A couple of weeks ago in our  weekly  Art and Social  Practice  session we discussed and  pooled  ideas about the practices, qualities and skills an artist needs to bring to participatory work and why you would want to do it. I think it would be a very exceptional person who  had all these in full measure but one of the strengths of this kind of work is also that  you are involving other people and you can be mindful of their their own skills and qualities and draw on these as well.

These are the lists we came up with

Participatory art practices – dos and don’ts


  • treat people as equals
  • be organised
  • think ahead
  • plan and prepare
  • be flexible
  • listen
  • include people
  • keep confidences
  • give participants something
  • think beyond the project
  • take responsibility
  • be prepared to conciliate
  • guide the experience
  • be sensitive
  • accept constraints
  • know your limits


  • patronise people
  • exclude people
  • assume ignorance
  • assume knowledge
  • exploit people
  • put pressure on people to do things unwillingly
  • coerce people
  • have preconceived ideas
  • stereotype people
  • take all the credit
  • dominate the experience
  • be a perfectionist
  • turn up under the influence

Qualities of a participatory artist

  • patient with other people and yourself as well
  • positive
  • receptive
  • conciliatory
  • sensitive
  • non-judgmental
  • flexible
  • honest
  • empathetic
  • you have drive and commitment
  • encouraging
  • energetic
  • confident
  • challenging
  • supportive
  • generates and nurtures trust
  • responsive
  • adaptable
  • creative
  • you have genuine interest in people and in what you’re doing
  • self aware
  • cooperative
  • you understand situations and where your comfort zone  is
  • realistic
  • idealistic
  • openness
  • humility

Skills of a participatory artist

  • skill in your art form
  • reflection
  • organising
  • communicating
  • negotiating
  • listening
  • delegating
  • time management
  • questioning
  • understanding learning styles
  • teaching, instructing
  • recording, documenting
  • acting, performing
  • conducting conversations
  • facilitating
  • multi-tasking
  • making space for new directions to emerge
  • creating and recognising opportunities and making the most of them
  • editing, simplifying
  • analysing, synthesising
  • keeping people on task
  • understand context
  • understand spatial dynamics

Why would you do it?

  • to explore an untapped resource of people
  • to realise opportunities
  • to enable and empower people
  • to create communities
  • to bridge communities
  • to focus and act on issues
  • to raise awareness of issues
  • to open debate
  • to strengthen values
  • to collect and conserve (e.g. social meanings, ways of being)
  • for health and wellbeing
  • for learning and exchange
  • for social justice
  • for shared understanding
  • to promote creativity

The bar is high and there is a rigorous standard of excellence to aim for.  Looking at these lists I think that two more essential qualities must be the courage to begin (and begin again) and the ability to forgive your inevitable mistakes and shortcomings (and those of others)!


What makes a good participatory artist?

One thought on “What makes a good participatory artist?

  • December 4, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    Wonderful and thank you! I love your extra qualities, courage and the ability to forgive ourselves the inevitable mistakes and shortcomings (and those of others)

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