Public art against the ‘public’: Does state funded art, participatory art practices and socially-engaged art benefit the public?

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsSymposiumResearch


Socially engaged art practices connect with a tradition of avant-garde perspectives on art’s potential for emancipatory change and for democratic politics. These have been variously named as socially engaged art practice, community-based art, experimental communities, dialogical art, littoral art, and participatory art. Socially engaged art is associated with an impulse to democratize both art production and society. Participation is a term commonly used in both cultural policy and in the theories and practice of socially engaged art. In this paper I address the question, ‘What do funders and commissioners want from socially engaged art practice and what forms of participation are produced?’ I reflect upon ‘participation’ in art in the context of Third Way cultural policy; forms of practice, theories of participative art and the expectation of commissioners and policy makers. I propose, that, forms of participation and participative art, produced via Third Way cultural institutions, aim to promote affirmative social relations and hence operate as steering media for the state. Therefore, cultural policy colonizes the public sphere with official state culture in order to funnel citizens’ behaviour and to limit dissenssus. I propose that such cultural production has negative repercussions for democracy. I argue for a social art practice that is ‘properly’ public, this includes understanding the public as a contingent body of citizens with a degree of shared purpose rather than a placid community of abstractly equal individuals.
Period28 Aug 2015
Event titleESA 2015: 12th Conference of the European Sociological Association 2015
Event typeConference
LocationPrague, Czech RepublicShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Public art
  • Art
  • State funded art