Jacqueline Reynolds – The Story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent: Towards Deeper Understandings of the Role of Arts and Culture

Our Cultural Value project, involving an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Faculty of Arts and Creative Technologies at Staffordshire University, is concerned with issues of empathy, compassion and understanding. It is rooted in a remarkable story about Stoke-on-Trent and the tiny village of Lidice in the Czech Republic, which was completely destroyed by the Nazis in June 1942. In Stoke-on-Trent, in response to this tragic event, local Doctor and Councillor Barnett Stross launched the ‘Lidice Shall Live’ campaign, rallying local working people to donate to a fund that ultimately contributed to the rebuilding of the village after the war. It was an amazing demonstration of empathy and compassion that ordinary miners and pottery workers donated in many cases up to a week’s wages to this campaign.

Significantly in terms of Cultural Value, the village of Lidice today expresses its story through arts and culture, including the largest rose garden in Europe, and a museum and art gallery that sit adjacent to the new village. A commemorative event takes place in Lidice each year on the anniversary of the tragedy, and in recent years, the links between Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent have been refreshed with cultural exchanges, involving a range of arts projects and events that celebrate the cultural ties between the two places. It is striking that in all of the civic engagement and partnership working recently developed between these places, we choose to explore, express and celebrate these ties almost exclusively through arts and culture.

Influenced by the story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent, our research focuses on storytelling approaches in exhibitions and in community and participatory arts projects. Our key aim is to improve our understanding of the potential of arts and culture to develop empathy, compassion and understanding across geographical divides. It is often an implicit, taken-for granted aspect of arts and culture that people’s emotions can be engaged in this way, but demonstrating the value of this is clearly a challenge. We have used new insights from our research to develop resources for the design and evaluation of arts activities.

One of the significant things about this project is the key importance of issues of empathy and compassion to society as a whole. We find discussions about such issues in many different contexts – for example, healthcare, journalism, politics, and education. They are at the very heart of our relationships with other people in the world, and developments such as the widespread use of social media constantly raise new questions about the extent to which we feel and express empathy, compassion and understanding.

Our project draws on insights and understandings from a wide range of academic disciplines, and also from diverse groups of artists and creative practitioners. We held focus groups and individual interviews (some of which were filmed), at Staffordshire University and in local arts venues. We have been delighted at the levels of interest in the project, and at the in-depth and thoughtful discussions that have taken place. Discussions included what empathy, compassion and understanding mean to people, and how they apply their understandings within their own work. We asked people to reflect on when they have been deeply moved by an arts or cultural experience, and to consider why this was so, any actions or changes that this led to, and how we might be able to capture this kind of information in evaluating arts activities. We have analysed a wealth of data that have been generated by these discussions, as well as completing a literature review that draws upon a wide range of disciplines.

Following on from the focus groups and interviews, we established a working group of university lecturers, artists and creative practitioners, to contribute to the development of new resources for the design and evaluation of arts exhibitions and projects. An important part of the design of our project was a research visit by some of the working group to Lidice (in June 2014) to attend the annual commemoration of the Tragedy, and to take part in the arts and cultural events that take place at this time. This was a deeply moving and unforgettable experience for the group, and it contributed significantly to the outcomes of the research project. The visit was an opportunity for our group to consider the emerging findings from the research in relation to our case study, to exchange ideas with creative practitioners in Prague and Lidice, and to begin to formulate ideas for a new project to be informed by the outcomes of this research project.

During the project, we worked with film makers Suzanne James and Darren Teale (Junction 15 Productions), who filmed a number of the individual and group interviews, as well as the visit to the Czech Republic. This resulted in a series of eleven short films, including four case studies of projects that have connected people across geographical divides. All of the films are shared on the project blog. The films are intended not only to share the findings of the project with a really wide audience, but also to be useful resources to artists and creative practitioners who are considering issues of empathy, compassion and understanding as part of their work.

We also drew upon our research findings to develop a set of ‘Caring Cards’ to support the design and evaluation of participatory arts activities. We commissioned artist Nicola Winstanley to design the cards, which highlight issues of cultural value and empathy, compassion and understanding from a range of perspectives, all informed by the research. They include participant quotes and some key themes, and are designed to be used as a tool for project management in community and participatory arts work. They address some of the implications of the research at each stage of the project cycle, and can be used to support conversations and planning by artists, and also as a tool for evaluation. All of the cards include original illustrations that have been developed in direct response to the themes that have emerged from the research. They are therefore visually interesting in a meaningful and engaging way and they contribute towards developing a ‘visual language’ to help explore the themes of empathy, compassion and understanding. As well as being available on the project blog, we obtained additional funding from the Institute for Applied Creative Thinking (I-ACT) at Staffordshire University to produce pilot printed versions of the cards. They were introduced during a presentation about the project at the Arts in Society Conference at Imperial College London in July 2015, and a range of international delegates agreed to pilot the cards. They will thus help to address the on-going international challenges of demonstrating cultural value across a range of contexts.

Our project blog, including full project reports, can be found here:
Notes:
The Story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent: Towards Deeper Understandings of the Role of Arts and Culture, is a six-month project (February-July 2014). The project team (from Staffordshire University) includes:
Principal Investigator: Dr Jackie Reynolds (now at Keele University)
Co-Investigator: Janet Hetherington
Postdoctoral Researchers: Dr Ann O’Sullivan and Dr Kelvin Clayton.
John Holmes (Visiting Research Fellow, Staffordshire University)

The Research Team is grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for the funding that supported our project. We would also like to thank participants in the UK and the Czech Republic who generously contributed their time, knowledge and expertise to this project.

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Matthew Flinders – Participatory Arts and Active Citizenship

Reconnecting Communities:  The Politics of Art and the Art of Politics

What does arts and culture deliver in terms of social benefits? How can these benefits be demonstrated? What role do arts and culture play in re-engaging ‘disaffected democrats’? And can this offer further proof of the social value of arts and culture? An innovative new participatory arts project in South Yorkshire is examining the ‘politics of art’ and the ‘art of politics’ from a number of new angles.

‘The general value of arts and culture to society has long been assumed’ a recent report from the Arts Council acknowledges ‘while the specifics have just as long been debated’. It is this focus on the specifics that forms the rub because in times of relative prosperity there was little pressure from either public or private funders to demonstrate the broader social impact or relevance of the arts. In times of austerity, however, the situation is very different. For example, a focus on the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) within education policy risks eviscerating the funding for the arts and humanities (and the social sciences) unless these more creative and less tangible intellectual pursuits can demonstrate their clear social value. The vocabulary of ‘social return’, ‘intellectual productive capacity’, ‘economic generation’ – or what some might prefer to label ‘the tyranny of impact’ – may well grate against the traditional values and assumptions of the arts and culture community but it is a shadow that cannot be ignored.

The publication of The Impact of the Social Sciences (Sage, 2014) provides more than a sophisticated analysis of the value of the social sciences across a range of economic, cultural and civic dimensions. It provides a political treatise and a strategic piece of evidence-based leverage that may play an important role in future debates over the distribution of diminishing public funds. I have no doubt that the impact of the arts and humanities is equally significant. But the problem is that the systematic creation of an evidence base remains embryonic. The belief that the arts and humanities are educationally critical, essentially humanizing and therefore socially essential elements of any modern society is meaningless without demonstrable evidence to support these beliefs, presented in a language policy makers will accept. The methodological and epistemological challenges of delivering that research base are clearly significant. It cannot only be measured in simple economic terms, social benefits rarely can be, but as the Arts Council emphasizes ‘it is something that arts and culture organisations will have to do in order to secure funding from both public and private sources’. The integrity of the arts needn’t be undermined by robust and in depth exploration of its social benefits.

As a political scientist I have always been fascinated with the relationship between art and politics. Though heretical to suggest to the arts community, I have often thought that the role of the professional politician and the professional artist (indeed, with the amateur politician and the amateur artist) were more similar than was often acknowledged. Both seek to express values and visions, to inspire hope and confidence or dread and disgust and both seek – if we are honest – to present a message. It is only the medium through which that message is presented that differs (and relationships of co-option, patronage and dependency are common between these professions). Similarly, the problems faced by the cultural sector and formal political institutions are by no means dissimilar. Both seek to expand and diversify their ‘audiences’. Both have the potential to offer a medium of expression for all, but, fundamentally, only manage to give voice to those who are already well heard. The analogy may go further still in the potential solutions. “Art should not be sequestered in special zones, where special people – the artists – deploy their special skills and experience,” argues Leadbeater (2010), “art should be grounded in the common experience of everyday life.” Could the word ‘art’ in this statement, not be easily changed for politics? Having (crudely) established a connection or relationship between art and politics (or artists and politicians) could it be that one of the true values of the arts lies not in how it responds to the needs of the economy or its importance in our education system but in how it responds to the rise of ‘disaffected democrats’ and the constellation of concerns that come together in the ‘why we hate politics’ narrative?

We demand participation. As artists and as politicians we yearn for meaningful routes to engagement that are relevant to us all, rather than token gestures from those with real decision making power. Vromen (2003) offers us this definition of participation: ‘acts…that are intrinsically concerned with shaping the society that we want to live in.’ Inadvertently, Vromen offers another parallel between politics and art: but this time specifically between political participation and participatory arts. Participatory arts originates in a concern for community development and a wish to promote ‘better living’ for all, or a concern for ‘shaping the society we want to live in.’ Participatory arts can therefore be an instance of political participation. But is there potential for it to be taken further? In a time of increasing social anomie and political disengagement, especially amongst the young and the poor, can participatory arts projects provide a way of reconnecting communities and provide a means for broader political reengagement?

