Peter Campbell – The Role of Arts and Culture in the Regeneration of Urban Places and Urban Communities: A Critical Review

Arts Council England’s March 2014 report discussing ‘The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society’ states:

“We know that arts and culture play an important role in promoting social and economic goals through local regeneration, attracting tourists, the development of talent and innovation, improving health and wellbeing, and delivering essential services.”

How is it that we have come to ‘know’ such things? Mostly, evidence has been derived from projects seeking to evaluate the ways in which the arts and culture can ‘regenerate’ cities. This evidence often takes the form of data regarding economic or social impacts, constituting a particular view of ‘cultural value’. But where does this evidence come from, and why is it gathered? Indeed, how is it gathered? What is the object of study? And once evidence has been collected, is it reliable?

This critical review seeks to assess the evidence base around the role of culture in urban regeneration by assessing the methods in use to form this evidence base, and accounting for their usage. It does not seek to categorize methods into ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather to consider why any given method or body of evidence would be deployed at a given point to argue the case for the value of culture. Given that academic literature in this area has consistently pointed to the lack of robust evidence in this area for at least 20 years, how can this absence of rigour be understood? And is the Arts Council’s suggestion that, for instance, statistical modelling of national longitudinal datasets may be a particular fruitful area of enquiry to establish more robust evidence in this area in the future a cause for optimism or concern?

The review aims to establish a comprehensive typology of activities assessed and methods used to demonstrate that ‘regeneration’ has occurred, and to analyse the utility of the evidence produced by such methods, by focussing on research carried out over the last 10 years or so in the period in which the notion of ‘cultural regeneration’ achieved greatest prominence. These typologies can then be used to answer questions of key concern to the Cultural Value Project: do the forms of evidence collated to support narratives of regeneration match up with the practices they are seeking to evaluate? Are these narratives of regeneration appropriately supported by the evidence gathered? What would be an appropriate methodological approach for each type of evaluated process, and does practice reflect this? If not, how might we account for this?

By answering these questions the current ways in which ‘cultural value’ is constructed in an urban regeneration context will be both established and critiqued. By delineating the limits of current understanding and knowledge in this area, as well as acknowledging key trends in practice and evaluative methodologies, the review can also indicate how value may be more appropriately constructed in future.


John Holden – The Ecology of Culture

Last year, the AHRC’s Cultural Value Project asked me to carry out research and produce a report about the Ecology of Culture. The report has just been published and can be downloaded from here.

An ecological approach to culture concentrates on relationship and patterns, so I decided to look at how the various parts of the cultural world are linked together, rather than at how, for example, opera or am-dram operates. I read a lot of literature and interviewed a wide range of people – thirty nine of them including a fashion stylist, the conductor of an amateur choir, and a film producer, as well as local authority arts officers, and staff from national museums. What I found was that culture is an organism not a mechanism, and that careers, ideas, money, product and content move around between the funded, commercial, and homemade/amateur parts of the overall cultural world in such a way that those funding categories cannot be disentangled. Everybody is working with a mixed economy model, and everyone has multiple aims and motivations for what they do.

But I wanted to get beyond seeing culture in terms of how it is financed, and to describe the fresh viewpoints that an ecological perspective affords. The concept of ecology helps us to see our position in relation to culture. As with the natural ecosystem, the cultural ecosystem is not separate from us, or related to us, but rather we are embedded in it – it makes us, at the same time as we make it. Culture is always work-in-progress, and always a social process. In addition to that, an ecology is non-hierarchical: all the parts are required to make the whole, and in that sense, all the parts are equal. Treating culture as an ecology brings the qualitative into consideration as much as the quantitative, and treating culture as an ecology is also congruent with cultural value approaches that take into account a wide range of non-monetary values.

Many ecological metaphors, such as emergence, growth, evolution, complex interdependencies, systemic fragility, life cycles, and webs can be applied to the world of culture, and they illuminate the way that culture functions. Biological analogies set up a set of questions, such as: what conditions bring a form of culture into being? How is that form of culture then sustained? What threatens its existence? How can it be nurtured to grow to its full potential? These questions, and others like them, could help artists, administrators and policymakers to understand both the state of their own specific cultural ecology (for example in a town or region, or across an artform) and what actions they could take to maximise the health of the ecosystem. It also emphasises their limited role – no-one can control an ecology, although they can affect it in benign or destructive ways.

The report goes on to propose three new ways of understanding the ecology of culture. One is to think about culture in terms of a creative cycle: new cultural events and forms feeding on the past, making something new, becoming established, and then being re-worked in their turn. The second is about tracing the webs and networks of connection at a local or an artform level – this helps show how robust and productive the cultural ecology is.

The third model argues that there are four essential roles that have to be undertaken within any cultural ecology. These roles are:

  • Guardians, who look after the culture of the past;
  • Platforms, that provide the places and spaces for the culture of the present:
  • Connectors, who make things happen and bring together other parts of the system;
  • Nomads – all of us who, as artists or audiences, interact with the other three roles.

