It is almost twenty years since contemporary art took a ‘participation turn’. Now, just about every museum or theatre company has a participation or engagement department. It is nothing short of orthodoxy that one of art’s core roles is to reach out to audiences beyond art institutions – and paradoxically it is often art institutions that mandate this function. How can we reconcile the somewhat forgotten history – and ongoing practice – of the community arts with the recent rise of participatory art, social practice, or outreach and engagement?
François Matarasso speaks to Pierre d’Alancaisez about his long-term engagement in community art practice, the meanings of participation and cultural democracy, and his proposals for thinking about cultural and artistic participation as a fundamental human right. We talk about the history of the community arts movement in the UK, his influential 1997 paper Use or Ornament, ways of supporting cultural democracy through projects like Fun Palaces, and reaching peak culture.