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Authority, the institution, and community


Who has the authority to decide what’s best for you? To decide what will improve your quality of life and sense of wellbeing? To deem your needs more worthy than someone who lives just a few miles away?

During a weekend of heated debates and conversations focused on community arts practice in Liverpool, it was the issue of authority and who should have it that consistently arose. For those working within the field of community arts, their privilege to make decisions which will affect the lives of other is a contentious issue, but who really has the right to make decisions on behalf of a community they are not actually part of?

The Visible Award audience’s newfound authority as open jury tasked with assessing the merits of nine nominated global community arts projects was something most found difficult to comprehend. Worried about what would happen to those organisations not given an award, many called for Visible to split the award money nine ways thus relieving them of the burden of decision.

Despite having a large number of highly successful community focused projects on their portfolio, the question of why organisations like the Liverpool Biennial are given the authority to decide what is best for their local communities and which are most deserving of their attention was raised on numerous occasions. But surely someone has to make these decisions and if not the Biennial, then who?

In both instances, the person with the authority is the one with the financial privilege, which many feel is the fault of the UK’s current hierarchical funding structure which doesn’t recognise the importance and historical significance of community arts. If existing community arts organisations are to survive and new ones to flourish, the UK’s current funding structure needs to change.

*Image of Liverpool’s Black-E courtesy Flickr