About me

Speaking at the International Community Arts Festival, Rotterdam 2017 (Photo by Kevin Ryan)

My writing, research and work in community art rests on the belief that everyone has the right to create art and to share the result, as well as to enjoy and participate in the creations of others. Shaping your own cultural identity – and having it recognised by others – is central to human dignity and growth.If people can’t represent themselves culturally how can they do so in any other way, including politically? If people are only imagined and portrayed by others, how can they be full, free and equal members of society?

And yet, in every society, people’s access to culture is very uneven. Those who identify with dominant cultures have no difficulty creating and promoting their values. Others, passively or actively denied cultural resources, platforms and legitimacy, remain on the margins. My work engages with those issues through research, support for cultural groups and writing.

How my work has developed

I’ve worked as a community artist, writer, researcher and consultant for about 40 years. Between 1979 and 1994, I worked in visual arts, theatre and as a a community arts worker, with people in housing estates, hospitals, care centres and prisons. As my interest in the ideas behind this work grew, I became involved with research and its implications. From 1994 to 2003 I undertook a series of studies of arts and culture, often with Comedia, including Use or Ornament? and ending with Only Connect. Since 2004, I’ve been balancing my own work with commissions, and doing more and more writing. I’ve worked with all sorts of organisations including public bodies, foundations and universities, but above all with arts organisations whose values I share. I’ve also served on the boards of cultural groups, policy groups and institutions. My work has been widely published and I’ve been asked to work or speak in many countries. All these experiences have shaped my thinking and practice

Between 2010 and 2015, I worked on Regular Marvels, a series of creative projects that explore new ways of understanding people’s culture. I spent the next four years working on A Restless Art, a book about the theory, history and practice of community and participatory art, that was published by the Gulbenkian Foundation in English and Portuguese in 2019. It’s available in print and as a free download from that project website.

In 2020 I began a three year project seeking innovative ways of making community opera a force for social change: that work is also documented on the Regular Marvels website.

Click here to download my book, A Restless Art, about the theory, history and practice of community art.