What is participatory art and why is it impactful?

Toby Time, Memory Exchange Series by Fié Neo at London Design Festival

What is participatory art?

There are many different kinds of participation. It can range from an interactive installation in a museum to a conversation on the street or a 3 year long theatre production with a group of elderly.

Capitalism influences: Art as a product and personal branding

The economic value of art markets worldwide has given rise to increasing amounts of commodified art. From my personal observations, to be able to live off your art as an artist is all about personal branding and how well your art can be commodified for sale. You, the artist, as a brand and your art, works that investors would want to buy that’s easy to store at home (high demand = greater value and net worth of the artist). This also contributes to greater public interest, which museums love. Fundamentally it’s like a business and the selling point is your brand. Sometimes, the meaning of the work can be thought of after it’s made. Sometimes, there is no meaning, just fancy words put together by art critics who have decided which artist has the potential to be the next big thing. But of course, not all the time. I might be jaded by my personal experiences and this is by no means a wholesome representation of the entire industry.

Process over product

But then how do you justify participatory art or socially engaged art? Often there is no product. No product to be commodified, nothing that can be sold, just the connection and relationships formed in the process. Even documentation of it are mere dead stills of something that was alive in the moment of here and now.

Impact of participation

There is a growing trend among funding bodies nowadays that lean towards public engagement as a key determinant to the awarding of funding. Often their interest is in the number of people who can enjoy or benefit a project that they are funding. The greater the numbers, the better.

The future is for us to shape. Now more than ever, we need to work collectively to build the world we want to live in.

To find out more about INSEP (International Network for Socially Engaged Practitioners): Website Facebook

Fié Neo is an interdisciplinary artist and intersectional thinker. Instagram @feeyeh_neo | Podcast: OnionsTalk

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