Barriers to Participation Within the Arts

So many people don't participate within the arts or find it hard to do so. I want to find out what the barriers to participation within the arts are, how this has come to be and what is being done to help tackle this issue.

Barriers to Participation Within the Arts

In this modern world we currently live in there are so many different ways to get involved in the Arts; there are still the same traditional ways that have been around for hundreds of years, but now also a modern digital way. Social media engages with so many different artists and is an easy way for others to share and get involved. I think the Arts is amazing and it is impossible to explain in a single sentence because it's so broad, there are so many elements to it and a huge variety of ways to get involved. However, for some there are barriers to their participation within the arts. These people, (children, adults or anyone in between) still find it hard to get involved and feel like they belong.

This is something I have recently been made aware of through volunteering at Kettle's Yard art gallery in Cambridge which has allowed me to see the people behind the scenes, tackling this issue and trying to help these people get involved in the Arts where they can. From this I have done a lot of research, finding other information online leading me to realise that this really is an issue which others are beginning to address, but has not become one of common knowledge.

This is an arts issue that has particularly caught my attention. I want to find out what the barriers to participation within the arts are, what the causes of these barriers are and what is being done to help tackle this issue.

I thought I’d start off by addressing my own view on this; I think it may be fairly obvious what that is as I have decided to write an article on the barriers to participation within the arts highlighting that I am very much aware that there is an issue here that needs to be addressed.

As I said there are people who are trying to help with this situation, but it is difficult to address and know what to do to help. I believe the reason for this is that we are dealing with humans who all react and interpret things differently. Every person's reason why they are faced with these barriers is unique and how they've come to be in these situations can be very personal. One challenge is trying not to offend anyone when trying to help them get involved.

One of the reasons I'm so interested in this is because I understand how much these people, unable to participate in the arts, are missing out on. Personally I feel I've been very privileged in terms of what I've had access to and been involved in throughout my life so far. Coming from a middle class family and my mum would always get me involved in different art groups and classes doing a variety of different things despite my hopelessness at drawing!. Admittedly sometimes I could be unsure and shy to join in, but I liked being creative and working with my hands so still found ways to join in. Likewise at school we had very good art departments and got to go on lots of different school trips and were encouraged to explore our creativity.

My main concern is focusing on the people who don't have those opportunities I have experienced, which I find quite upsetting, especially since I know how much I’ve learnt through doing these artistic opportunities and being part of the arts community. I believe it is really important for people, especially children, but also for adults to explore their creativity and artistic side in whatever way they wish as it is a way of expressing yourself that doesn't necessarily need words to explain. I think art is its own language and it's important that everyone gets an opportunity to be part of developing their own voice through this language.

One person whose job it is to help get those involved in the arts, who are usually unable to,  is Karen Thomas, a Community Officer at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. I had the opportunity to volunteer with her, helping with some of the outreach projects. This was when I really discovered the issue of barriers to participation within the arts so thought she would be the perfect person to interview and get some more insight on the topic.

From what we talked about I now understand that the barriers are different for everyone, they are usually emotional and personal. Many causes of the barriers are down to the ideas society has created, that art is for the more privileged or educated and that there are right and wrong answers. These people often give other reasons as to why they can’t participate, such as, “it’s too expensive”, “I don’t have the time” or “I can’t get there”. Most of the people who are affected by this have not had a broad experience with the arts and believe they need to have the ‘right’ answers otherwise they will be judged by others in a negative way.

This however, is not true as in art there is no real right or wrong answer and your own opinion is valid as much as the next persons. People need to be taught to ask questions as a way of learning and developing their engagement. Likewise, they need to be asked how to make it all more relevant and relatable to them and find common grounds.

There is a positive, lots is being done to try and overcome this issue and help those who are being affected by it. The arts council are trying to be reflective of the communities they are working in and getting people from these communities to join in and be the organisers of art events, which is an effective way of creating a more diverse voice and adding diversity to art engagement.

Some other ways of overcoming the boundaries is through working with families to build confidence in both the parents and children. Kettle’s Yard have done this through setting up programs such as Circuit and Open House. Another way of getting people involved is through doing socially engaged art, where you value the working process over the finished piece, again helping with informing people that there are no right or wrong answers.

One more way going forward to continue to help crunch these boundaries is to keep the communications going. You need to listen to the people you are engaging with on what they respond best to and ask them questions on what would work for them. You need to be constantly reflecting, tweaking and changing to reflect their responses.

I researched into an opposite opinion to give a different angle, but this was a challenge to comeby. In fact, I could not find anyone saying anything along the lines of “there are no barriers to participation within the arts”. I think this maybe because this argument doesn't really exist in a black and white form. This could be because a lot of people think that others do have access to the arts as they do, they have no barriers themselves, or it is not something they think about. So do not feel the need to express this opinion. And to be honest it was not something I was highly aware of until volunteering and seeing first hand behind the scenes how hard it can be to get some people involved.

I think a lot of people are likely to be silently thinking and assuming that is easy to get involved because for them it is. Maybe they have had lots of opportunities given to them, been supported through school/work or have come from a creative background and don’t think anything of it. I suppose that one of the main reasons this has come to be is because people don’t talk enough about it for others to realise that is an issue. I guess that part of the problem with this is the lack of knowledge which is a big contribution to the barriers; it is a barrier itself.

So, I feel that there isn't a clear-cut opposite view in this conversation. I think because most of the barriers and the reasons people don't participate in the Arts are very personal or emotional, not something you can physically see a lot of people do not realize there is an issue here at all and therefore resulting in the situation we have.

On reflection I wondered if through my research into this issue my own views have changed and I would say that for the most part no. I still believe that there are barriers to people's participation within the arts. Everyone should have the same opportunities to create and be involved within the arts community. Although, it has highlighted to myself, that this is an issue we need to discuss and bring further out of the shadows.

I think that one of the biggest barriers to people participating within the arts is the belief that they are going to do it wrong when in fact it is actually very hard to ‘do art wrong’. To me if you’re creating and enjoying what you are doing then you are doing it ‘right’. Another thing that often gets overlooked are the benefits of doing art. It can have such a positive impact on people's mental health, well-being and is a great way to channel your emotions which you might not be able to process or put into words, linking back to how art is its own language.

I don't think people believe there are no barriers to participation within the arts, I just think that they are unaware that they exist in the first place, therefore do not think there is anything to be done. From my talk with Karen I have learnt that most of these barriers are personal and emotional, which makes them harder to notice and tackle, but there are things that can be done to help overcome this issue.

People need to be more open minded and let others in. Art is not just one thing it’s all around us and so diverse. Diversity makes it all more interesting, having people from different backgrounds, beliefs and creative inputs creates more varied conversations.

By writing this I hope that more people have been informed and made aware of this issue. If you feel like you might be able to help, or are someone who is a victim of these barriers then go get involved in your arts community and seek out opportunities. You may feel embarrassed or uncertain, but you can’t lean and improve if you don’t at least give it a try. If you don't attempt to participate then things can’t be done to help improve your involvement.

The barriers to participation within the arts need more recognition and to be spoken about more. There are lots of people already tackling this and succeeding, but more needs to be done.

Header Image Credit: 2019GinaLearmond

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Gina Learmond

Gina Learmond

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