What happened to the community art?

Here’s the abstract:

Over the last two decades, UK cultural policy has authorized an army of cultural intermediaries to work with ‘communities’. Amongst their many aims, they have sought to engage the ‘hard to reach’ as participants in the cultural ecology, both as consumers and potential producers. Thus, professionals have engaged communities to share in the production of creative projects and to develop their own voices and aesthetic responses to the world. As as a result of the nurturing of amateur skills and aesthetic ideas, community spaces boast exhibitions of the work of local people or their ideas and efforts adorn public places, evidence for instance of consultation processes as part of regeneration projects.

This presentation seeks to consider amateur production as part of cultural intermediation derived from research conducted as part of the AHRC-funded work in the inner cities of Birmingham and Salford. ‘Cultural intermediation & the creative economy’ has itself involved community members in co-production of research and, at the time of writing, in the commissioning of cultural work. In this latter process, community members are enlisted to form commissioning panels that produced organic cultural policy that might engage artists to develop work based on a remit formulated at grassroots level.

This paper reflects on these processes of intermediation, by both artist and social scientists. I ask: what are the dynamics of the relations of amateur and professional are articulated in such encounters? What ideas of culture, aesthetics, value and indeed engagement emerge? Above all, what happens to the work and indeed to the participants – the amateurs – engaged by such projects once they are completed?

The gestation of this particular paper and approach came in a tour of Salford I took a while ago in the company of Beth Perry of SURF. We came across a redevelopment site surrounded and partly concealed by the large white chipboards that are now de rigeur in such instances. This shield was also extensively decorated with reproductions of artworks produced by members of the local community. I think they conveyed ideas and desires for community improvements.

This site got us talking about such initiatives which are now quite familiar means of decorating urban disruptions which might represent, variously: a means of genuine engagement, distraction or concealment perhaps. My concern was, and is, with the question of what happens to the work solicited from and produced by community members and displayed in such public galleries? While galleries such as the one we encountered in Salford are made up of reproductions, the question applies to these examples as well as any originals.

Here are some images of a project I went to see today in Birmingham. In this instance, the work of school children has been commissioned by the construction company BAM and used to decorate one of its building sites.

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