Gomes, Rui Telmo: Rituals and working methods in a participatory artistic project

cMnM is a participatory art project taking place over three years in different neighborhoods in the metropolitan area of Lisbon, including training actions guided by artists from different fields (dance, theater, cinema, rap and visual arts), and ending with the production of a performative arts show in one of city’s main theaters. The project is mainly aimed at “not in education, employement or training” (NEET) young people and unemployed or retired adults. There are about 60 participants from the various neighborhoods, very diverse among themselves in terms of age, education, profession, living conditions, etc. Another important difference regarding the project’s purposes is the participants’ previous artistic practice, which ranges from people with very little or no such experience and not used to attend cultural venues, to amateur actors and musicians, or even young people in advanced artistic training with a view to professionalization.

The training sessions are marked by this group internal diversity and fundamental questions about the artistic process to both artist and participants: What is the meaning of artistic practice for each participant on any given training situation? How is communication and collaboration established between professional artists and amateur participants?

These general questions are more common in an initial phase of group formation (each session has around 15/20 participants, in special moments the complete group is included). Later, as participants became acquainted, concrete questions of working method arise during rehearsal or even for each task: What does each participant expect and how do he/she feel able (and willing) to take some risk? How are these decisions made? How is individual participation established in a collective work process?
On the side of artists, there is also a constant dilemma that is resolved in each concrete rehearsal situation between following a previously defined work plan and improvising an unforeseen task suggested by the group’s dynamics on a particular occasion.

These issues are discussed based on an ongoing ethnographic research, seeking to identify and analyze the work rituals and methodologies used in the different artistic areas. Closing remarks adress some implications of this case study for participatory art projects research, regarding the distinction between process (training / rehearsal) and result (show / public presentation).