This Is Not a Toolkit: Reclaiming Critical Evaluation of Participatory Arts

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:00 PM
Room: Booth 57
Oral Presentation
Alison ROOKE , Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London, London, United Kingdom
This paper argues that ‘evaluation’ is a term which has been abused in the recent scramble to systematically measure the economic value of the arts. In considering the relationship between arts policy, cultural theory and arts and evaluation practice this paper offers a critical perspective on the ‘norms’ and ‘forms’ of evaluation. The histories of and motivations for evaluation include a governmental impulse to employ culture as a resource that can be put to work as part of a wider global project of managing social change (Yudice 2003, Bennett 1995) and a genuine desire to learn from and improve the effectiveness and possibilities of arts-based social interventions. This paper argues that in the current policy context evaluation has become a technocratic ‘hoop’ for arts organisations to jump through in an endless mutual narrative driven by cultural policy, instrumentality and accountability. In contrast this paper argues that the value of evaluation, however, lies in the opportunity it offers for critical and reflexive learning. This paper offers examples of critical approaches to evaluation based on a method of participation action research.

Focusing on a European and  UK context, this paper considers the possibilities of reclaiming evaluation as an informative, generative, critical and non-partisan activity in the context of contemporary cultural policy. In a political and economic climate which emphasises the need for empirical justification for monies spent on the arts, the question of how to differentiate between evaluation, ‘cost benefit analysis’ and evidence-based policy is pressing. These differing conceptual, theoretical and policy threads will be brought together to consider ways of rethinking evaluation as a critical practice and the relationship between participatory arts and cultural policy.