Participatory Arts and Political Engagement

Author: Matthew Flinders and Malaika Cunningham

Publication Year:

Media Type: Report


Report reviews research gathered from empirical and desk research to explore the relationship between participatory arts and political engagement.


‘We need citizens who take an active role in the community and political discourse; citizens who are difficult, demanding and idealistic.’ (Knell and Taylor, 2011: 37) Instead we have a steady decline in civic engagement and political participation in Britain, and have done for many years. (Hall 2002; Hay 2007; Judt 2010; Pharr and Putnam 2000). Worryingly, in recent years there has been increasing evidence to show that this trend is actually speeding up and that disengagement and distrust of formal politics is particularly prevalent amongst young people. A recent IPPR report (2013) showed ‘just 44% of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2010 general election, compared with 76% of over 65s.’

Research has been done which suggests the arts could help to (re)engage young people into politics: eg. Matarasso 1997, Catteral et al. 2012, Lawy et al 2010, Bowler et al 2003. Much of this research takes a broad view of the arts and/or a broad view of civic engagement. In our research we wished to look more specifically into if and how participatory arts contributes to a propensity to political engagement on three levels: reconnection with the formal political level, reconnection through informal forms of political engagement and then personal reconnection in terms of knowledge and confidence. These levels are not entirely distinct and many interactions exist between them.

Our research coupled empirical and desk research to explore the relationship between participatory arts and political engagement. Although undertaken within the confines of a relatively small Development Project, both empirical and desk research showed a positive correlation, particularly in relation to informal forms of participation and personal political engagement. Further research is required to test the validity and limits of these findings with a larger data set but the initial findings – especially in the context of the rise of ‘disaffected democrats’ – are hugely encouraging. [Executive Summary]

Arts & Intersections: Political Activation

Categories: Participation, Civic Dialogue and Social Change


Series Title:




Pages: 37

Resources: Document


Name: Arts and Humanities Research Council

Website URL: