The case for ‘socially engaged arts’: navigating art history, cultural development and arts funding narratives
Over the past 30 years of community cultural development policy and practice in Australia, artists and communities have been stimulating dialogue and developing cultural expression though collaborative and creative practice. Growing evidence has been collected regarding the instrumental benefits, such as increasing 'social capital', economic development and health outcomes. However, there remains little critical attention paid to the intrinsic artistic values of this practice. This diverse field is inherently interdisciplinary, and, like traditional art forms, follows particular principles and ethics. Without a clearly articulated aesthetic, it is often overlooked as non-professional art practice. This paper argues that more attention needs to be paid to the artistic merits of this field as socially engaged arts practice, and to do so, three inter-related lenses for the practice are considered: an art history context, cultural development theory, and the ever-changing Australia Council's community arts policy.