Alternative Perspectives on Cultural Participation

rotterdamThe level of cultural participation in publicly funded arts and culture has been an ongoing cause for concern for policy makers and state agencies in the Republic of Ireland and the UK. This has resulted in efforts to tackle economic, social, psychological, and spatial barriers to broaden access – to cultural production and participation – as key policy goals. Our understanding of these barriers has prompted a number of development initiatives designed to increase levels of cultural participation. Yet research shows these initiatives have largely failed to diversify audiences and broaden the profile of cultural producers and makers.

Cultural Policy Observatory Ireland and Queen’s University Belfast were delighted to host Abigail Gilmore (University of Manchester), Leila Jancovich (University of Leeds) and David Stevenson (Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh) to lead us in a discussion exploring the assumptions, problems and capacity issues underlying how we define and value cultural participation in both policy and practice. The event took place at Brian Friel Theatre / Queen’s Film Theatre, Queen’s University Belfast on 23 October 2017.

Audio recording and power point slides of the presentations are available here.

The Participation Myth
Dr. Leila Jancovich
Leila introduced her research on the participatory turn in cultural policy. She will explore the gap between policy and practice in the cultural sector. She did this through examination of both policy rhetoric and strategies to increase participation in general and participatory decision making in particular. In so doing she examined the politics of participation and the nature of power within the cultural sector and called for a wider range of voices to be heard in decision making.

The cultural participant versus the cultural non-participant: defining desirable models of agency
Dr. David Stevenson
David’s presentation considered the subject identity of the cultural non-participant. Drawing on primary data generated in the form of policy texts, speeches, and 42 in-depth qualitative interviews, David offered a close analysis of the discursive logics that problematise the agency of those who show little interest in state-supported cultural activities. Beginning with a discussion about how cultural non-participants are represented as socially deprived and hard to reach, the discussion moved on to highlight how they are also presumed to lack knowledge and understanding about what they are rejecting. The flawed subjectivity of the cultural non-participant was then contrasted with the desirable model of agency associated with those who lay claim to the identity of the cultural participant. The talk concluded with a consideration of how these two identities serve to sustain asymmetric relations of power within the field of cultural policy.

Understanding cultural value in the everyday localities: museums and parks as the commons
Dr. Abigail Gilmore
Abi gave a brief overview of the Arts and Humanities Research Council Connected Communities project Understanding Everyday Participation – Articulating Cultural Value, a mixed-methods, multisite research project in England and Scotland. This project aims to radically re-evaluate the relationship between participation and cultural value, and is producing new understanding of local governance of culture, its history and challenges through empirical research on the situated practices of everyday life. Her presentation focused on current research exploring museums and parks as public spaces for everyday participation, social cohesion and (inter)cultural integration.

A panel discussion followed the presentations.

This session was open and relevant to individuals working in the arts, cultural, heritage, museums, community, sport, and youth sectors as well as policymakers and funders. Formal presentations were followed by a lively discussion in which we explored the relevance of these issues to our context on the island of Ireland.

Photo Credit: Paul Floyd Blake