Accepted Paper:

Community Art and the State in the Cracked Art World: The Politics of Public Arts Funding in Contemporary Northern Ireland  


Kayla Rush (Dublin City University)

Paper short abstract:

Despite long association with movements criticizing or calling for changes to state policies, 'community art' or frequently receives state funding. This paper examines this tension in the case of Northern Ireland, exploring the ways in which artists critical of state policies navigate these issues.

Paper long abstract:

Since the 1960s, the area of artistic practice known as 'community art' or 'socially engaged art' has become a prominent tool of social movements and those seeking social and political change. Community-based and socially engaged methods have strongly influenced practices in contemporary art as well, as noted by authors like Bourriaud and Sansi. These practices, which eschew a 'purely aesthetic' perspective in favour of art with social and political aims, have long been linked (though not exclusively) with left-wing politics and social movements, and with critiques of state neoliberalism. At the same time, community art has received substantial state funding in countries around the world, and community artists continue to lobby for increased state support. In order to obtain these funds, artists must discursively align their own goals with those of the state, even where they are critical of their funder's political views and actions.

This paper seeks to ethnographically examine this tension, taking as its case study community art in Northern Ireland. Here the state-sponsored Arts Council of Northern Ireland is the primary funder of community art, and artists and arts organisations continue to seek this funding year after year, despite deep disagreements with numerous state policies. How do community artists manage this tension within the particular political context of Northern Ireland? How do these negotiations appear in the artworks and projects they create? What implications does this ethnography have for state-sponsored community art elsewhere in the world? And what can such an ethnography tell us about Northern Ireland?

Panel P065
The state of the art: the anthropology of art and the anthropology of the state