François Matarasso’s Use or Ornament (1997) provides one of the most systematic explorations of the social benefits of participatory arts and concluded that ‘one of the most important outcomes of [the public’s] involvement in the arts was finding their own voice, or perhaps, the courage to use it’. More recently the New Economics Foundation’s report Diversity and Integration (2013) suggested that young people who participated in arts programmes were more likely to see themselves as ‘holding the potential to do anything I want to do’ and being ‘able to influence a group of people to get things done’. The Department for Culture Media and Sport has also offered the CASE report (2010) which proposes that engagement with arts and culture can improve literacy, numeracy and ‘transferable skills’ amongst young people. Other studies tentatively offer similarly positive conclusions but few with real analytical depth in terms of identifying between political reconnection, civic reconnection or personal reconnection (in terms of personal understanding, confidence and aspiration). To return to the Arts Council’s recent report – The Wider Benefits of Art and Culture to Society – the existing research base is light on ‘the specifics’.

It is for exactly this reason that the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics has joined forces with ‘Art in the Park’ as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project. Young people from all across South Yorkshire will be brought together to participate in an eight week arts project that uses creative writing, storytelling and visual art to explore social and political issues. We hope to also involve current or past politicians as equal participants (depending on the views of the young people and artists), who like the young people, will take a role as decision maker and listener in the context of the workshops. Surveys, focus groups and interviews (methodology borrowed from both political science and the cultural sector) will capture how participating in the project affects political attitudes and understandings –positive, negative, political, civic or personal – with the aim of beginning to fill the gaps in the existing evidence base regarding whether the participatory arts may offer an as yet unrealized potential for breathing life back into politics and reconnecting communities. Now that really would be a wider benefit for society.

Matthew Flinders is Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics at the University of Sheffield. He was recently a winner in the ‘This is Democracy’ International Photography Competition – http://www.ondemocracy.org/news-events/festival-of-democracy/item/349-this-is-democracy-photography-competition – but his wife now claims she took the picture.

 Malaika Cunningham is the Research Officer on the project discussed in this blog and is Artistic Director of Sheffield-based theatre company The Bare Project

Eleonora Belfiore: The politics of cultural value: Towards an emancipatory framework

As a cultural policy scholar, the question of cultural value has always fascinated me, as it goes to the very core of how public policies for the arts and culture work. The reason for the centrality of the cultural value question to cultural, and more specifically arts policies (which is the area on which my own work focuses) has been explained very succinctly, but also compellingly, by Richard Hoggart in The Way We Live Now. Here Hoggart says that the problem is, quite simply, that “there will never be enough money”. As a result, “Choices will always have to be made, judgments-between”. These choices and ‘judgments-between’ are clearly both driven by, and the reflection of, a society’ predominant cultural values.

Whilst judgments of value are the bread and butter of cultural policies, the label ‘cultural value’ has captured the imagination of researchers, arts sector professionals and even creative producers in a way that is revealing. Part of the fascination with cultural value lies, I would argue, in the hope that it might get cultural policy debates ‘unstuck’ from the focus on the ‘instrumental value’ of the arts and, especially post-austerity, their ‘economic value’ as central to justifications for public ‘investment’ on the arts and culture. As a consequence, the cultural value debate in the arts seems to have focused predominantly on a celebration of the value and importance of the arts. This has resulted in a advocacy driven effort to evaluate, measure, capture and demonstrate such value in the hope that it might convince policy makers, and even the Treasury, that the arts are worth spending public resources on even in times of austerity measures and wide ranging cuts in public expenditure.

Driving my project is the intention to problematize this approach to cultural value and to question this prevailing understanding by bringing into focus the degree to which cultural value is in fact something that is continually defined and redefined, contested and fought over: it has a clear relational nature and it involves power struggles and vested interests. As Janet Wolff (1981) puts it,  “Understanding art as socially produced necessarily involves illuminating some of the ways in which various forms, genres, styles, etc. come to have value ascribed to them by certain groups in particular contexts”.

The allocation of cultural value therefore is an inherently political process and one in which power relations play an important role. There are winners and losers in struggles over value, as shown by the recent debates over the significant unbalances in per capita cultural spending between citizens living in London and those in the rest of England, which have been estimated as being £69 and £4.60 respectively. Similarly, the conclusion reached by both academic research and the analysis of Taking Part data that a degree and a professional occupation are the most accurate predictors of engagement with publicly funding cultural experiences, also poses serious questions of social justice and fairness in relation to how the arts funding system operates in England and how it might be see to effectively compound social inequalities. This is, of course, highly problematic, considering that widening access and participation are central to the rhetoric of arts funding, and opens up questions of fairness that the cultural value debate must engage with.

The central aim of the project then, is to explore how concerns with fairness and social justice might be brought into public discussions on the value of the arts and culture and cultural policy research. To this end, the project is exploring whether the concept of cultural value might be harnessed as part of an emancipatory intellectual, cultural and political project aimed at achieving greater social justice, and what role of cultural policies might play in facilitating this.

I am working with the concept of ‘misrecognition’ as developed, among others, by Nancy Fraser and considering whether publicly funded initiatives and projects that aim at redressing it might be a way for cultural policy to embrace and promote social justice. To this end, I’ve partnered with Cultural Solutions UK to look at a participatory project that they developed and run in 2012, with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Working closely with the educational charity Lincolnshire Travellers Initiative, the Cultural Solutions team worked with children and young people from the Lincolnshire Gypsy and Traveller community and their families to work on a ‘cultural heritage conservation project’. The project was interestingly called ‘Our Big Real Gypsy Lives’, which makes explicit the intention of the project to redress the misrecognition caused by Channel 4’s highly successful but controversial programme ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’.

Photo by Katie Smith

I was interested to discover how the project came about, what challenges the project team and the community artists working with the Gypsy and Traveller families encountered. I’m trying to establish what can be learned from their experience about the potential of a participatory arts projects to work as a vehicle for recognition and for the more equitable redistribution of ‘cultural value’ for the benefit of a community whose negative public image, disenfranchisement and ‘social abjection’ (Tyler 2013) has been significantly affected by another cultural product – and one that has generated substantial economic value as well as popularity with the TV public.

The fieldwork for the research has involved semi-structured interviews with the team involved in making the project happen and a number of key participants, including Gordon Boswell, whose Romany Gypsy Museum – a veritable labour of love and dedication – features prominently both in the original community art project and the research.

The picture emerging so far reveals that cultural work of a socially engaged nature can bring fruits, but requires a remarkable commitment on the part of the delivery team, flexibility and good communication, and that theories of recognition and ‘right to memory’ (Reading 2011) can go some way towards refreshing cultural policy studies and bringing a concern for social justice to the fore.

Kate Rumbold: The uses of poetry: measuring the value of engaging with poetry in lifelong learning and development

What are the benefits of engaging with poetry?

When people read or hear poetry, how can we express the value of their experience?

What is the role of poetry at different stages of lifelong learning?

Our project takes an exciting, interdisciplinary approach to answering these important questions.  ‘The Uses of Poetry’ brings together researchers and practitioners from literature, psychology, education, philosophy, drama and creative writing to start to develop new research methods for understanding, articulating and measuring the benefits of poetry at all stages of lifelong learning.

When it comes to questions of cultural value, poetry can often be overlooked in favour of other kinds of art and culture – and even other kinds of literature.  Much has been written, for example, about the value of creative writing as an emotional outlet and as a mode of expression for people in challenging situations (from post-traumatic shock to prisons), but much less about what happens when individuals encounter an existing piece of poetry, whether for the first or the hundredth time.

Throughout the project, we have been particularly interested in the ways in which poetry is taught.  In mainstream education, from schools to university, an analytical or cognitive approach to poetry is dominant.  By contrast, outside mainstream education, therapeutic and community based projects tend to emphasise the emotional or affective dimensions of poetry.  There is, at present, little connection between these approaches.  We as a team are keen to discover, through our interdisciplinary discussions and practical experiments, if these cognitive and affective dimensions of poetry might beneficially be connected.  Our emerging results suggest that we will be able to offer some initial recommendations for the future teaching of poetry.

Our project is, by nature, exploratory, testing out new ways of talking about poetry in a planned series of interdisciplinary conversations, meetings and seminars.  After our initial areas of disciplinary insight and expertise emerged in early meetings, our core team of eight participants worked in cross-disciplinary pairs to explore key issues relating to ‘the uses of poetry’.  These have included: the role of poetry in autobiographical memory (led by a pair of researchers from Psychology and Creative Writing); the relationship between poetry and ‘embodied learning’ (Drama and Psychology); the benefits of poetry as distinct from other kinds of writing (Literature and Education) and the applications of poetry (Philosophy and Literature).  The interdisciplinary pairs have proposed ways of testing the benefits of poetry in each of these situations; and, as a team, we have discussed and developed their ideas, informed by an extensive literature review by Research Fellow Dr Karen Simecek (University of Birmingham).

