Select Page

Unit 3.3: Documenting Evidence for SEA

As SEA practitioners, we often deal with the ephemeral nature of the community processes with which we engage. These processes are often process-based, performative, or installation-based, short-lived in the moment, and so on. Therefore, photography is an essential tool for documenting these practices. Digital equipment, especially mobile phones and cameras, have become means for the instant documentation of videos, photos, and sound that can capture SEA processes and outcomes. Vella and Sarantou (2021) posit that photography plays a central role in artistic documentation and art history. However, digital documentation is often not straightforward, neither representing an ‘as is’ scenario of arts processes or outcomes, but rather representing a (re)interpretation of the artistic phenomenon that is documented. Therefore, (re)interpretation is a consideration in documentation. In addition, (re)presentations may be blurred with cultural, place-based and context-specific views of the presenters or photographers of artistic processes or outcomes. A photograph, after all, is an interpretation of how someone observes, sees and captures a specific artistic phenomenon.

Documentation is a (re)interpretative practice. Vella and Sarantou explain (2020, p. 8-9):

Documentation is a comparative medium, lifting artworks from different centuries and cultural contexts to create new and more accessible arrangements and collections. The possibilities of documentation are expanded even further as we begin to consider the processes of social engagement with the arts:

  • What modes of documentation can or should be employed in collaborative and other co-creative artistic or design processes?
  • Can we make use of documentation strategies that are not restricted to photography and video?
  • Whose imaginary worlds or alternative forms of knowledge can be traced through images and videos of the SEA?

These questions are important for reflecting on our practices of collecting evidence of impact through SEA projects. As SEA practitioners, we are confronted with presenting convincing evidence of the impact that SEA projects can generate.



The book Documents of Socially Engaged Arts by Vella and Sarantou (2021) provides a rich collection of chapters that specifically discuss the values and meanings of documenting practices for SEA. The book also presents careful considerations for SEA practitioners when selecting documentation practices to collect evidence of impact.                                                                            

Reading Article
Read the introduction chapter of the publication Documents of Socially Engaged Arts (Vella & Sarantou, 2021), p. 6-11.

PDF Vella, R. & Sarantou, M. (eds.) (2021). Documents of Socially Engaged Arts. InSEA. 


Reflection exercise 

  1. What method(s) of documentation would you have selected for the Love Talks Project?
  2. How successful would your selected method(s) be in producing quality evidence for reporting the impact the project created?
  3. How can arts-based approaches be integrated with documentary practices to enrich evidence that illustrates the impact of SEA projects?


In this learning unit, you have been introduced to the role of transformational change in generating community empowerment. You reflected on the selection of robust research methods for collecting evidence of impact through SEA projects. You also reflected on the role of documentation in collecting evidence to illustrate the impact of SEA projects.

There are a wide range of methods and approaches, including arts-based methods and artistic approaches, that you can use as a SEA practitioner when having to gather evidence of the impact you seek to accomplish with communities. The most important consideration for your selection is to deliver robust data that can create convincing evidence.

Case Study 1 of this learning unit, Love Talks, provide an example of using a narrative-based enquiry through interviews for collecting evidence of the impact. For this data set interviews of 20-45 minutes were conducted with the participating artists who led the workshops. Two of the researchers, who were also the cultural producers of the Love Talks event, also collected data by observing, interviewing and having casual conversations with the wider public who attended the events. These observations and conversations were carefully noted in researcher diaries. These selected approaches to collecting evidence of the impact were basic, and perhaps not creative per se, but they were applied consistently and therefore they delivered a robust data set. SEA practitioners are encouraged to consider using arts-based methods for collecting data sets that are more creative and better suits the context and purpose of their artistic projects.

In the next learning unit, you will be introduced to some practical presented with some advice from SEA practitioners about how to better engage with marginalised communities through arts-based interventions.


Vella, R. & Sarantou, M. (eds.) (2021). Documents of Socially Engaged Arts. InSEA.