Objectives, background and wider context Objectives, background and wider context

Project objectives:

  • Bring together key community music stakeholders and facilitate critical reflection    about the shifts affecting community music over recent years
  • Reinvigorate understandings of the potential of community music to contribute to community development (with particular focus on issues of community empowerment, participatory practices and democratic decision-making processes)
  • Review the current place of scholarship around community music and explore means of enhancing academic engagement with issues of central importance within community music
  • Build links between academics/researchers and a range of community music stakeholders
  • Develop a set of priorities for a future research programme which will help the research community, policymakers and practitioners to understand the impact of community music on participating communities and individuals, improve the quality of decision making within these groups and disseminate evidence of best practice in the field
  • Consider ways in which insights from community music can valuably contribute to a deeper understanding of community art's potential role in community development

Background and Context

With emphases on the active participation of community members in creative and empowering cultural activity, community music (hereafter simply CM) activities hold out the potential to not only provide spaces of community learning and platforms of expression but also function as sites for the development of community cohesion and broader community engagement and activism. As was noted in a recent AHRC scoping study on community music, such elements make it 'an area worthy of on-going research for any and all 'connected communities'' (McKay & Higham 2011: 10)

While there has been a clear need for further academic engagement with CM for some time, the changes affecting it in the UK over recent years, combined with the challenges currently facing CM stakeholders and the communities with which they work, make responding to this need both pressing and at the same time potentially fruitful.

In the UK, CM has undergone significant shifts over recent decades. Undoubtedly, these shifts have been due – in no small part – to what Everitt (1997) has termed the ‘subsidy revolution' facilitated by the funding opportunities made available by the National Lottery. One key development accompanying the upsurge in state funding has taken the form of ‘increased expectation and an emphasis upon ‘outcomes'' (Price 2002: 3). This has brought important changes in the ways those involved in facilitating CM activities both go about and think about their work, something perhaps most evident in the ‘noticeable shift in focus…from collective to individual outcomes' (Matarasso 2007: 449). Such a shift is also indicative of a more subtle yet significant move away from CM's longstanding concern with issues of community empowerment, participatory processes and democratic decision-making practices (including learning about community-level decision making and grass-roots organisation processes). Such concerns, articulated within a broader philosophy of empowerment and reflected in the work of writers such as Saul Alinsky, Carl Rogers, Ivan Illich and Paolo Friere, were central to community development theorists and the burgeoning community arts movement of the late 1960s/early 1970s alike. Over time however, their centrality has been diminished for a CM movement which, as a recent AHRC ‘Connected Communities' scoping study notes, has been primarily ‘resource-oriented rather than actively reflexive' (McKay and Higham 2011: 6).

While community music activity in the UK is today negotiating cuts to the levels of available funding, policy shifts (such as the emphases, within the ‘Big Society' agenda, on community empowerment, localism and voluntarism) suggest a number of ways in which a reinvigorated understanding of the potential of community music could make a valuable contribution to broader community-focussed agendas. It is for these reasons that the network organisers see this moment as a crucial one at which to critically reflect on the contemporary condition of community music and to revitalise understandings of its (potential) role in encouraging community engagement.

To this end, the network will engage - through a series of workshops - with a number of central themes whose exploration stands to reconnect contemporary community music activity with its founding concerns (of community development and empowerment) and, in bringing together researcher/academics and key community music stakeholders, develop a set of priorities for a future collaborative research programme which will help CM stakeholders to understand and enhance the nature of their work, improve the quality of decision-making relevant to community music activity and disseminate evidence of best practice in the field.

In order to achieve its objectives, the network is engaging with a number of core themes identified by the network proposers as requiring attention in order to consider future directions for community music. These themes are:

  1. Individual and collective motivation to participation in CM activities
  2. CM participation as a pathway towards community engagement/activism
  3. Evaluation of different models of developmental practice and community engagement
  4. Community as a site of democratic expression and/or oppositional critique
  5. Freedom and control in community engagement
  6. Relationships between intent, process, and outcome in CM activity
  7. Ethical issues in CM practice.