This approach has led to the piloting of some innovative research techniques.  For example, to test the benefits of incorporating a more ‘affect’-oriented approach from ‘applied poetry’ into mainstream education, we have combined literary seminar discussion (designed by Literature colleagues) with emotion-focussed questions (proposed by our team member who uses poetry in her work with post-traumatic patients); and enlisted a combination of psychology questionnaires and discourse analysis to evaluate the cognitive and affective orientation of the participants before, during and afterwards.  Likewise, we have combined historical perspectives on the value of poetry with a practical experiment that gauges the relative effects of poetry and prose on readers and hearers; and we have combined rehearsal techniques from drama with new insights in psychology into the effectiveness of ‘embodied learning’ to understand the effects of movement on memory and learning.  Along the way, we have considered the effects of encountering poetry in groups and social settings rather than alone, with fascinating results.

In developing new research methods for measuring the value of engaging with poetry, we have greatly benefited from conversations with other participants in the AHRC Cultural Value Project – in particular Philip Davis’s work on the value and benefits of The Reader Organisation’s Volunteer Reader Scheme; and the exploration of Shakespeare’s sonnets in Peter Lamarque and Gregory Currie’s ‘Cognitive and Aesthetic Values in Cultural Artefacts’ project.  Our own ‘Uses of Poetry’ blog – usesofpoetry.wordpress.com – draws connections with relevant poetry projects and discussions around the world.

This week, we tested out some of our new measures of the value of poetry at an exciting World War One poetry event for members of the public in Stratford-upon-Avon.  We are looking forward to reporting back on the results!

Dr Kate Rumbold (University of Birmingham) is Principal Investigator on the ‘Uses of Poetry’ project.  She is working on a six-month project with co-investigators Prof. Patricia Riddell (Head of Psychology, University of Reading), Prof. Viv Ellis (Head of Education, Brunel University), Research Fellow Dr Karen Simecek (University of Birmingham) and team members Dr Abigail Williams (University of Oxford), Dr Jaq Bessell (Guildford School of Acting, University of Surrey), Dr Clare Rathbone (Oxford Brookes University) and Emma Howell (Ark Project).

usesofpoetry.wordpress.com

Sally Munt: Cultural Values from the Subaltern Perspective: A Phenomenology of Refugees’ Experience of British Cultural Values

This project seeks to understand the value located in a range of arts/cultural activities to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, a group new to British cultural life who are often marginalised from ‘mainstream’ cultural activities, but who are simultaneously expected to adopt a hegemonic national identity of Britishness and henceforward espouse British cultural values. Refugees are a group who typically have experienced forced migration, oftentimes related specifically to their own – often fiercely defended – cultural activities and values in their country of origin. This migratory biography makes for a complex, rich contribution to how we think about the value of arts and culture, and cultural expression, in the UK today.

We will investigate the standpoint of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants on British cultural values, benefitting from their ‘outsider within’ perspective.

British cultural values are not unitary, nor are they precisely definable, they are shaped and refined by participation and engagement. We will seek to identify the components of cultural value embedded in a set of typically British arts and cultural pursuits, based in and around the city of Brighton.

We will break down the components to be identified using a range of methods that focus on the discrete senses, and on the particular forms of embodiment that such activities claim. We want to examine carefully what constitutes the experience of involvement in the arts and cultural sphere, so we will also be collecting information on the cognitions and emotions that are attached to such experiences.

Refugees constitute a unique case: migrants pay acute attention to the acculturation of British values. This attention can be a protective mechanism, a philosophical choice, an attempt to move away from a traumatized past or culture of origin, an imposed set of norms, or a way of making their enforced dislocation intelligible. Refugees are legally required to learn British cultural values in order to be ‘awarded’ citizenship, via the Home Office instrument, the ‘Life in the UK’ Test (which will be interrogated in group discussion). Whatever the reason, refugees have an acute sensitivity and prescient awareness of ‘what makes us British’. Yet, often their access to the cultural industries can be severely restricted, due to explicit factors such as economic barriers, and due to implicit factors such as the perceived ‘Whiteness’ of some art/cultural pursuits (eg. premier league football, and the opera – two performances that will form part of our programme).

This project will take the form of a 16 week course, called ‘What is British Culture’, offered to 14 women refugees. Through a range of arts and cultural activities, we will assess refugee’s embodied experience of participation and reflection, gathering sensory information through creative expression. In order to gather robust data, the course is quite long and demanding; however we have found in previous projects that refugee participants appreciate such commitments as they enable a strong group identity to form, which can continue informally after the planned meetings finish, providing a sustainable resource.

As researchers we have our own cultural values: our model is taken from feminist praxis. Feminist epistemologies focus on the way “in which gender does and ought to influence our conceptions of knowledge, the knowing subject, and practices of inquiry and justification” (Anderson 2004). At the core of feminist epistemology is the concept of the situated knower, who produces situated knowledge. Donna Haraway (1998) famously argued that most knowledge, in particular academic knowledge is always “produced by positioned actors working in/between all kinds of locations”. Collaborative learning, respect for social difference, creating an environment of mutual support, listening and consideration for others, these characteristics are all markers of the feminist classroom, cultural values which we hope to emulate in the process of the research.

