The short read
Chapter 1 of Owen Kelly’s classic book Community Art & the State: Storming the Citadel (Comedia, 1984) gives a good insight into the beginnings of the Community Arts movement.

The long read
Based on the words and experiences of the people involved, Culture, Democracy and the Right to Make Art: The British Community Arts Movement by Alison Jeffers & Gerri Moriarty (Bloomsbury, 2017) tells the story of the community arts movement in the UK, and, assesses its influence on present day participatory arts practices. It’s available as a free open access book.

Community Arts began in the late 1960s and became a vibrant movement throughout the following decade. Based on principles of community empowerment and cultural democracy it connected art directly with community activism and social action. For some it was about making professional art more accessible, but for many it was about enabling those who had not previously had access to the arts to make their own art. As such it was the main forerunner of participatory theatre today. The Blackie in Liverpool was the UKs first Community Arts Centre, closely followed by many others. They ran workshops that taught arts skills, and festivals that showcased arts work (including performance) that celebrated the cultures and creativity of their local communities. Organisations like Studio 3 Arts continue the tradition today: they are firmly embedded in their community and maintain the connection between community arts and social action.