Artistic Practice

About this section

This section explores artistic practice and approaches used by artists working in participatory settings including: the role of the artist; quality issues; examples of activities, approaches and interdisciplinary working; teaching theories; facilitation and presentation skills; working with groups; reflective and reflexive practice and action research.

The role of the artist

Final performance of To Live, To Love, To Be at Sherman Cymru, Photo: Kirsten McTernan

Participatory arts practice encompasses a wide range of settings and art forms with many different artistic practices. Our core workshops explore a history of participatory arts and the role of the artist. These refer to Grant Kester and Claire Bishop’s discourse on participatory arts together with work by other thinkers, Nicolas Bourriaud and Francois Matarasso. Our cross-contextual workshops explore the role of the artist from a holistic perspective including the artist as ethnographer.

Image: Final performance of To Live, To Love, To Be at Sherman Cymru, Photo: Kirsten McTernan

Quality issues

Blooming Voices art work Welsh National Opera Photo Jenni Clegg

What makes good practice in participatory settings and what are the tools which help to understand and assess quality in practice? The ArtWorks working paper 8 on quality summarises: research and reports covering the perceptions and understandings of quality of different stakeholders including artists, academics, commissioners and participants; specific approaches to quality assurance and improvement in terms of codes of practice, standards and frameworks and other relevant literature.

Image: Blooming Voices art work, Welsh National Opera, Photo: Jenni Clegg

Examples of activities, approaches and interdisciplinary working

Between Worlds, ArtWorks London Entelechy multi sensory Lab, Barbican Guildhall Photo Roswitha Chesher

Our case studies cover a range of art forms, settings and approaches. These are drawn from our short courses series, from work commissioned by other Artworks pathfinders and from the wider sector.

  1. View case studies

Image: Between Worlds, ArtWorks London Entelechy multi-sensory Lab, Barbican Guildhall


Teaching theories

Final Frontier, Gateshead Riverside Park, rednile

ArtWorks North East commissioned a review of online resources available to artists developing practice in participatory settings. The report identifies over 60 resources, many of which refer to teaching theories. The organisations which have free resources that are particularly strong on teaching theories are:

ArtWorks Navigator published a bibliography to identify and present a range of available resources for artists working in participatory settings. This includes details of both paid for and free resources about teaching theories.

Image: Final Frontier at Gateshead Riverside Park, rednile

Facilitation and presentation skills

Blooming Vocies participant making art work Welsh National Opera Photo Jenni Clegg

Artists working in participatory settings use a range of approaches to facilitate working with participants. The community music association Sound Sense has published a Facilitator’s Handbook on music-making for older people which includes an excellent guide to facilitation and presentation styles that could be adapted for use in different settings.

Image: Blooming Voices participant making art work, Welsh National Opera, Photo: Jenni Clegg

Working with groups

Participants making wall hanging in Made by Hand, Head for Arts Photo Anna Lacey

Working with groups of participants involves using both generic skills and expertise/knowledge specific to particular settings. Generic skills include: planning and adaptability; boundary setting; responding to challenging or inappropriate behaviour; reading the room; spotting potential problems; drawing out the benefits from individual personalities and understanding people’s expectations of arts activities. Our workshops explore these generic skills as well as the expertise/knowledge specific to working in particular contexts: education, youth work, community, health and criminal justice.


Image: Participants making the Wall hanging in Made in Hand, Head for Arts, Photo: Anna Lacey

Reflective and reflexive practice

Reflective and reflexive practice are important approaches which artists can use to develop their practice in participatory settings. Reflective practice involves the individual in a retrospective analysis of their work. Reflexive practice focuses on a more immediate and continuing self-awareness of the impact of their work on themselves and others. These methods may involve observing another practitioner’s sessions, reading art form specific journals and keeping a diary, journal or writing a blog.

Young dancers and singers performing in the final performance of Scheherazade at St Davids, National Dance Company Wales, Welsh National Opera and Arts Active, Photo Roy Campbell-Moore

Activities carried out by the ArtWorks pathfinders provided opportunities for artists to reflect on their practice. ArtWorks North East’s peer artist learning project provided structured opportunities for artists of varying experience to reflect with their peers on their experiences. ArtWorks London’s laboratories tested ways of enabling and supporting reflection.



Image: Young dancers and singers performing in the final performance of Scheherazade at St David’s Hall, National Dance Company Wales, Welsh National Opera and Arts Active, Photo: Roy Campbell-Moore

Action research

Action research is a practice-based enquiry process undertaken by those involved in that practice with the aim of making improvements. Its relevance in the context of participatory practice is that many of the techniques used by artists in participatory settings are also applicable in action research projects. The ArtWorks Special Initiative is an action research project and uses reflection, observation, critical conversations, laboratories and focus groups. This Open University booklet provides guidelines on how to undertake action research.