In each case, these roles can be carried out by funded, commercial or unpaid amateur people or organisations. For instance Disney, the V&A, and volunteer heritage groups act as Guardians; and Connectors range from Local Authority arts officers to commercial film producers. Some organisations carry out multiple roles, but most only one.

The report is really only a first step – an attempt to look at culture from a different perspective, using a different set of words and metaphors. I hope that it will make a valuable contribution to the Cultural value Project. Ecologies are dynamic, productive and complex; treating culture as an ecology and not just as an economy opens up all sorts of new ways of describing and understanding what is going on.

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 – – 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

Guest Post: Andrew Prescott – The Values of Memory

The AHRC’s ‘Digital Transformations’ theme is exploring ways in which engagement with digital technologies can transform research in the arts and humanities, enabling researchers to investigate new problems and (we hope) to change the nature of scholarly discourse. The theme also seeks to develop a distinctive arts and humanities perspective on issues posed by the increasing ‘datafication’ of society, such as privacy, identity and security. As theme leader fellow, I have the perfect job, since my role is to liaise with and visit many of the various exciting projects that the AHRC has been funding under this theme, so that I can develop a sense of the overarching lessons and messages which are emerging from their work.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to an inspiring event in the Cultural Quarter of Leicester, the launch of an AHRC-funded project called ‘Affective Digital Histories: Re-creating De-industrialised Places’ which seeks to gather memories about the period from 1970 when many traditional manufacturing industries disappeared from Britain’s towns and cities. The decline of British manufacturing is well known, but the personal stories of the individuals affected are often unrecorded and forgotten. The Affective Digital Histories project seeks to recover and preserve the hidden and untold stories of people who lived and work in former industrial buildings at two locations in the East Midlands: the St George’s area of Leicester, which was formerly the hub of the city’s shoe and textile trade but now forms Leicester’s Cultural Quarter, and Glossop, a mill town in north Derbyshire. The enthusiasm and energy of the project’s Principal Investigator, Dr Ming Lim, and her team were infectious, and the way in which the project is a joint enterprise with community organisations such as the Phoenix Theatre is particularly fascinating.

There is a risk that the rebranding of areas like St George’s in Leicester as a ‘cultural quarter’ can increase the sense of alienation among people who worked and lived there, and who may feel that the area now has little to offer or interest them. The ‘Affective Histories’ project is exploring how digital technology can help local populations continue to feel engaged with areas affected by deindustrialisation. The sharing of memories is at the heart of this endeavour and the project will demonstrate how a digital environment enables such memories to be recorded and used on a scale which was hitherto unimaginable. This also enables the community to become fully engaged with research into a neglected but important part of national history. The ‘Affective Histories’ project is building up an online archive of memories, photographs and stories of Glossop and Saint George’s. In January, the project will place booths in the huge Highcross Shopping Centre which will offer the tens of thousands of local people who visit Highcross the opportunity to record their memories of these areas, creating a huge memory digital store of the St George’s area with an emphasis of the type of everyday memory and reminiscence which is often difficult to find in a conventional archive. It is unusual for arts and humanities research to take place in a shopping centre, but those who contribute their memories will help in preserving for future scholars insights into the profound changes which overtook Britain from the 1970s.

The project has produced two apps which are available for iPhone and iPad users from the App store and for Android users from Google Play, The first app is called ‘Sounds of the Cultural Culture’. Among the biggest changes which have take place in British cities over the past fifty years are environmental changes, including changes in the sound of everyday life. In particular, industrial noises which dominated life in British cities for nearly two hundred years have disappeared. The ‘Sounds of the Cultural Quarter’ app enables users to hear both past and present sounds associated with different places in the cultural quarter, and to recapture something of that lost industrial soundscape. The second app is called ‘Hidden Stories’ and presents five specially commissioned stories describing memories of life in Leicester’s Cultural Quarter. Users of the app can use the stories to follow a trail around the quarter, uncovering hidden histories associated with places such as the old Imperial Typewriter factory or Rowley’s Sock Factory.

The eye-catching aspect of apps such as these is naturally the digital wizardry of the local technology company, Cuttlefish, and in this way the project itself feds directly into the digital economy of the Cultural Quarter. But what struck me was that much of the creative excitement around the ‘Hidden Histories’ app derived from the commissioning of local writers to produce stories for the app. This is a reminder that cultural regeneration depends as much on the encouragement and promotion of creative talent as on technology. The ‘Hidden Histories’ app is attractively and robustly realised, but what makes the app compelling is the high quality of the writing it presents. This writing depends on the engagement of each of the writers with different memories of the area, which they supplemented by using the Special Collections of the University of Leicester and the City Archive, thereby achieving what one of the contributors calls a ‘deep mapping’ of the memory landscapes of this part of Leicester. This is a reminder that, in a digital economy, creative content – in such forms as novels, poetry, archives, drawings and sound – is a fundamental asset. Moreover, much of this creative content is rooted in and draws its values from memory.

