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However, access to such opportunities is not equally shared. Recent reports: In the project. As a result, the work often runs the risk of being misunderstood and
Frame, Out of the Picture (NESF/ ESRI 2008) and The Arts, Cultural Inclusion and Social undervalued in artistic terms. Negative perceptions, whether they arise from the
Cohesion (2007) – both of which were informed by The Public and the Arts (Arts assimilation of uncritical stereotypes, or a narrow conception of artistic merit, or a
Council, 2006) – demonstrated that social and economic background strongly negative experience of a particular piece of work, run the risk of undermining
influenced individual and community involvement in the arts and that educational confidence and limiting artistic risk-taking within the sector. The Artist in the
attainment was particularly influential in this regard. The research called for greater Community Scheme publication is only one small step in addressing the deficit in
priority to be given to cultural inclusion in arts policy and provision, a call that critical documentation but it is a clear attempt to move beyond description and to
resonated with Arts Council priorities, and the decision to significantly increase pose more searching questions about the nature and quality of the work.
funding to the Artist in the Community Scheme in recent years.
What emerges from the four essays is an account of the creative collisions that took
However, the Arts Council is only one strand in a scheme that is built on the place when the artists and groups got together to share their individual histories,
principle of partnership, a principle that is vital in the area of art and social perspectives, interests and abilities, and set about shaping and refining them
inclusion. Each Artist in the Community project has a mix of artistic and social or collectively through an artistic process. Given the importance of partnership, it is
health aims and an integrated approach is required in order to ensure that both striking, if not surprising, to note the emphasis on communications by all four
sets of aims are acknowledged, achieved and evaluated. For its part, the Arts Council artists. In order to achieve genuine collaboration everything, from the aims and
is best placed to fund and support the realisation of the artistic objectives, such as approaches to the materials and techniques, had to be considered and discussed so
ambition, innovation and high quality artistic engagement through the use of that differences could be aired and decisions collectively owned. Similarly, the four
participant-centred approaches. Agencies from other sectors bring additional forms artists referenced a small number of key elements, which appeared to be essential
of expertise, support and funding to address parallel objectives in areas such as in facilitating effective and creative progress. These included cross-sector support,
health, personal development or community development. clarity of roles, flexibility, an openness to mutual learning and, above all else… time.
It would seem that these elements provided a solid foundation for the work, freeing
In this way, the projects funded under the Artist in the Community Scheme tend to
up the artists and participants to stretch themselves artistically and, as the artist
be more than the sum of their parts, generating artistic and social outcomes that
Ríonach Ní Néill put it, to ‘…bring earth and sky together.’
could not be imagined, let alone realised, by any one partner on its own. In the
current economic climate, such partnership approaches will be essential if the While all four projects ended with a public exhibition or performance it is worth
sector is to meet the serious challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead. A broad range noting that the Artist in the Community Scheme is flexible in this regard. Outcomes
of stakeholders will need to negotiate an effective place for arts participation at the can be planned to meet the needs of the individuals and groups involved so that
funding table, not only in the arts sector but also in the areas of social and the artistic experience is consistently specific and meaningful. It is this specificity
community provision, youth affairs, local government and health. that makes the work innovative and exciting and unleashes the creative element
that Francois Matarasso describes as artistic ‘magic’ – a difficult outcome to pin
This publication is an important opportunity for four different artists to reflect on
down and yet one of the elements that emerges clearly from the four essays in this
their varied experiences of working within the parameters of the Artist in the
Community Scheme and to consider the range of outcomes for themselves and the
groups with whom they worked. Increasing numbers of artists across all artforms
are looking to arts participation as a core part of their practice and yet the work still
tends to remain well below the radar. It lacks the underpinning of a critical body of
work that tracks, challenges and celebrates artistic methodologies and
achievements, and which unpacks the complex layers that make up a collaborative
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