The Question of Quality

The question of quality has been in the news recently. An article by Jeremy Hunt in this month’s Art and Architecture Journal declared ‘Origin’, the recently installed £100,000, 11-metre high piece of public art overlooking the city of Belfast, “a conceptually and fundamentally bad 'piece of public art'

We need to acknowledge that there is such a thing as bad art as well as good art.  And, it comes as a welcome relief to have bad art named and shamed, because I don’t think we talk enough about quality, which is one reason I was pleased to be invited to run a training day for Creative Arts East on the subject earlier this month.

Writer, researcher and arts commentator, Francois Matarasso says “An arts programme cannot be judged good (or bad) unless the concept of good is defined. Good for what? Good for whom? Good in comparison with what?”

Quality is a relative concept. So, who should decide what is good? By what criteria?  And, what does good art look like in terms of healthcare environments?

Actually, it is helpful to look at what the NHS means by quality, which it defines as ‘care that is safe, effective and provides a positive patient experience’. Those are criteria that actually transfer surprisingly well to art in a healthcare environment. But, perhaps they don’t go far enough, for art needs to be more than just safe and effective.

It is also helpful to look at recent work to define and measure quality in relation to participatory arts practice by both West Midlands Arts and Health and Artworks Cymru.

What good means to each of us will vary according to our individual practices, the contexts in which we are working and the aims and values of the projects with which we are engaged.  But it is clear that we should all work to articulate what we mean by good. Only by being clear about what good is, can we benchmark our practice, measure and evaluate what we do, drive learning and continual improvement and ensure safe practice.

And we should all have a shared commitment to quality. Artists, arts managers, commissioners, health partners, funders all have a role to play in creating fertile ground for quality to evolve. The real world will conspire against us – time, money and a multitude of other factors will threaten to compromise our aspirations. But, with a clear goal to aim for and a shared commitment to get there, we stand a better chance of reaching it. 

The Question of Quality training I ran for Creative Arts East was inspiring and thought provoking - “like digging goodness into the soil” said artist Kate Munroe. I am looking forward to sharing this learning journey with others through future training.  But it also makes me realize that we need to review and develop our own Quality Framework. Watch this space.