Getting In On the Act

How arts groups are creating opportunities for active participation

Alan Brown, Jennifer Novak-Leonard, and Shelly Gilbride

People are engaging in the arts in increasingly active and expressive ways. There is a growing awareness in the arts field of what have come to be known as participatory arts practices. Arts funders and arts organizations are examining this seismic shift toward a participatory arts culture and figuring out how to adapt in new and creative ways that will have long-term benefits to arts organizations and the people they serve. The James Irvine Foundation commissioned this report to deepen our own understanding of these changes and to help spotlight exciting examples of participatory arts practices. And in reviewing the findings, we believe more than ever that the arts organizations that will thrive in our current environment will be the ones who create new and meaningful opportunities for people to engage.

This report and case studies of illustrative projects help provide a better understanding of how people are engaging in the arts, and of how arts organizations are enabling this involvement. Researchers at WolfBrown investigated active arts participation across the arts sector in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, learning from more than 100 organizations currently engaging in participatory arts. The report helps address many of the concerns that arts organizations may have in embracing participatory arts practices and illuminates the various trends in the field that are responsible for this shift. This report also presents the “Audience Involvement Spectrum,” a helpful new model for understanding various levels of arts engagement.

We hope that other funders and those interested in the interplay between arts and community find this report inspiring and informative. As we evolve Irvine’s Arts grantmaking strategy to support participatory arts practices, we hope that this report provides ideas and inspiration for organizations who are interested in exploring how they can best engage their audiences and communities.