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The current body of literature regarding social inclusion and the arts tends to focus on two areas: the lack of clear or common understanding of the terminology involved (GLLAM, 2000) and the difficulty in measuring impact (Newman 2001). Further, much of the literature traces the historical evolution of social inclusion policy within the arts from a political and social perspective (Belfiore & Bennett, 2007), whilst others examine the situation in the context of the museum as an institution more generally (Sandell, 2002b). Such studies are essential; however they only touch on the importance of understanding the context of social inclusion programmes. As each individual’s experience of exclusion (or inclusion) is argued to be different (Newman et al., 2005) and any experience is also process-based (SEU 2001), there is a need for more thorough examination of the processes underpinning project delivery (Butterfoss, 2006), particularly within a field that has its own issues of exclusion, such as the arts (Bourdieu & Darbel, 1991). This paper presents case study findings of a programme of contemporary arts participation for adults with learning difficulties based at an arts centre in Liverpool. By focusing on practice, the paper applies Wenger’s (1998) social theory of learning in order to assert that rather than search for measurable impacts, examining the delivery of programmes within their individual contexts will provide the basis for a more reflective practice and thus more effective policy making.
Keywords: Social inclusion, arts, disability, ‘community of practice’