Rethinking Participation and Re-enacting Its Dilemmas? Aarhus 2017 and “The Playful Society”
AbstractIn 2012 the Danish city of Aarhus was appointed European Capital of Culture for 2017. The appointment was based on an ambitious programme that – under the headline Rethink – tried to set an agenda of societal transformation, mainly by seeking to increase the impact of art and culture, and to enhance civic participation at all levels of society. In this article we examine one of the first attempts of Aarhus 2017 to realize these grand ambitions: ‘The Playful Society’, a series of micro grants aimed at enabling young people to make their own art/culture projects and participate in the overall Rethink project. Informed by theoretical distinctions between different forms of participation, and the diverse interests invested in participatory processes, we investigate how the young cultural entrepreneurs and the artistic administrators of Aarhus 2017 separately, in conjunction, and sometimes even in opposition to each other, translated these overall ambitions into practice. We argue that they illuminate some of the dilemmas of contemporary cultural participation, including the importance of question- ing who participates in what, how they do it, and in what context.
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