Artists urge employers and commissioners to invest more in their professional development.

Photo of a woman and children painting a mural
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LWT Gunnersbury Triangle (CC BY 2.0)

The majority of socially-engaged arts practitioners feel their work is not valued by the sector as a whole and that there is not enough understanding of its benefits, a new survey has shown. The Paul Hamlyn Foundation’s ArtWorks Evaluation Survey of Artists also reveals that artists working in community, participatory and socially-engaged settings rely heavily on informal training, with codes of practice and standards neglected by employers, commissioners and artists alike.

While the majority of arts practitioners believe support for, and understanding of, their work is high amongst employers and commissioners, most say “too many people” in the arts sector do not value participatory work as artistic practice. Almost 80% agree there is a lack of understanding about the benefits of their work and the majority report that employers and commissioners do not always know how to make best use of artists’ experience and expertise. There is significant variation in approaches to project development by employers and commissioners, and some artists would like more time to plan, develop and reflect on projects.

Informal training is much more prevalent than formal training and is preferred by practitioners. Less than a tenth of respondents have a specialised undergraduate degree in this area, with just over a tenth having a specialised postgraduate degree. While almost a quarter have undertaken an accredited course related to their participatory work, and half have undertaken an unaccredited course, a significant majority would like to engage in more training. Most respondents have had to cover the costs of their training and development, and cite this as the biggest barrier to engaging in new opportunities. 71% believe employers and commissioners should invest more in developing artists. A third admit to feeling unconfident about handling participants in certain settings. Just under a third report that there aren’t enough development opportunities relevant to their needs.

Equal proportions of artists report being familiar and unfamiliar with codes of practice and standards, but most say they don’t use them. Instead artists rely on their own experience. More than half say they would be more likely to follow codes of practice if these were recognised and required by employers and commissioners, and most agree that established standards would help employers and commissioners understand what to expect from them.

The survey is the first element of a two-part study exploring how artists can be better supported in developing their practice in participatory settings. The data suggests they work predominantly in primary and secondary education and in community and neighbourhood settings; health, social care and criminal justice were the least common settings. Only a quarter report making an annual income of more than £20k from their artistic practice, but participatory practice does make up the majority of this, with performance/exhibition fees and commissions contributing the second largest amount.

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A photo of Frances Richens