Memory, as scholars such as Pierre Nora have shown us, animates many different aspects of the arts and humanities, from studies of classical civilisation through to contemporary history. The lifeblood of much of the arts and humanities consists of cultural memory. What is striking about the ‘Affective Histories’ project is the way in which it draws on memory to directly assist in the economic regeneration of this area of Leicester. Perhaps memories are among the most important assets that places such as Leicester and Glossop possess.

For much of my lifetime (I am a child of Harold Wilson’s white-hot revolution of technology), computing and digital technologies have been presented in Britain as an escape route from industrialisation – a means of replacing a dirty and physically demanding form of economic activity with cleaner, more modern and knowledge-based activities. I have suggested elsewhere that, from a historical point of view, the lines of continuity between the industrial and digital revolutions may be stronger than is often allowed. At the heart of the ‘Affective Histories’ project is the idea that memories of older industrial ways of life may feed in many different ways into regeneration. For example, archival materials and storytelling may provide raw material for some of the creative firms springing up in places like St George’s. Regeneration may also be fostered by encouraging the local population to share their memories, thereby promoting connectivity and creativity. Memories of small-scale industrial activity may also encourage the establishment of ‘pop-up’ activities linking new technologies with education and older tradition, such as the New Incunable Print Shop, developed with the artist collective Juneau Projects where visitors can make 3D-printed woodblocks based on their own drawings, and use them to create original prints and artworks. An activity like the New Incunable Print Shop uses new fabrication techniques to reimagine the older industrial and craft traditions of Leicester’s cultural quarter, creating an triangulation between memory, new forms of economic activity and regeneration.

It is easy to assume that, in the globalised world fostered by the internet, regional traditions will fade away and become irrelevant. Yet the ‘Affective Histories’ project suggests that local memory and identity may assume new and distinctive roles in a digital economy. The arts and humanities have an important role in fostering the digital world as a place of memory. The way in which the ‘Affective Histories’ project harks back to the days of hosiery, shoes, tanning and typewriters, and uses these memories to invigorate the cultural life of Leicester’s cultural quarter, is striking. But Leicester is not a unique case. In Sheffield, the cultural quarter similarly looks back to the traditions of the ‘small mesters’ of the cutlery and metalwork trades there. Another project recently launched in the East Midlands was a pair of GPS-enabled shoes designed by the artist Dominic Wilcox with Stamp Shoes and Becky Stewart. The shoes use GPS to guide the wearer home using a sequence of LED lights on the toes. These shoes were commissioned by Northamptonshire County Council as part of the Global Footprint project, and again echo the long-standing shoemaking traditions of Northampton. I was fascinated to hear Gareth Neal talk in the recent Make:Shift conference organised by the Crafts Council about the Bodging Milano project which sought to revisit the ancient furniture making methods associated with the bodgers. In another AHRC project, the University of the West of England, which undertakes cutting-edge work on the 3D printing of ceramics, is working with Burleigh Pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, the last remaining company to produce ceramic tableware decorated using the traditional printed underglaze tissue method, in order to find a means of restating this method of ceramic decoration in a digital environment.

These old traditions of small mesters and bodgers, of underglazing and hosiery, still have a great deal to contribute to the way in which we think about new economic activities, and arts and humanities researchers can help us reconnect with the memories of these traditions.

Guest Post: Ariane Koek – Art and Science Conversations

The 21st century is being heralded as the era when arts and science interactions finally come of age. That’s according to José Carlos Arna the Director of Etopia – the visionary art and technology centre which opened two years ago in Zaragosa, Spain, in the midst of the economic crisis.

It is being forecast that the influence of arts/science interactions mixed with technology on culture will be as significant as the technology and arts movement was in the 70s as exemplified by the extraordinary E.A.T project held at Bell Laboratories in the USA. This highly influential project fostered collaborations between such artists as Robert Rauchensberg and dancer Lucinda Childs with engineers like Billy Kluver and Manfred Schroeder. Its influence in performing and visual arts has been felt ever since.

However there is nothing intrinsically new in arts and science interactions. Artists throughout millennia have nourished their curiosity and creativity with the ideas of science and natural philosophy.  What is new in the 21st century is the intense cultural focus on arts/science interactions – partly driven by economics as the arts gets to grips with funding cuts; partly driven by a solution focused society in an era of global challenges, including climate change and political uncertainty; partly driven by the promise of certainty which science holds now for the public.  Innovation is seen as the key to tackling these issues, and new ways of looking which combine the worlds of emotions and feelings (arts) with the worlds of method and reason (science) are seen as the pathway to innovations which will provide the solutions to these global challenges.

