Defining community art : theoretical and practical reconstruction

  • Kei Shun, Samson WONG

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


This research investigates the area of practice commonly known as community art, defined to be where a gathering of people participates in facilitated collaborative art making aimed to be increasing their autonomy in generating artistic and social satisfaction and enrichment. This definition is a result of integrating existing research, literature, interviews with practitioners and analyses of their work. It is an interdisciplinary research conducted through a grounded methodology where data from practitioners and literature mutually inform to yield insights into a seemingly unstructured practice.
Seven interviewees were chosen to represent a coherent and recognized body of practice. They are practicing visual and performing artists who specialize in facilitating people of communities in collaborative art process. Each having over 15 years of experience in committed engagement with communities, they are also trainers, educators and professionals in various tertiary, cultural and public institutions. They are either based or are/were committed to the development of community art in Hong Kong, and are all experienced overseas. Their mix of art disciplines and effectiveness across countries indicate a fundamental connection in their view of art and people that is beyond artistic media and cultural context. Thus, a Hong Kong perspective is provided that may contribute to other metropolitan settings in Asia and worldwide.
Guided by the data, this research sought theoretical support for the community artists’ operational concepts of art, people, community and participation. The literature drawn include the ethology of art (Dissanayake, Davies), the nature of the experience of art (Dewey), theories of education (Freire, Dewey), theories of community and individuals (Putnam, McKnight & Block), psychological theories on experience and motivation (Csikszentmihalyi, Ryan & Deci), and theories of social psychology on identity and social belonging (Baumeister & Leary, Aron & McLaughlin-Volpe). This interdisciplinary perspective builds a framework that explains how the artistic and social dimensions in community art, instead of being in compromise, can be synergetic. Of special interest are the untapped aspects of Freire and Dewey’s theories often overlooked by scholars of artistic engagement with communities. Requiring expertise beyond a single scholar, this research proposes only one effective integration of the above disciplines.
This research conceptualizes the development of community art to be an interplay of artistic movements, to progressively seek social relevance from object, place, then to people, and at the same time to return art into the hands of the people. It is a practice distinct but in relation to the overlapping categories of the socially engaged arts, dialogical art, community cultural development, community-based art education and public art (Bishop, Cartiere, Goldbard, Kester, Thompson).
The shifting definitions have nurtured a blossoming of artist engagement in the society, but has also resulted in miscommunication of what exactly academics, artists and institutions are planning, funding, doing, evaluating and researching. In contrast to an embracive attitude that has unfortunately led to confusion, this research proposes certain defining characteristics for community art, with implications that seek to further the discourse of artistic engagement with communities.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Visual Studies
SupervisorSuk Mun Sophia LAW (Supervisor) & Anne Mette HJORT (Supervisor)

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