We are now two thirds of the way through the project and have recruited 14 women from 9 different countries including Sudan, Iran, Iraq, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Palestine, Zimbabwe and Ghana. Attendance has been strong, and we have completed a range of activities including visits to Brighton Royal Pavilion, Brighton Jubilee Library, Brighton Museum, Preston Manor, a seaside walk on the seafront, yoga and meditation, and life history exercises, and are looking forward to watching England womens football team play Montenegro live at the Albion Stadium, and attending Onegin at Glyndebourne Opera House. We have completed individual interviews, focus groups, and ten class meetings. We look forward to exploring our findings.

Susan Ashley – Memorialisation as valuation: the Chattri Memorial

Chattri

The Chattri Memorial and annual service, on the Downs near Brighton, dedicated to the Indian soldiers who fought on the Western Front during the First World War. Photo courtesy Bert Williams.

This research explores the continuing and changing processes of valuation at the Chattri World War I Memorial, which has stood in a remote part of the Sussex Downs since 1921. The marble domed Chattri, granite platform and surrounding gardens were constructed to honour the 53 soldiers from undivided-India who were cremated on this spot. Since that time the Chattri has been through phases of disuse, pilgrimage and ceremony. I am studying the Chattri as a spiritual place, heritage object, and space of cultural practices, complicating our ideas about what constitutes Culture and Value.

This memorial is a fascinating example of Culture framed not as ‘the arts’ or as ‘the best that has been thought and known’, nor even as an anthropological ‘whole way of life’ (Griswold, 2008), but as the symbolic, expressive and sometimes spiritual realm of human behaviour. Instigated, as with most monuments, as a political tool (Hyson & Lester, 2012), the memorial’s impact lies in its extraordinary affective presence. Physically located high on a wind-swept down, with an ‘exotic’ architectural style, and possessing a unique minority ethnic history, the site has been animated each year since 1951 by a cultural ceremony that is both solemn and formal, and social and joyous, producing in participants a sense of an electric resonance and importance.

The British government, Brighton city, the British Legion, and now a consortium of local residents with Sikh, Indian, Caribbean and British ties have all had a hand in the memorialising practices at the Chattri. My research will piece together a narrative of changing senses of valuation expressed through the activities and performances of people at the site. This will come from my personal experience and scrutiny of the activities; analysis of media discourses over the years, and observations of participants and organisers gleaned through interviews and workshop. I am curious to inspect my own ideas on the factors that affect valuation, in relation to the ideas that emerge from participants.

One of the themes I will interrogate is how the ‘publicness’ of memorialising structures and activities set conditions of valuation – that such in-public displays and performances make strong intentional statements of value. Monuments are peculiar fixed objects of heritage characterised by this intention to proclaim value, and through their public prominence and permanence, project that value (and those values) into the future. The annual event is itself an in-public ritual of self-presentation on the part of organisers and participants – a form of ‘public culture’. As symbolic and expressive performances, intentionally situated in a public setting, these ceremonial activities differ from everyday cultural participation or arts spectatorship.

But what is considered important changes, runs into conflicts, and evolves, depending on the subjectivities and perspectives of those involved. Who is deemed a ‘stakeholder’ in these processes, or who self-selects as stakeholder, determines who gets to speak and define value not only within dominant discourses but within the minority communities of interest. How do such communities of interest come together as ‘publics’, determine who may contribute, and present their ‘selves’ in-public in statements of valuation? And how will participants choose to express their senses of value to me as I seek them out as research subjects? We hope that by using discourse analysis we will be able to tease out answers to such questions.

I anticipate that this study, to be completed in the midst of the centenary of WWI, will lead to further research as interest in the war builds over the next four years, and as the experiences of non-Western war participants becomes a source of contention. The Chattri is now isolated and is operated by self-organized and voluntary participants, but this could change if the Chattri Group choose to get involved in the broader commemorations. How value is defined and supported by outside agencies could (again) influence the shape and practices of those who support the memorial.

Helen Manchester – Teenage Kicks: exploring cultural value from a youth perspective

Nandos, chips and mapping: approaches to researching with young people

The words ‘skinheads’, ‘punks’, ‘emos’, ‘goths’ and ‘geeks’ conjure particular images, emotions and often specific musical genres and attitudes. From the dawn of ‘youth culture’ in the 1950s, scholars in cultural, literacy and youth studies have proposed that a generational account of cultural experience is necessary in order to provide a rich and coherent analysis of culture and the way it is valued. These cultures were seen as productive spaces where ‘common symbols and meanings’ were generated, meanings that often diverged from adult accounts. There was also a recognition in these studies, of the distinctive importance of everyday cultural experiences to young people, which were often viewed in opposition to high culture. These early studies also began to illuminate divisions between young people, taking class, race and gender seriously. Over the same period, sociology has increasingly come to recognise the importance of generational accounts of social phenomena; making visible the ways in which age plays a role alongside class, ethnicity and gender in shaping society and social values.

