Towards a shared responsibility for quality in the participatory arts: Key insights into conditions underpinning quality
Blanche, R. (2014) Towards a shared responsibility for quality in the participatory arts: Key insights into conditions underpinning quality, Journal of Arts and Communities, vol. 6, , pp. 145-164,
The ArtWorks programme has succeeded in generating deeper insights into the realities of participatory arts practice in the United Kingdom, in particular the conditions needed to achieve quality and the extent to which these are enabled. In parallel with ArtWorks research, in 2014 Creative Scotland commissioned a detailed analysis of the extant 'body of knowledge' concerning quality, which uncovered a number of generic concepts of quality held in the commercial world, which are of profound relevance to the participatory arts and the questions currently being explored by the sector. When such 'global' perspectives - about the inherent nature of quality, how to 'build it in' to a product and how to manage quality outputs - are considered alongside evidence and testimony from the sector captured by ArtWorks, several important learning points emerge: One, that quality does not reside just in the art or work undertaken with participants 'on the day' but stems from a holistic process consisting of several preceding phases including conception, design and planning, each of which contain quality components. Two: quality in the participatory arts is not solely determined by the artist and what they deliver 'in the room', but is directly affected by a range of key decision makers some of whom may be far removed from the project itself, but who nonetheless influence whether the experience of the participants is a quality one. Three: there are recognizable essential preconditions for quality that appear to be common across participatory arts practice. Many of these are outside the artist's direct control and are often missing from projects, undermining the chances of quality experiences for participants. The seminal theory of US researchers Seidel et al. constructing the interconnectedness of decision makers provides vital context for appreciating the roles and responsibilities of a wider group of stakeholders (including commissioners, employers and funders) in the achievement of quality experiences for participants. These observations lead to important recommendations for greater stakeholder engagement and responsibility; again gaining especial pertinence in light of evidence generated by ArtWorks. This article outlines each of these points in detail, reconstructing the logical development of key insights contained in the Creative Scotland report, which was researched and written by this author. The core components of an optimum quality system are proposed and represented as features of a holistic framework.