The UK has a great cultural tradition of arts/science interactions –  for example the Wellcome Collection and Arts Catalyst, which under the directorship of Nicola Tiscott and curatorship of Rob La Frenais, celebrates its 20th anniversary this month.  This organisation has led the way in showing imaginative cultural engagement in the the arts and science – most recently shown by Agnes Meyer Brandis’s Moon Goose project. Equally, visionaries such as ex dancer Scott de Lahunta have pioneered the engagement of science with dance, bringing neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists to the work of choreographer Wayne MacGregor and his Random Dance Company. Many of Wayne’s early interactions with scientists were in fact supported in 2003 by what was then called the AHRB, leading to the establishment of Wayne’s work to where it is today right at the cutting edge of arts/ science/ technology which it combines with a seamless ease and aesthetic which blurs any boundaries.

This is the cultural context in which I was approached to collaborate with the AHRC Cultural Value Project and AHRC Science in Culture theme. Our joint mission was to work together to create a one day series of conversations between artists and scientists to lay open for investigation some of the values of cross-fertilisation of artistic and scientific practices happening today.

Together, we curated 4 conversations between 4 different already collaborating pairs of artists and scientists, and these were the focus of the day. These conversations were held in front of a specialized and invited audience across the fields of arts and science, who commented, engaged and responded to what was being said. All these views were to feed into the AHRC Cultural Value as well as Science in Culture theme. The aim was to put forward different perspectives on arts/science interactions, uncovering their different permutations, possibilities and differences.

I was asked to be involved because in 2010 I was hired by CERN – The European Organisation for Nuclear Research – the world’s largest particle physics laboratory outside Geneva to be their first Head of International Arts. This is to my knowledge the first time a major international science laboratory has created a post specifically for a cultural specialist, with the remit to put arts and science on the same level as each other and not as a straight forward communications tool. The post was as a result of a 3 month feasibility study into creating an arts programme which I carried out at the laboratory at my own initiative as part of my Clore Fellowship in 2009. The laboratory embraced the feasibility study, and out of it was born the Arts@CERN programme which I created, fundraise for, and direct since April 2010.

One of the four conversations which we curated for the one day workshop featured an artist/scientist combination from the CERN Visiting Artist programme – the lightest touch strand of the Arts@CERN programme which just provides one day curated encounters rather than the intense 3 month curated deep time experiences of the flagship Collide@CERN residency programme.  Nevertheless the one day encounters have impact, leading to many artists either developing projects from these one day encounters, like Mark Baldwin, artistic director of Rambert Dance Company whose new piece The Strange Charm of Mother Nature was inspired by his visit to CERN, and fashion designer Iris Van Herpen’s Spring/Summer 2015 fashion collection featured on the Catwalks of Paris this year. And curation really is the key here – a feature which is often left out of any analysis of arts/science interactions and yet it is something which people like Scott deLahunta do so well and yet so invisibly.

CERN physicist Dr Bilge Demirkoz and Visiting Artist Goshka Mocuga demonstrated so well in an open ended and frank conversation that mutual respect and fascination leads to a continued engagement. They were first introduced in 2012, when Goshka was preparing work for Documenta 13. Bilge’s words about dark matter featured in that exhibition. Since then, Goshka has been commissioned by the Centre d’Art Contemporain to make a CERN inspired work, and continuing her conversations with Bilge is leading to a work in the show which takes into account, amongst other things international politics, relations and the role of science engaging with the unknown.  For Bilge, the experience is opening her up to a different way of seeing the world and engaging with it, through feeling, rather than exclusively intellect. Both say they feel as if this dialogue is only beginning, but what this pair show is the basis of the Arts@CERN programme as a whole – fundamental research for artists at a laboratory famous for fundamental research for scientists.

So what we have at CERN now is a fundamental research laboratory in the widest possible cultural sense – not just in science and technology, but also in the arts too.  This is why I was so keen to collaborate with the AHRC to put together a one day symposium. Also what we do which is highly unusual for an arts programme at a science laboratory is to concentrate on the process of discovery and exploration – and not the end result or product/outcome. Thus seemingly counter intuitively as a result we get significant outcomes  – like the world tour of QUANTUM or Rambert Dance Company’s new piece which premiered this Autumn, The Strange Charm of Mother Nature.   Equally what we do at the lab is work with the arts not to illustrate or describe the science. Instead, the arts and science are put on the same level of mutual inspiration and exchange, with the ideas of science and the arts becoming mutual springboards for the imagination for both. This leads to a non-utilitarian process orientated approach which I feel is incredibly important  and needs to be reflected in any scoping of the arts, science and technology sector.

In our product and application driven age, we are becoming increasingly concerned with outcome, impact and societal use. As a result art is in danger of being reduced to becoming increasingly utilised as a tool and a means to an end, with artists becoming the catalysts and solutions for engineers and scientists. The emphasis is moving from the process of creation to exclusively focusing on the outcome/end, in a movement which I call art by design/application. There is nothing wrong with this per se. What is wrong however is the potential for art by design/application becoming seen as the be all and end all of artistic practice – the most fundable because it is outcome and quantitatively driven.  This is due to pressures of economics, quantitative evaluation and funding mechanisms, and it is in danger of   excluding  other ways of creating and making art/ arts, science and technology interactions, namely the more open ended approach like the one we do at CERN.  After all, the open ended approach in science and technology has led to cultural revolutions, like the invention of the worldwide web at CERN.

