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Thoughts on how and why participation? - Warming up to the network seminar

The steering group of the network TakePart is currently preparing for our next seminar on the methods of participation. The seminar will take place at The Royal Danish Theatre and The National Gallery of Denmark on the 27th and 28th of April respectfully. On the first day, the participants will meet KGL+ - a part of The Royal Danish Theatre, who works with co-creation, participation, and out-reach processes. They will present different cases and try methods of facilitating participation processes on the group.

As a little warm up for the seminar, I watched these two short videos. The first gives us three basic advice on how to do co-creation. It doesn’t present a methodological view on facilitation but a perspective we should be aware of when planning co-creation and participation processes.  

Watch the TED Talk “The Art of Science of Co-creation” by Osama Malik:

Basically, Osama Malik gives us three things that we shouldn’t do when working with co-creation:

1) Practice, but don´t prepare. If we are too prepared, we are not open to inspiration from others.

2) Say ”yes AND” instead of ”No”.

3) Don’t be scared to let go of an idea that is not working (kill your darlings).

One basic point seems to be pervasive here: When we engage in processes of creating something new with someone else we step into unknown territory, which in essence leaves us in a vulnerable position. Participants need to come unprepared and say “yes” to whatever comes up in order to contribute to the creative process. It is important, now, that we as facilitators of these processes are aware of this vulnerability, and that we try to create atmospheres where uncertainties are a natural part of the process. It might be interesting during our seminar to hear KGL+ how they ensure this supportive atmosphere.


Artistic output vs. an artist’s mindset

Now, after this very brief take on what not to do in co-creation processes, it seems relevant to consider why participation and co-creation is important. This next video focusses on the purpose and value of art education in the 21st Century, but it also introduces perspectives that are relevant to co-creation and participation processes in general.

Watch the TED Talk: “Teaching art or teaching to think like an artist?” by Cindy Foley:

Participation in artistic co-creation processes often has a variety of purposes and many different qualities. One of these is introduced in Cindy Foley’s talk. She states that co-creation often ends up producing artistic ‘factory builders’, who mindlessly carry out instructions from a facilitator or a teacher and reproduce existing art to the best of their ability. This is relevant when learning the craftsmanship of a specific art form. However, in education and several other situations including artistic co-creation, our focus needs to be on creating “master Lego builders” instead. What Foley means by this, is that we should focus more on the mindset of the artist, than on the outcome of the process. We should focus on different creative ways of manifesting ideas (for instance by building them in Lego) rather than teaching students to replicate others’ great art or great ideas.

The inevitable discomfort of the unknown

Foley explains that artistic processes inevitably entails a discomfort, because you are creating something still unknown. Artists understand that this ambiguity is part of the process. “They take it, they identify it, and they tackle it head on”, she says. This way of dealing with ambiguity is an important quality of the artist’s mindset. Cindy thus goes on: “If artists are doing this, can you imagine if art education was a place where we knew students could go to prepare for lives of not knowing?” [8:20].

It thus seems that an important quality of co-creation and participation lies in this mindset and the cognitive processes that we go through when we engage with art and create something new. Perhaps the creative proces not only teaches us about art but also about being in the world with all its unknown features and the discomfort that comes with it.

This quality is interesting when discussing facilitation and evaluation of co-creation processes. When doing this we need to be conscious of the why. Why should the group engage with this art form? Do we want to educate? Do we believe that their love of art will grow through engaging with it? Or do we also aim to change their mindset to help them deal with unknown processes? – These are just thoughts to help us warm up to the seminar in April.