How might the experiences and perspectives of community participants collaborating in socially engaged art practices be heard, considered and equally valued alongside those of the artist and gallery? What ethical implications for the artist and the gallery arise when community participants’ experiences are considered in this way?
thesisposted on 04.12.2017 by Sarah Jane Plumb
In order to distinguish essays and pre-prints from academic theses, we have a separate category. These are often much longer text based documents than a paper.
Through this research I set out to highlight and address the absence of community participant voice in the analysis and critique of socially engaged art, mediated through the gallery. I bring into question bold assertions of positive and beneficial individual and communal experiences resulting from engagement in such practice when, without hearing from all involved, we are unable to fully comprehend its potential. It seems inexplicable that a practice based on the premise of dialogue, which claims to be striving for equitable relations and talks of collaboration, does not give equal weighting to participants’ points of view. This deficiency perpetuates unbalanced power relations between gallery, artist, and community, and may also lead to disingenuous collaborative experiences and unethical practice. Amplifying the voices of individual community members involved in Open House, a three-year community engagement programme initiated by Kettle’s Yard working in collaboration with artist Emma Smith, and considering these perspectives through a critical research lens, I set out to develop and present a more nuanced understanding of the value of socially engaged art practices to community participants. Furthermore, through genuinely listening to concerns voiced by individual community members, I consider the ethical implications for the gallery and artist. My analysis and critique of Open House, alongside the responses and reflections of community participants, are used as a springboard from which to consider broader issues affecting the fields of socially engaged art and galleries. Through this research I hope to inform and enrich the work of galleries mediating socially engaged art.