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Applying the ArtWorks Cymru Quality Principles in Practice
This article by Beth Pickard originally appeared in Sounding Board 18 1
This article will consider the continued relevance of the ArtWorks Cymru Quality Principles (QP), devised in 2015, to the education of community music and participatory arts students. This high quality framework was developed by ArtWorks Cymru to move the conversation forward with regards to quality participatory arts provision in Wales, and is a uniquely placed resource to inform and guide students’ professional development. This is a particularly influential resource for my role as Course Leader on the BA(Hons) Creative and Therapeutic Arts degree at the University of South Wales, where I am responsible for developing a curriculum which prepares participatory artists to work inclusively and effectively through their art form.

Introducing students to the ArtWorks Cymru Quality Principles has been an invaluable way of articulating a flexible yet robust approach to responsible and high quality participatory arts practice. A collaboration which has particularly benefited from engaging with the ArtWorks Cymru QP is that of the University of South Wales BA(Hons) Creative and Therapeutic Arts degree and Hijinx Inclusive Theatre Company, based at the Wales Millennium Centre.

At the outset of the collaborative project, students explore the ArtWorks Cymru QP as a stimulus to inform their developing understanding of the role of a participatory artist. The rich online resources provide video examples across art forms as well as Case Studies, which students find particularly accessible and informative.

The three dimensions of the framework: People, Activity and Intention, provide a valuable starting point for the students’ conceptualising of the collaboration. From the outset, students are supported to develop a person-centred approach to a responsible, constructive project design. Focusing on a “relevant, inclusive intention” is a fundamental starting point, as is a suitably “stimulating and challenging” artistic climate for both facilitator and participant to thrive creatively. The building blocks of the QP provide inspiration and guidance to students who are developing their identities as facilitators and benefit from this rich, evidence-based approach.

Having spent time with members of the community theatre group, ‘Odyssey’, students have the opportunity to develop the aims and outcomes of their project, in alignment with the QP. This is a further opportunity to enhance the rigour of the work and ensure its relevance to the participants. The flexibility of the framework is such that there is always scope for development, and students are encouraged to engage in more depth with the ethos of the principles. Key themes here are often around “collaborative planning”, ensuring the project is “relevant” to the participants, and that “any specific participant needs have been addressed”. This could be around facilitating a participant’s contribution to a soundscape in the live performance with suitably accessible instrumentation; or developing opportunities for a pre-recorded composition which is informed by a participant’s movement or gesture which may be difficult to replicate on stage; or empowering participants to contribute song lyrics in collaborative song writing workshops. Students are encouraged to involve participants actively in the planning and design of their projects and to ensure they have “shared ownership” of the creative journey.

Students will then have the opportunity to deliver their workshops, which have been devised in line with the ArtWorks Cymru QP. As such, “the arc of the project has been mapped out and the approach to key challenging moments has been discussed” (‘Intention: Inspiring, Engaging Challenging’); “the ownership of the activity and its outcomes has been discussed and is clear” (‘People: Shared Ownership and Responsibility’); and “the schedule takes into account the needs of the participants and gives enough time for artists to deliver what is planned” (‘Activity: Suitably Situated and Resourced’).

There is a great deal for students to learn through this experiential learning: about participatory arts practice, about quality provision, but also about their art form and about themselves. Students are supported to reflect upon their experiences in depth, as the ArtWorks Cymru Quality Principles values in the ‘Activity: Purposeful, Hands-On and Reflective’ domain.

The project culminates in a final performance, which is an inclusive theatre production at Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. University students work alongside actors from Hijinx’s ‘Odyssey’ group, with and without disabilities, and pupils from local special schools. Students are encouraged to further engage with the QP to learn from their experiences and to consider how they may further enrich their practice in the future by revisiting dimensions of the framework from a different perspective or in more depth. Central criteria like “the activity is well planned and paced” can be usefully revisited and evaluated. Students will have engaged with the online resources, but until they facilitate their own participatory arts workshops and recognise the diverse and complex needs of their participants, an understanding of dimensions such as pace and time can be difficult to comprehend. This is where the focus of the QP enables students to reflect back on their experiences and evaluate to what extent they may have fulfilled the best practice guidelines.

While the course embeds some key attitudes like “creation is valued and celebrated” and “the project is designed around the needs of the participant” throughout its endeavours; it is difficult to prepare students for the challenging reality of achieving some of these QP without a valuable professional collaborators like Hijinx Theatre, the talented actors from their inclusive community theatre group, ‘Odyssey’, and pupils from local special schools. While the course curriculum endeavours to explore relevant and stimulating theoretical underpinning to participatory arts practice, informed by rigorous resources like the ArtWorks Cymru QP, there is no substitute for the human experience of learning from participants about how the arts can be such a valuable vehicle for expression, communication and relationships. We are very grateful to the participants from ‘Odyssey’ and local special schools for bringing the ArtWorks Cymry QP to life for our students.

 

Sound Sense is an ArtWorks Alliance Partner, ensuring Sound Sense members have access to all the latest tools, resources and information in participatory arts practice. You can find out more about the ArtWorks Alliance by visiting  www.artworksalliance.org.uk

To find out more about the ArtWorks Cymru Quality Principles and to access a wealth of valuable tools and resources developed specifically for participatory arts practice, please visit http://www.artworksalliance.org.uk/knowledge-bank