Artists as social workers?

I attended an interesting conference yesterday … yes, on a Sunday. Mobile Conference, organised by Peckham Space in partnership with South London Gallery, exploring the relationship between play, democracy and contemporary art in the public realm. Involving a mixture of artists and arts professionals, a couple of speakers from Demos, some kids from a local estate, and a blind-folded walk around Peckham, it was a stimulating afternoon.

So where do the social workers come in?

At various points during the day, the discussion circled around the fact that increasingly, artists are being invited/expected to enter roles that might have traditionally been thought of in the realm of social workers, community workers, or youth workers. While blurring of boundaries is certainly opening more doors for engagement, benefiting both artists and those they are working with, there was a concern that artists are increasingly being expected to cure us of all ills.

Another good nugget of food for thought was:
Artists are accustomed to having control over their art, their style, their methods, and what’s produced at the end of it, but does ‘democratisation’ of public art go hand in hand with relinquishing control? And if so, do we need to think about how to support artists in giving up control?

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