Here are a few thoughts on community engagement. These aren’t conclusions – but rather a set of questions I’ve been asking myself recently. There seems to be an entrenched view of what community engagement is in the arts – so here are a few questions about it:
1) We are always discussing how to make the arts appear less exclusive. But when did you last hear of any other brand try to make itself appear less exclusive to increase it’s appeal? Don’t things get more appealing the more exclusive they are?
2) When people talk about community engagement this seems to be used synonymously with ‘underpriveledged’ engagement. Are they really the same? If community engagement really means connecting to the whole community isn’t there just as much a need to get the wealthy and privileged involved in the arts as the poor and underprivileged?
3) We are told that we need to change the content of what we’re doing in order to make it more appealing. But if the only way of making people want to access art is by making it no longer resemble art – what is the point? I want my eight year old to eat a well balanced meal – if he refuses until the well balanced meal only contains a burger and fries have I really won?
4) Does making events less formal, less special, less of a ‘big occasion’, really make them more appealing to people? I wonder what the result of this was at the Royal Opera House.
5) Why is it in France politicians take a trip to the Theatre as a photo opportunity to show how much they care about French Culture, whereas in England they deny going to the theatre as it would make them seem ‘out of touch’?
6) If someone is so far beneath the poverty line they can’t even begin to think about dressing up for a big night out – should we really be campaigning to provide them with more art or a decent living wage?
7) Did Winston Churchill value the arts and support arts funding because of it’s perceived socio economic impact as evidenced in cost benefit analysis – or because he loved painting?
8) If we need to make sure the arts are funded in the future do we need an outreach program to the next generation of privileged and wealthy policy makers, to make sure that making art is integral to their lives?
I don’t know the answers. But I think we need a route and branch re-assement of the UK ARTS (plc) brand. Maybe if it was a bit more exclusive people might actually start valuing it more. If you’ve got thoughts on this please do feel free to post them below.