This belief in openness and the necessity for fundamental research in the arts, like in science, is reflected in the way I strategically created, structured and direct the CERN arts programme.  I say very clearly that there does not need to be an outcome as a result of the residency – this is because an artist exists to create and make and a work of art takes as long as it takes (and not just 3 months or the Collide @CERN residency). What is important is getting the conditions right so that s/he will create something and to trust both the artists and the process.  So far every single artist on the Collide@CERN residency programme has made something – some, like the sound sculptor Bill Fontana within the first 3 days of being there. Get the conditions right for the process to evolve, and new work will develop and create mutual inspirations between the artists and the scientists with mutual but different benefits. For the artist it is clearly the work. For the scientist it is exposure – contamination even – to the world of feelings, emotions and different connections which artists engage with as well as learning new ways of communication, thinking and being in their every day lives.

Thus in part of the conversations for the one day symposium, Visiting Artist Goshka Mocuga exchange thoughts and ideas with Dr Bilge Demirkoz. This is very much the beginning of a relationship which began in 2011 with Goshka’s first Visiting Artist curated experience when she was developing a new show for Documenta 13 in Kasel, Germany. Bilge’s reflections featured in her work and they have continued exchanging ideas ever since. This has an additional resonance because as a Turkish woman scientist, Bilge’s position will also be reflected in a renactment of one of Goshka’s previous works which is happening as part of a major new show at the Centre d’Art Contemporain in Geneva.

What is clear from observing them interact is the inspiration they get from each other and the quality of thinking between them. It is a creative collisions between different points of view which leads to further understanding as well as different ideas and approaches to practice. But it can’t be quantified, as such. Bilge can not say how it has changed her science. All she can say it has changed her ways of thinking and looking at the world.

So when we look at the 21st century as being heralded as one between the arts, science and technology, lets also include in this vision the necessity for fundamental creativity – creativity which does not have a defined application or outcome. Fundamental research in the arts is just as much as threat as it is in the science in our world and in this sense they are common allies.. As Peter Higgs said recently, he would have never been able to have had a career in science today, because he could not prove that the theory of the Higgs Boson he was creating existed – catch 22. Equally Tim Berners-Lee under today’s conditions might never have been able to carry out further investigation into his idea for how laboratories could communicate with each other. After all, his supervisor wrote a note which said ‘Vague but interesting.”

Yet it is through openness, the liminal cross over points, and interactions that paradigms can be shifted and changed. With a mixed creative economy, we crucially leave the door open to the unexpected, to the ineffable and creative change in all its manifestations.

Guest Post: AHRC Care for the Future Theme

Professor Andrew Thompson is Leadership Fellow of the Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past Theme. Christine Boyle is the Theme Co-ordinator.

On 9th and 10th September 2014, the Cultural Value Project worked with Care for the Future to organise a joint symposium on ‘Culture, Conflict and Post-Conflict’, a topic suited well to the research interests of both programmes. The purpose of the symposium was to consider the role of arts and cultural practices and performance in the process of post-conflict resolution and transformation.

Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past affords an opportunity for arts and humanities researchers to explore the dynamic relationship that exists between past, present, and future through a temporally inflected lens. The past is all around us. The future’s uncertainties weigh heavily on the present and turn us back to history for insights into the age in which we live. Environmental change, pressures on welfare, technological advances, humanitarian interventions, and the causes and effects of globalisation are all being subject to historical scrutiny in myriad ways.

The Theme opens up fascinating issues of intergenerational communication, and of who and what purposes histories are written for.  It also looks at how the past is set out for different needs, and whose voices are heard and silenced in the process. Great interaction under the theme between disciplines across the arts and humanities enable us to think through complex questions, including the consciousness of time; and whether history can furnish us with moral obligations.

Care for the Future awards grants to researchers investigating issues of time and temporality. Three Large Grants were recently awarded under the theme; these are innovative and collaborative research projects involving over 50 different UK and international partner organisations, and which will serve as ‘beacons’ of the theme to develop and promote the intellectual work done under Care for the Future.

Assembling Alternative Futures for Heritage led by Dr Rodney Harrison at University College London, will compare a range of conventional and unconventional future-making practices from a number of different heritage and heritage-like fields. It aims to facilitate co-creation and sharing of practical knowledge across domains of practice which are rarely considered collectively and to contribute to the development of innovative and sustainable approaches to heritage conservation.

The second award is The Antislavery Usable Past, led by Professor Kevin Bales at the University of Hull. There are an estimated 30 million slaves alive today; this project seeks to provide the contemporary antislavery movement with a usable antislavery past and help translate history’s lessons into today’s effective tools for policy makers, civil society, and citizens.

