Still thinking about co-creation

In March, I posted a question on Twitter about co-creation. 

What do artists mean by ‘co-creation’? I’m writing about the concept and it’s like untangling a ball of string after a kitten has got to it. If you use the term, please tell me what it means to you – I would really like to hear people’s views. 

@arestlessart, Twitter 22 March 2021

The question prompted an unexpectedly rich and rewarding discussion, with contributions from all sorts of perspectives (that you can still read by following the thread). I asked because, for the past 18 months, I’ve been working on a Horizon 2020 research project called Traction, which has the strapline ‘opera co-creation for a social transformation’. One of my tasks was to write a research paper (a ‘deliverable’ in the EU’s language) on opera co-creation, and I had been struggling with the term for some months. I thought it was new and not part of my usual vocabulary, until I searched the PDF of A Restless Art, and found to my surprise that I’d used it without hesitation. And that was the point: I’d used it to describe the work that happens in participatory art and community art. In context, it was pretty clear what I meant, and I had taken it at face value. But the more I actually thought and read about it, the more unstable it looked:

The term co-creation has acquired significant currency in the past two decades, but the ways in which it is used suggest little consensus about its meaning. A library search reveals its appearance in titles about competitiveness, marketing, tourism, video games, art, design, governance, education, personal development and shamanism, among others. Such semantic flexibility might be a sign of co-creation’s innovative and emergent status; it could also imply that it is a fashionable idea without stable meaning or intellectual coherence. Actually, co-creation may be both those things, while its sense is settled by time and practice.

François Matarasso, Opera Co-creation (Preliminary Report) TRACTION D3.2

After a lot of listening, reading and thinking I finished the paper on opera co-creation for Traction. It has now been submitted to the European Commission, and is available for download from the Traction website. So I’m sharing it here to thank everyone who contributed to the Twitter conversation (some of those responses found their way into the paper). A word of explanation is necessary though. This is a technical report that is part of a much larger, three-year multidisciplinary research project. Consequently, it covers ground that may be of interest only to specialists or those directly involved in Traction. It is also work in progress, so the analysis and conclusions here are tentative. I hope that Traction is enabling me to develop a new rationale for participatory arts within cultural policy and practice, but I can’t be sure if that will be possible or what broader value it could have. So, this preliminary paper contains more than the usual share of loose threads and dead ends. I would be very happy to receive feedback, corrections or suggestions from readers. As the title of this post says, I’m still thinking about co-creation.

You can download the paper by following this link (the file is 14.5MB). On this page, you will find all the other completed Traction deliverables and other resources from the project.  

Some people are reporting difficulties with the download, which I’m not yet able to solve (it works for me). If you can’t download the file using the link, go to the resources page on the Traction website, then scroll down until you see the paper is in the ‘Deliverables’ column on the far right.