This week the Suitcase spent two busy days at Sandbjerg Gods in company of interesting members of the network Take Part. Take Part is a national network of art and cultural institutions and researchers working with participation in various ways.
Over the course of two days, we discussed participation in art and culture from different perspectives. We talked about the responsibilities, the possibilities, and the concerns associated with inviting guests and audiences to participate in productions, exhibitions, activities etc.
As it says in the network’s project description: “Participation is everywhere. The ideal of turning citizens, users, and audiences into participants is flourishing and citizen involvement is present in everything from urban planning, project development, production of knowledge, sharing economy, and social work to art and media production” (Erikson, Birgit, 2015: Take Part Project Description). Art institutions experiment with new formats for citizen and audience involvement. Theatres and museums work with engaging audiences for instance through co-creation in different ways. Amongst other things, these initiatives seek to involve guests and audiences during their experience with the specific art form. Moreover, this participatory ideal is also politically driven, as it is a requirement for art institutions to work with guest and audience involvement in different ways (Ministry of Culture Denmark 2008, 2012).
How does participation relate to the Suitcase?
A Suitcase of Methods does not work with participation in a traditional sense. We are not involved in the production of out-reach initiatives etc. However, we do involve audiences and ask them to participate in our studies when exploring new methods to learn more about their experience with performance art. Audience participation in this context is a starting point for producing knowledge in cooperation with the audience. A Suitcase of Methods thus introduces a perspective that may be used either to evaluate participatory activities or it contributes with knowledge that could be relevant when planning an initiative involving audiences – for instance co-creation.
What did we learn?
During the seminar, we learned about many interesting and inspiring projects involving audience engagement. There are many museums in the network. It seems that the field of participation is very developed in these institutions just as it is in the world of theatre.
It became clear, that we across this group share both excitements and challenges with both ‘participation’ as a concept and with the different practical tasks in relation to inviting audience to participate.
One of the main topics that resonated with our work is the question of framing the participatory activities. When inviting people to engage we need to be open and as keynote speaker Laila Jancovich put it: “We need to give up power”. However, in our experience we also need to be clear and distinct in the framing and the definition of the specific context to which we want the audience to contribute. Otherwise, the audience may feel confused and perhaps even insecure about what is expected of them – what they are supposed to contribute with.
This balance between the open and inviting attitude and the comforting framing of their contribution is particularly interesting and challenging as it in our experience varies according to the character of the production we are working with and the nature of the audience. This is one of the topics that we in A Suitcase of Methods will explore further in our future work.