Dr Stephen Muir (University of Leeds) leads Performing the Jewish Archive. This project’s objective is to bring recently rediscovered musical, theatrical and literary works by Jewish artists back to the attention of scholars and the public, and to stimulate the creation of new works based on archives. This scholarly work and artistic practice will engage with and re-theorise traditional archives, ethnographic archives, and artistic works themselves. The multi-disciplinary team will focus on the years 1880-1950, an intense period of Jewish displacement, in order to illuminate the role of art in displacement. Information on other projects taking place under the Theme can be found at

In addition to awards like the Large Grants above, we also hold events to bring together award holders and other researchers concerned with Theme-relevant issues. A major sub-theme for us is cultural memory and historical legacy – how we understand knowledge of the past to have been translated into the present.  For the Care for the Future: Thinking Forward through the Past Theme, questions of memory, healing and trauma, as well as the dynamics of relationships between generations, are of great concern. The Theme seeks to understand how societies come to terms with difficult and divisive pasts, how past conflicts are reproduced in present generations, and how different creative, literary and artistic modes of engagement with the past may help to envisage alternative futures.  It recognises the complexities of cultural phenomena, and the need to distinguish between the role that culture can play in the politics of identity formation and representation on the one hand, and its role through in the mediation of conflict on the other.

The recent ‘Culture, Conflict and Post-Conflict’ symposium is one event we have used to bring together arts and humanities academics and arts practitioners to interrogate these concepts. Participants considered the role of arts and cultural practices and performance in the process of post-conflict resolution and transformation, explored with special reference to conflict and post-conflict situations within the boundaries of states, primarily South Africa, Northern Ireland and Bosnia. Art and culture are often given some prominence amongst the tools that are used to reconcile communities and to help deal with personal and collective trauma. The symposium explored why that is the case, how effective it is to use these tools, and what complexities surround their usage.

Find out more about the event here: As part of the symposium we had an excellent performance by Kabosh theatre company of Laurence McKeown’s Those You Pass on the Street. You can learn more about the work of Kabosh theatre company here:

Guest Post: Jon Dovey – Valuing Creative Citizens

Media, Community and the Creative Citizen, Connected Communities

As we wrote in our mid-term report, we are witnessing an explosion of new, digitally-produced and often co-produced content as well as an expansion of access due to digital technologies and social media; these technologically-induced changes are forcing the need to re-think the inherited and one-dimensional model of what culture is and how it should function in our society. The Creative Citizens initiative – introduced below by Professor Jonathan Dovey – responds to this challenge by seeking to understand how new forms of creative citizenship can be unlocked through digital media. As Jon suggests in the last paragraph of his entry – there are some differences between the Creative Citizens project and the Cultural Value Project, perhaps most notably that our project (CVP) is not primarily or exclusively concerned with the digital forms of vernacular production of cultural value (this said, we do have some very interesting projects in this area!). We have however many shared interests – not the least, in figuring out how the sense of individual agency triggered by cultural engagement may translate into a sense of collective agency – so we very much hope that our approaches will meet, as Jon suggests they should.

The Creative Citizens research project was one of three funded in 2012 as part the of AHRC’s Connected Communities and Creative Economy call. Our central question is how creative citizenship generates value for communities within a changing media landscape and how this pursuit of value can be intensified, propagated and sustained. This inquiry is driven by our understanding that the tools of creativity and communication made available through digital unlock new potentials for creative forms of DIY citizenship. The project is a collaboration between Cardiff University, the University of the West of England, Bristol, the Open University, Birmingham City University, the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre and the University of Birmingham. The team is led by Ian Hargreaves, Professor of Digital Economy at Cardiff University.

The idea of value is in crisis. The 2008 crash has exposed finance as a dangerous game played by out-of-control algorithms; this crisis produced, in Los Indignados and the Occupy movements, worldwide attempts to articulate new critical value systems. At the same time the ‘web-native’ generation coming to maturity during the age of austerity have an historically-unique experience of practices of co-creation and shared forms of socially mediated organisation. These recent histories remind us that value is never stable – it is a permanently contested terrain. Plural belief systems condense as commensurable values through complex discursive, cultural and political processes.

We have been investigating social production in three sites, the burgeoning field of hyperlocal journalism where self-started online news operations are filling the void left by the collapse of local journalism; secondly, in the field of community-led design where local people mobilise themselves to co-design new spaces or services; thirdly, in informal creative networks where aspirational digital start-ups in design, music, media and tech have a range of invisible impacts on their communities.  Our approach to value is in some way distinct from that of the Cultural Value Project – our emphasis rests on the ‘supply side’ rather then the experience of culture for its users. Indeed one of our presuppositions is that user/producer distinctions are collapsed in the digital media milieux that interest us. Our general approach to value is also led by the idea that value is relational. Even ‘intrinsic’ value is produced through a network of relations (otherwise it would merely be subjective judgement).  This recognises that creative-citizen networks are mobilising and activating different valuing practices. Agents in the value-creating constellation will be driven by different values.