Meanwhile studies of young people’s social and recreational uses of new media propose that there may be a new fluidity of movement between young people’s everyday experiences of culture and their encounters with more formal cultural organisations (partly as a result of the emergence of a range of digital practices) and that it no longer makes sense to pigeonhole cultural experiences as ‘high’ or ‘low’. We will draw on both the more recent generational and digital cultural analyses of youth culture as well as the longstanding theorization of ‘youth cultures’ from cultural studies, sociology and youth geographies in our research project exploring cultural value from a youth perspective.

Our collaborative research project is working with 12-18 year old young people in Bristol who are differently involved in cultural activities across the city. We’re working with the Arts Council England bridge organisation for the South West, RIO (http://realideas.org/) who are supporting us to gain access to diverse groups of young people as well as in opening up communication with policy makers nationally.

Our project will provide a young person’s perspective on their ‘actual experiences’ of culture and what it is they value about these experiences. Our methods will draw on the team’s prior experience of participatory and collaborative research viewing young people as social actors and producers of knowledge in their own right. We approach our task understanding that young people are not ‘schooled’ in the jargon and discourse of cultural value. It will be revealing to see how young people conceptualise notions of cultural value and impact at the level of the individual, organisation, and society; and whether young people are able to articulate these notions in more concrete, grounded and practical ways. We believe that, with the support of adults, young people’s voices will enable some deconstruction of the current cultural discourse, cutting into a relatively stuck and sometimes sterile debate in new and refreshing ways.

We’ve been negotiating access to groups of young people through local galleries, schools and youth centres and have so far spoken to adults and some young people about the kinds of creative techniques and approaches they use/enjoy. In the more formal organisations we’re working with ‘participating’ young people who are used to being asked to talk about their cultural lives and experiences in round table discussions and are often asked to produce mind maps and written notes. However for young people who are less confident in these situations we’re trying to find different ways of including their voices. Several people we’ve talked to have suggested that we’d probably find young people more willing to talk if we take them to Nandos or if we ask them to take us on a walking tour of their neighbourhood, perhaps stopping for chips on the way. Others have said we might ask young people to visually ‘map’ their experiences, take photographs or produce short devised drama pieces that express their cultural lives. We’re looking forward to experimenting with some of these approaches in order to ensure lots of different kinds of young people are able to tell us about what they value culturally in their lives.

Mark Rimmer, John Street, & Tom Phillips: Understanding the Cultural Value of ‘In Harmony-Sistema England’

In Harmony-Sistema England (hereafter IHSE) is a social and music education programme whose approach and philosophy derives from the activities of the National System of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs of Venezuela. The ‘El Sistema’ programme, developed in the 1970s, emphasizes intensive ensemble participation, group learning, peer teaching, and a commitment to musical learning and music making. It has seen considerable success in Venezuela where numerous youth orchestras have been created in deprived areas to help combat the social problems that blight them.

In 2009 three pilot IHSE projects, based around this El Sistema model, were developed in England. Following the publication of the National Plan for Music Education in 2011, the programme was extended and today there exist a total of seven IHSE projects operating across England. What makes this initiative so interesting to us as researchers – in terms of questions of cultural value – is that while most child-focussed music initiatives in Britain have attempted to link music to forms of social good by employing popular music forms (see, for instance, the ongoing work of Youth Music), IHSE adopts an orchestral model and predominantly uses classical and folk music forms. As a result, the initiative makes for a rich site of engagement with questions of cultural value and their relationship to the broader benefits of music-based participatory arts. In particular, by exploring the ways children and their wider communities understand cultural value in relation to their IHSE projects, our research hopes to not only contribute to recent debates urging the need to transcend the ‘instrumental’ vs ‘intrinsic’ impasse (seen as hindering understandings of the value of the arts), but also, by exploring three different case studies, offer insights into how values relate to the different dimensions of arts activities and experiences. While there does exist a growing set of data relating to IHSE initiatives, to date there has been scant engagement with our primary focus: the ways in which the cultural value, in IHSE projects, is understood and articulated by the young project participants themselves.

Undoubtedly, in this we have set ourselves a number of unenviable methodological and practical research challenges. If only eliciting talk – relevant to matters of cultural value – from primary-aged children (some as young as 5) were as simple a process as putting a Dictaphone down on the table and starting a conversation! Thankfully, many of the issues bound up with conducting research with children have been covered in numerous volumes, and Tisdall et al (2009) summarise some of the debates – which have informed our methodological reasoning – quite usefully. One issue which emerges quite clearly from such work concerns the importance of facilitating the expression of voice on the part of children and the role of adult researchers in relation to this. Prominent as this issue is however, there is little universal agreement about quite how such matters are to be best negotiated, with some scholars noting the desirability of the ‘least adult role’, some disputing whether that is ever realistically possible and others suggesting that it might be more helpful to be an ‘unusual adult’, free from traditional adult/child binaries.

