What does ArtWorks Alliance as a strategic UK-wide network actually do?

Kathryn Deane shares her take on what strategic means… and the strategic means by which we support more and better participatory arts.

Strategic means never having to say you’ve fixed it. And always being able to say you’re learning more and more about how to fix it.

You know, people often stop me in the street and ask: ‘What does ArtWorks Alliance actually do?’ And I say to them: ‘Great question, easy answer. It does whatever its partners want to do – and want to do so much that they will make it happen themselves.’

And these button-holing people will then say: ‘So who are the partners in ArtWorks Alliance, and how do I become one?’ And I will reply: ‘Well, you’re making me late for my meeting, but it’s more important I answer your question. The partners in ArtWorks Alliance are anyone who wants to join – and wants to join so much that they will spend their time and energy making things happen.’

So, to cut a long story short (as it usually starts raining about now, and passers-by keep bumping into us, so we head for the nearest coffee shop) the answers I give to my interlocutors boil down pretty much to:

  • ArtWorks Alliance is a network, not an organisation. In a very real sense it only exists when its partners come together in joint enterprise aimed at making participatory arts ‘more and better’.
  • As a national network, the best contribution its partners can make to ‘more and better’ is to aid the strategic development of participatory arts. So its partners are those with strategic interests in participatory arts. (It’s not that we’d throw anyone else out – it’s just that they probably wouldn’t get any value out of being a partner.)
  • In turn, the network makes a contribution to the partners’ work – specifically, it enables people to come together to work on problems that could not be solved by any one partner working alone; and it allows partners to join forces to exploit opportunities in ways that would be richer than working separately.

And now the sun is shining again and my quizzer heads for the door (leaving me to pick up the tab) throwing me a final question: ‘So are you proud that ArtWorks Alliance was recently described as “vague but rewarding”?’ And I shout at the retreating back: ‘Why yes I am. I’m really pleased that Alliance is rewarding to those taking part in it. There is absolutely no point in having the Alliance if it doesn’t return reward to its partners – and every reason to have it if it does.

‘And I’d much rather be vague than specific. Vagueness is a state of being which allows for a wide range of possible courses of action; in this case, the ability to be reactive to whatever’s going on in participatory arts, or proactive to whatever you want to be happening. Whereas specific implies a closed mind, not open to possibilities for change.

‘And not being open to change is the very antithesis of good participatory practice.’

By now, everyone in the coffee shop is staring at me. So I pay the bill, leaving a generous donation to the Participatory Artists’ Benevolent Fund, and hurry out just in time to catch up with my Boswellian straight-person and press a card into her hand, with the ArtWorks Alliance Partner logo on one side and this tantalising message on the other:

If you want to make participatory arts more and better –

ask kathryn.deane@btinternet.com

how to become a partner in ArtWorks Alliance

Never blagged a coffee off Kathryn? Wouldn’t know her in the street even if her entourage was bigger than Corbyn’s and May’s rolled into one? You can still ask kathryn.deane@btinternet.com how to become a partner in ArtWorks Alliance.