what extent policy-makers at the ‘top tier’ are engaging with those at the ‘bottom tier’ within the regional communities, and vice versa. Or even with those in the middle, like myself. 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?(7) How could it be different? Could we imagine a project wherein a national policy-maker is participating in a highly localised community project?(8) What might the benefits be of knowing exactly what is occurring ‘on-the-ground’ for the policy-makers, and what (and how) policy machinations occur that affect the daily lives of a local citizen? And how do we ensure organisations are infrastructurally sound so as to not only deliver these projects as art (because these are art projects, not social work: much has been written about this(9)), but also be accountable to the guiding policy frameworks? The longevity of the debate begun by Braden perhaps gives a clue about the ethical knots of working with people, and it is these ethical concerns that drive this examination.
As alluded to above, CPP projects emerge out of cultural research that illustrated areas of ‘low cultural uptake’: places within the country where ‘involvement in the arts is significantly below the national average.’(10) CPP therefore aims to ensure everyone has access to ‘high-quality culture’, and states on its website: ‘We believe that everyone has the right to experience and be inspired by art and culture.’(11) While CPP and ACE’s intentions are undoubtably honourable, the policy also emerges from the fact that – as a national, publicly funded body – arts councils needed to mitigate the ‘imbalance’ of the cultural offer in which large cities received swathes of cash, and the rest of the country received little more than token gestures.(12 and 13) Thus ‘cold spots’of culture were identified and local arts organisations were encouraged to sweep in and give the unwashed masses ‘culture’.(14) While this is highly problematic in regards to who is defining ‘culture’, what ‘good culture’ is, and by what criteria a ‘cold’ spot is being identified,(15) the CPP has still granted over £32 million over the past few years to support projects within communities. It has provided platforms for community art engagement and jobs for participatory artists like myself, and funding for organisations to operate within areas that would otherwise have little-to-no contemporary art projects.
7 – Matarasso F. (2013). ‘‘‘All in this together”: The depoliticisation of community art in Britain, 1970-2011’. In Community, Art, Power: Essays from ICAF 2011, Eugene van Erven (ed.). ICAF: Rotterdam.
8 – I mean really participating, fully, and not just showing up on the day of the final event.
9 – To explore this, please read the following seminal texts that explore this problematic: Bishop, C. (2012). ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents’. In Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso; or Belfiore, E. (2002). ‘Art as a means of alleviating social exclusion: Does it really work? A critique of instrumental cultural policies and social impact studies in the UK’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 91-106; or Hewitt, A. (2011). ‘Privatising the Public: Three rhetorics of art’s public good in ‘‘Third Way” cultural policy’, Art & the Public Sphere, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 19-36.
10 – See: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/creative-people-and-places-fund (Available online – Accessed 13 April 2017.)
11 – See: http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/creative-people-and-places-fund (Available online – Accessed 13 April 2017.)
12 – Gordon, C., Powell, D., Stark, P. (2015). A New Destination for the Arts: Between a RoCC and a Hard Place (Reflections, Recommendations and Conclusion). GPS Culture.
13 – For a more erudite discussion, see Jancovich, L. (2015). ‘The Participation Myth’, International Journal of Cultural Policy. Vol. 23, No. 1, 2017, pp. 107-112.
14 – Gilmore, A. (2013). ‘Cold spots, crap towns and cultural deserts: The role of place and geography in cultural participation and creative place-making’, Cultural Trends, Vol. 22, No. 2, Exploring policies on participation and engagement in the arts, pp. 86-96.
15 – For a comprehensive but quick-and-dirty review, please see: Cultural Value and Inequality: A Critical Literature Review commissioned by Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project in 2015; or Stevenson, D. ( 2014). ‘Who is a non-participant? The imagined targets of cultural engagements policies’. In International Perspectives on Participation and Engagement in the Arts. University of Utrecht: Utrecht.