One outcome of our methodological preparations has therefore been to alert us to the need for flexibility and adaptability in our researcher roles as we attempt to vacillate seamlessly between the roles of professional, trustworthy and decidedly ‘adult’ university researchers (when liaising with school staff and other adult stakeholders) while striving for approachability, empathy and (perhaps most challengingly!) a degree of cultural savviness when conversing with our cohorts of young musicians. There can be little doubt here that working directly with head teachers and IHSE tutors to help us determine the most appropriate research methods and activities to support our conversations with children has been invaluable.

Dedicated 'In Harmony' notice board from one of our case study schools

Dedicated ‘In Harmony’ notice board from one of our case study schools

Thankfully then, our chosen methods do appear to be yielding fruit, as our young research participants have spoken – through the course of a series of ‘games’ based around the ranking and ordering of a range of social, cultural and specifically musical activities – to the varied ways in which they figure aspects of cultural value. By adopting this playful approach to the generation of ideas for discussion, we have begun to uncover portraits of not only the range of cultural activities they value and the diversity of ways in which they value them but also insights into how IHSE activity fits into this overall picture. Our project’s data collection phase will continue until February 2014 and we look forward to deepening and systematising our findings over the coming few months.

Lynn Froggett: Public Art and Local Civic Engagement

Public Art and Local Civic Engagement will compare the legacy of two controversial public artworks which appeared in the small coastal town of Ilfracombe in 2012. Damian Hirst’s Verity – a 66 foot high bronze of a naked pregnant woman – towers over the Harbour, sword aloft (and as one blogger observed “appears to be marching on Ireland”) . With one side ‘flayed’ to reveal skull and fetus, she has been described as “pretty hardcore for the fainthearted” and also “quite traditional on many levels”. Conceived by the artist as a modern allegory of truth and justice, she has been loaned to the town for 20 years eliciting comments which range from “poor town!!!” and “Ilfracombe needs all the help it can get” to “Really Cool!”. The financial complexities of Hirst’s generosity have also attracted attention “so this is what you make when you have more money than God. Did he buy the town as well?”

By way of comparison, Alex Hartley’s Nowhereisland – an island made of land from the Arctic, accompanied by its mobile embassy – visited Ilfracombe for a weekend on its voyage around the South West coast as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. On its way from the Arctic, Nowhereisland had been declared a new nation with citizenship open to all. Preparations for its arrival began a year previously, involving several local primary and secondary schools. Nowhereisland’s visit was timed with a local festival, Sea Ilfracombe and the island was welcomed with a Citizens’ March, the Town Crier and singing choirs. The project website was running for the year before the south west journey and included 52 weekly resident thinkers, films and resources. 23,000, people from around the world became citizens of the nation of Nowhereisland and there were 2,700 proposals for the evolving constitution. All of this exploring the question at the heart of the project: “What if an Arctic island went south in search of its people?”

Nowhereisland attracted considerable national and international media attention. Emma Boon was quoted in The Daily Mail, “It’s absurd taxpayers struggling with rising bills are being asked to pay for a piece of the Arctic to travel around the south coast” , while the Arts Council justified funding as “inviting us to consider and debate some of the key issues of our time – including migration, nationhood, global responsibility, human rights and climate change

The quotes reveal the complex, cross-cutting issues surrounding the commissioning and reception of public art and its civic, intellectual, aesthetic, environmental, and economic implications. They raise key questions on the nature of cultural value and what kind of public art we should invest in: permanently sited works by celebrity artists with the potential to attract tourism and commercial interest to a town – or temporary projects which engage and provoke ideas on the quality of present lives and concern for the future. These issues can be researched by conventional methods: interviews and focus groups which access the range of public opinion. Our project will also attempt to understand legacy in terms of the ways in which public artworks create an emotional climate, and can affect the public imagination, asking questions that go beyond opinion: What thoughts and chains of imagery are set in motion by public art?; How far are these shared?; Are people able to see that things might be different?; Is the capacity for creative illusion enhanced?

To do this we will convene and record two very different kinds of public thinking process: a Citizens’ Forum which will debate and analyse in the time-honoured mode of point and counter-point and a visual matrix which will invite reflections and associations to images of the artworks. The visual matrix method is innovative and has been devised and tested by the Psychosocial Research Unit at the University of Central Lancashire to enable ideas to flow in a group setting, framed and led by images rather than words. It offers new ways to involve communities in the consideration of public art. This is the first time the Visual Matrix will have been used alongside a Citizens’ Forum, allowing us to understand the possibilities and limits of both methods, and which parts of the public imagination they reach.