Quality in Participatory Arts - how do you do it?

On 27th March at Sherman Cymru, ArtWorks Cymru will be debating The Quality Question. What does quality look like in participatory arts? How do we measure it? Is it process or product that's important?

How to sign up for The Quality Question

This debate has come out of two years of research and debate that has been fielded through the ArtWorks program, a special initiative led by Paul Hamlyn Foundation. ArtWorks is exploring training for artists who work in participatory settings, and how we can advocate for and improve the confidence of the participatory arts sector. The research has looked at skills, values, beliefs - what employers, organisations, participants and artists need to be able to make great work. You can find out more and read some of the research here ArtWorks research

So why is quality important?

Well, everyone's talking about it. Funders want to be able to say they funded it. Organisations want to know they are producing it. Artists want people to understand what they need to create it. Participants should demand it at all costs. In my own conversations with Arts Council of Wales, it's clear that they would like to get a much better handle on how to assess quality, especially when it comes to process. And as the leader of a participatory arts programme myself, I can see we need to get much better at articulating why we do it.

The ArtWorks pathfinders have been exchanging various quality frameworks that have been developed by different organisations. Toby Lowe from Helix Arts will be joining the debate in Cardiff, and Helix Arts have developed a very thorough quality framework Helix Arts Quality Framework. Toby looks at a spectrum of participation, and assesses Helix's work as 'dialogic participatory art' which puts the participant at the heart of the creative process. He takes a theoretical approach and uses this to create a set of measures which ensure the work is creating the right framework. He also recommends a process of critical conversation to support artists in their practice.

In Wales, the quality debate hasn't led to the creation of this kind of model for quality, although there has been some fantastic work done through organisations such as Community Dance Wales before it's demise. And there is some amazing work going on at the moment again through individual artists and organisations. Emma Carlson from Dance Blast and Miranda Ballin from Valleys Kids will also be joining the Cardiff Debate.

We need to start to connect this work up, trial different approaches, and talk about what works for different artforms and contexts. If you have a strong opinion about quality in participatory arts, or have an experience to tell us about, please come and join us at 6.30pm on 27th March at Sherman Cymru. We're keen to hear from as many artists as possible. 

To reserve your place, please email nicolacturner@googlemail.com and come and get involved in the debate!

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