Community Involvement. Who ? How? Why?

A brief for a work of public art  regularly contains   the requirement  that the work be produced as a result of ‘community  consultation’ , or ‘with the involvement of  community to develop the ideas’  or some such phrase.

A brief will rarely identify who the commissioners mean by ‘community’ nor are they clear who will identify  this community, nor how they will be contacted and encouraged to take part. I feel that this really needs to be spelt out in the brief. Otherwise the artist is left unsure  what groups will be involved and the commissioners will be   unsure whether the groups are the ones that they originally identified.

I have the personal feeling that the requirement  to work with community groups comes from the funders. They seem to think that  community involvement is necessary  although they are not really clear what this involvement is meant to achieve.  Is it to enable the community to ‘OWN’ the work? This does not always work – if there is an ‘IN’ community group then there will be an ‘out’ group- perhaps even more critical and non-accepting of the piece because they were not included in the consultation . Let’s face it, it is simply not possible to get everybody’s input.

If  the idea is to  spread understanding and knowledge of the work , or the artist’s processes  then  the groups that are involved are likely to be those who are already interested  in either the artist , the processes, or they belong to that group that can only be called ‘workshop junkies’.

There is another assumption in this requirement  to work with community groups – that the chosen artist will be good at working with  groups. The artist needs to be able to encourage people with little background in art to take part, to produce ideas , and possibly be skilled at bringing this group around to their own  conception of how the work should be.  Some artists who produce fantastic  work  are simply not good at working  with people, and conversely some artists who  work  well with groups and are  able to inspire them  are not able to produce  a satisfactory final product.

So how to select the artist to fulfil the brief? A super communicator  or a great artist , or hopefully some one who is both.





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