How can an organisation make a valid and meaningful contribution to a community if that organisation has no relationship with the community itself? This is part of the ‘doing to people’ versus ‘doing with people’ discussion. As alluded to above, Braden criticised organisations that temporarily ‘parachuted’ an artist into a context without local, nuanced knowledge and the possibility (or not) of developing, sustainable, meaningful art projects from this approach.(17) Thinkers such as Francois Materasso(18) and Grant Kester have also said similar things.(19) Personally, however, I do not think it is always necessarily bad that an artist has a temporary relationship with a community. If approached correctly, the artist who has been ‘parachuted’ in can create meaningful and insightful work by being an external voice, by being able to see the ‘forest-for-the trees’.
As an outsider, they operate from a different set of rules and circumstances, they can negotiate between different social groups, and they can move between the cultural flows of a site they have no history with in that locality, no baggage that ties them to a specific group. Yes, it is only a surface interaction, but this fluid movement between contexts can perhaps give a different perspective than someone entrenched within the system. And perhaps this temporary artist might be able to present different viewpoints and alternative insights. Obviously, there are limits to this approach, but in my experience, as long as this temporary/outsider position is acknowledged and its limits are overtly accepted, I believe that a temporary work with people can be still critical, and meaningful.
The caveat to this type of working, however, would be that the people in the organisation which employs the artists are the ones embedded; they are the ones that hold the community relationships. They are the (semi)permanent partner that is invested in the future of that community. The artist in this context is temporary, whereas the organisation – as the one with a local remit, as the one working within particularly sited contexts, as the one who is ‘from’ these areas – remains and sustains the relationships. Within this project, however, The Institution had no previous relationships with the community. Nor were they able to develop any relationships, as any possible relationships had been outsourced to the local Community Centre. One could infer that the Community Centre could then be the organisation invested within the community, but can a non-art organisation such as a Community Centre properly function as an ersatz-host to a participatory art project?
17 – Braden, op. cit.
18 – Matarasso, F. (2009). The Triumph of Whose Will? Power, responsibility and the artist. Available at https://parliamentofdreams.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/the-triumph-of-whose-will.pdf (Available online – Accessed 21 August 2016.)
19 – Kester, G. (2004). Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.