We can identify a clear range of different kinds of value in these processes – value that contributes to what we might call Citizen Benefit:

  • Most clearly at a personal level, respondents speak of how their activities with the process we have investigated have changed them, offered them new routes, new assets and contributed to their personal sense of empowerment.
  • These subjective benefits lead into other more obvious benefits in terms of education, training and skills. Commitment to the processes we looked at was either motivated by a desire to increase employability or resulted in unexpected enhancements of prospects. The unemployed journalists who started the Port Talbot magnet are typical: “There was an opportunity. There was a desire to do something to create jobs; that was the starting point. We wanted to create jobs for ourselves. We didn’t want to just sit there and go, well, the old traditional paymasters are not providing us with jobs anymore, boo-hoo, let’s all go and be press officers. We decided we wanted to do something proactive about that and try and maintain ourselves in journalism in a more entrepreneurial way, and to try out new ideas. “

Such an attachment to self-realisation might normally be associated with a strongly entrepreneurial drive, a restless seeking out of new opportunities for development and growth. However we frequently find that this motivation and drive is here understood as a driver of both, personal or commercial development and, at the same time, a community-level asset development. These personal values are also drivers of social value:

  • The creative practices of social media and other digital communication technologies produce a value flow between individual subject, enterprise and community network. South Blessed, in Bristol’s St Paul’s for instance, hosts over a 1000 music videos from the region on its website which constitute a creative community that combats division across different suburbs of the city.
  • The activities we looked at were clearly appreciated by users in terms of local representation and participation. The maintenance of a local public sphere is a motivating value for producers and users alike in the hyperlocal news networks; local news services and police liaison groups appreciated the contributions to community coherence that our respondents made.
  • Community design groups, hyperlocal news and informal creative networks in cities were all identified as creating value in different ways for urban regeneration processes.

We are getting to the end of our 20-month project. We started to draw together some of our findings at the Creative Citizens conference, which took place on 18 and 19 September at the RCA ( – where we hosted a joint workshop with the Cultural Value Project, with contributions from Eleanora Belfiore of Warwick University and Patrycja Kaszynska (AHRC). The session confirmed some significant distinctions between approaches. Primarily these have to do with our different sites of investigation, the Creative Citizens research has been focused on everyday creativity afforded by digital media. Our approach to value has therefore not looked at the impacts and transformations of encounters with particular cultural forms but rather at how value accrues within the local public sphere of people’s vernacular creativity. Our analysis of value looks at ‘supply side’ rather than consumption. In the future we might be able to co-operate further in understanding how the distinctions between creative producers and audiences are of declining utility and how understanding these changes might help us to get a better picture of how cultural value is circulated, produced and experienced.

For more information about the Creative Citizens project go to

Guest Post: Norma Daykin – Creating Cultural Citizenship

Creating Cultural Citizenship. Understanding the impact of participatory arts on community health and wellbeing, Connected Communities

Improvements to health and wellbeing is one of the components of the Cultural Value Project; indeed, one where we are supporting a significant number of projects (some of them have already been introduced on this blog and more are still to come). Our objective is first and foremost to understand the processes at work in arts and health practices – this, we believe, is a prerequisite to successful evaluation. As revealed by on-going work in this area, meeting this challenge may require that we think beyond the classical RCT approaches used in drug testing, break down the silos existing in health provision, as well as marry different perspectives from the humanities, social and biomedical sciences. Today’s entry from Norma Daykin (who received a Development Award under the Connected Communities’ Communities, Cultures, Health and Well-Being strand) introduces yet another nuanced voice into the debate. Norma suggests how – in order to appreciate the health benefits of participation in activities such as visual arts and music – we should move beyond the ‘medical model […] focused on individual health outcomes’.

This development project explored the concept of Cultural Citizenship through cross-disciplinary investigation of the role of participatory arts in promoting community health and wellbeing. I had the pleasure of leading this ambitious collaboration between six UK universities as well as project partners drawn from national and regional arts and health advocacy organisations.

‘Cultural Citizenship’ is potentially a strong concept that can illuminate the role of arts and culture in connecting communities and promoting (or limiting) health and wellbeing. At present there is considerable interest in identifying health and wellbeing benefits of participation in activities such as visual arts, music and creative writing. However, much research is framed by the medical model and focuses on individual health outcomes. This project embraced the macro level of policy and socioeconomic context and the meso level of networks and advocacy organisations as well as the micro level of practitioners’ and participants’ experience of arts and health projects, programmes and practices. By introducing questions of citizenship, it broadened the focus of research to include social impacts of arts participation.

The Cultural Citizenship concept has great potential but it is currently very broad: its potential cannot be realised until the concept itself is further elaborated. Our project proposed to do this through the lens of the humanities-based perspective of virtue ethics (VE), which builds on moral philosophy to promote understanding of how society could function for the wellbeing of all. Importantly, this approach identifies the key virtues that are important to particular practice communities, in our case the practice-based communities that are connected through their commitment to participatory arts. By working closely with these communities, we sought to illuminate practitioners’ narratives through a VE lens and to identify the key virtues that are seen as promoting positive forms of citizenship as well as health and wellbeing within the arts and health field. The ultimate ambition was to develop a strong Cultural Citizenship concept that would enable the arts and health sector to influence current policy and practice.

