"We Know...": Collective Care in Participatory Arts

Sue Mayo


In this article I foreground narratives of practice in order to find a working understanding of ‘collective care’ in collaborative, participatory arts. Collective care is revealed in the ways in which everyone involved in an arts project ¬- artist, participants, support workers - is involved in the enacting of care-full relationship, embodied in mutual challenge and support. This brings about authentic engagement with each other, challenging any sense of care being ‘done to’ others, in a donor/recipient relationship described by one interviewee as “theatre as charity”, Using case studies of three London based companies; Women for Refugee Women, Talawa Theatre Company, working with Kindred Minds, and Entelechy’s Elders’ Company, I examine the idea of ‘negative capability’ (Keats 1817), which proposes a place of unknowing as a potent agent of creativity. The case studies reveal playful understandings of who is host and who is guest, the importance of recognising capacity as well as needs, and the importance of the collective, the ‘body of trust’.  I begin by describing the moment that brought this understanding so clearly to the surface for me. Then, through conversation with artists and participants, I investigate the ways in which participants care for one another and for the project, and how this can be encouraged and allowed to flourish.


Care, capacity, facilitation, negative capability, collectivity

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