Abstract Socially engaged, participatory and educational arts activities have been recognised by artists as a legitimate area of creative practice for a considerable time. Current policy initiatives around social inclusion and life long learning demonstrate that this government has a keen interest in the transformative nature of creativity and participation in arts activity. This paper explores the significance of the, Arts Council's Artists in Sites for Learning Scheme and a related piece of research within the context of recent cultural agendas and governmental policy initiatives. The research examined the ‘forms of engagement’ that occur between artists, participants and others and concludes that the role the artist inhabits within this form of creative practice is multifaceted and highly sophisticated. This paper also raises key issues concerning the ‘value’ and critical assessment of this form of practice and the need for appropriate support for (and evaluation of) it in the future.