Significantly, while arts participation has many established benefits, we also acknowledged the potentially limiting effects of the arts in culture and commercial media, including celebrity culture and elite arts. By focusing on citizenship, the project brought these wider discourses into the frame of arts and health research in order to strengthen our understanding of arts transcendence in the context of community wellbeing.

Our development project has identified three research questions:
1. What challenges, virtues, narratives and forms of practice excellence do arts and health participants and practitioners identify in relationship to community connectivity, health and wellbeing?
2. How might these narratives be developed through the concept of Cultural Citizenship?
3. How might Creative Citizenship inform understanding of the role of arts in generating (or diminishing) connectivity, health and wellbeing?

What is needed to take this further is an ambitious, mixed-methods study involving coproduction with research participants and stakeholders. This has the potential to provide and elaborate a powerful concept of Cultural Citizenship to guide theory and practice development.

Principal Investigator: Professor Norma Daykin, UWE Bristol
Project Team: Professor Vanessa Burholt, Swansea University, Dr Mervyn Conroy, Birmingham University, Professor Lynn Froggett, UCLAN, Matthew Jones, UWE, Bristol, Dr Rebecca Lawthom, Manchester Metropolitan University, Professor John Mohan, Southampton University, Ann Crabtree, independent arts consultant.
Project Partners: London Arts in Health Forum; Arts and Health South West.

Guest post: Phil Jones – The value of cultural intermediation

Cultural Intermediation: Connecting Communities in the Creative Urban Economy, Connected Communities

Our third guest contribution comes from Phil Jones, University of Birmingham, who is also leading a Connected Communities’ project – Cultural Intermediation: Connecting Communities in the Creative Urban Economy. The question central to Phil’s research – How can the creative economy benefit all and not just a chosen few? – resonates with the Cultural Value Project. Not only are we interested in how the cultural value generated by the creative industries can be captured and evaluated; we ask how the arts and culture give rise to value in the creative economy in the first place (or, to put it more simply, how the cultural sector is related to the creative sector). Crucially, we want to know about the distribution of this value – Who gets to access and benefit in the creative economy sector? Indeed, it is apparent to us that it is no longer sufficient to ask whether the creative economy is a strong driver of development: the key question is whether it promotes a sustainable and inclusive development on social, environmental and economic levels (to use the terminology of the recent UNESCO Creative Economy Report). There are several angles one could take to tackle this question. Phil’s project approaches this problem through the lens of cultural intermediation. Its findings are of great interest to the Cultural Value Project.

From the late 1970s the UK economy became more divided between the haves and the have nots. The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, rose steadily until the mid-1990s and although it has declined slightly since its peak, today there have not been significant gains for more deprived communities who are being left behind as the economy slowly recovers.

Although the creative industries are now a lucrative segment of the UK economy, they tend to have high barriers to entry and a disproportionately large number of people working within the sector have undergraduate degrees. Thus while the creative industries may generate economic growth, the danger is that they have little value in reducing overall inequality.

In our project we have been looking at the people and organisations who try to get communities more engaged with arts and culture. Drawing on the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, we refer to such people as cultural intermediaries, in that they act as bridges, joining up communities and forms of cultural activity that are often disconnected. Within this intermediary sector a great deal of effort is being made to help more deprived communities gain from the benefits of creative economic activity. This is more obvious in the publicly subsidised arts and culture sectors, which have a more overt social mission than the private sector.

There is a belief that the value of engaging struggling communities with different kinds of arts and culture is in inspiring young people to new career paths, raising aspirations and confidence, and a general sense that culture enriches people’s lives. Engaging with a local arts project or going to your local art gallery thus does not immediately hold the key to getting a job in the creative industries, but is often seen as an investment in the future of a community.

This raises important questions about the value of this activity and its sustainability at a time when sources of public funding are drying up. In our work with intermediaries, what’s becoming clear is that the mission of social engagement is under real pressure. Public funders still want to direct cultural activity toward various social aims and make the same kinds of demands of intermediaries as they did in the past when funding was more readily available. For those intermediaries attempting to operate in this austere funding climate the trade-off between the demands of funders and the resource available looks less and less appealing. Other sources of income and types of activity with perhaps less emphasis on the social mission of community engagement may have to take priority even where intermediaries are personally committed to making a difference to communities – artists still have to make a living after all.

Another issue is that large cultural institutions and small community arts organisations are sometimes lumped together as working within the broader cultural sector, but as intermediaries they generate value in very different ways. The primary value of these large institutions is simply not their capacity to raise aspirations in deprived communities on their doorstep, but is instead about international branding and reputation for the host city. The scale of the funding to these larger organisations can and does, however, generate real resentment from smaller, community arts organisations struggling to make ends meet. This of course raises a broader debate about the relative value placed on general economic growth through city marketing as against attempting to directly raise aspirations and enrich the lives of the very poorest in society.

Phil Jones, University of Birmingham