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.

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Trish Winter: A Somatic Ethnography of Grand Gestures Elders Dance Group

‘Close your eyes and watch your breath’

says Paula, and there’s a little giggle in the room.  We obediently close our eyes, and I watch my breath enter in a cold rush, prickling the edges of my nostrils.  It triggers a kind of release in my throat, before being sucked into lungs which I imagine as monstrous tree branches, waving and pulsing in the dark cavity of my chest.  This watching takes in a universe of sensation – the temperature and movement of air into my body, the muscular stirrings, tensions and releases involved in both breathing and sitting still, the temperature of the room registering both on my skin and from inside my body as the occasional shiver.  Here I am in a chilly church hall in North East England doing fieldwork for my somatic ethnography of Grand Gestures elders dance group.

This project asks about the place of bodily sensation in cultural value through a case study of older people dancing. In particular the study focuses on the somatic senses, the cluster of senses that relate to touch.  This includes the external sense of touch on the skin, as well internally felt senses such as kinaesthesia (the sense of movement), proprioception (the sense of position in space), balance, and something that we might call physical empathy – that sense of physical connectedness that can be felt as we dance together.  A key part of the experience of dancing, these senses are not much written about in the body of academic and arts professional publications that examine the impact of dance on health and well being among older people.  But, for example, how does the development of a heightened sensory awareness feed into an understanding of one’s self and identity? Or what is the place of touch and physical empathy in the building of a community through dance?

I’ve approached the ethnography as a collaboration with the dancers of Grand Gestures and their lead artist, Paula Turner.  This group of men and women, aged from 54 to 90, meet once a week as part of a project, Creativity Matters, run by the charity Equal Arts. Through interviews, participant observation and a range of creative exercises, we are exploring together the value that these older dancers attribute to their dance activity, and the place of somatic sensation in that.  We’re also addressing some thorny questions about how sensory experience, subjective, sometimes fleeting and tricky to describe, might be articulated in words and in other ways.  The dancers are energetic and engaged participants in the research, and we’re generating a vast amount of research material such as reflective writing, drawing and painting, pottery, film, and sensory diaries, as well as interviews and fieldwork notes.

As we enter the final two months of the project, ideas and themes are starting to emerge from this potentially overwhelming volume of ethnographic material, and it is both exciting and daunting to be starting to tease out some responses to my initial research questions.  I’ll be taking these back to the group for their feedback and I look forward to seeing my project’s results take shape as a contribution to the Cultural Value Project.

Trish Winter, University of Sunderland, is the Principal Investigator of the project, A Somatic Ethnography of Grand Gestures Elders Dance Group.  It runs from 31st December 2013 to 31st May 2014.  Equal Arts is the project partner. You can read more about Grand Gestures, Creativity Matters, and Equal Arts on the group’s blog: http://creativitymatterseq.wordpress.com/.

Brian Garrod: Investigation the Role of Eisteddfodau in Creating and Transmitting Cultural Value in Wales and Beyond

Eisteddfodau: The crown jewels of Welsh culture

The eisteddfod is probably the most widely and best-known expression of Welsh culture, other than perhaps the Welsh language itself. The Welsh word ‘eisteddfod’ (the plural being ‘eisteddfodau’) has no direct translation into English, but it refers to a festival of literature, visual arts and performance. There is typically also a competitive element, where participants perform in competition against each other for prizes.

There are many eisteddfodau taking place across Wales each year. Many of these are local affairs, being based in a particular town or village. Many schools also hold eisteddfodau for their students to compete in. There are also eisteddfods that take place in Australia, Argentina and the USA: places to which the Welsh have migrated and settled. The best known eisteddfodau are, however, the National Eisteddfod (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru), the International Eisteddfod and the Urdd National Eisteddfod (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Urdd Gobaith Cymru). The National Eisteddfod welcomes around 160,000 visitors every year and has been held in its current format since 1861, although historians are able to trace its origins back to 1176. This eisteddfod moves around Wales, usually alternating between north and south, and is conducted in Welsh. The International Eisteddfod, in contrast, is held annually in Llangollen and has a multilingual tradition, attracting approximately 120,000 visitors every year. Established in 1947, it focuses particularly on choral music, with performers coming to compete in the eisteddfod from all over the world. The Urdd National Eisteddfod (Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Urdd Gobaith Cymru), meanwhile, is an eisteddfod especially for children and youth. It normally takes place in May and, like the National Eisteddfod, moves around Wales to a different venue each year. All three are televised and together form a summer season of eisteddfodau that people may attend, compete in, volunteer at, or simply watch from home.

The purpose of this project, entitled “Investigation the Role of Eisteddfodau in Creating and Transmitting Cultural Value in Wales and Beyond”, is to investigate the cultural value of the eisteddfodau. The starting premise is that the value of an eisteddfod is much greater than simply its profit or loss-making status, or even its contribution to the local economy, although this can be significant. Rather, the eisteddfodau are valuable because they allow people, both from Wales and beyond, to be entertained, to use the Welsh language, and to connect with the cultural and artistic traditions of Wales. They also build up the cultural capital of the communities from where the audience members and contestants come, helping to bring those communities together, establish and maintain interpersonal relationships and to transfer life-affirming skills from one generation to the next. Eisteddfodau also help to transmit the character and cultural values of Wales to the rest of Britain and the world.

These cultural values of the eisteddfodau have rarely been studied, and it is the aim of this project to achieve an in-depth understanding of how they are generated, consumed and transmitted. Intercept questionnaires with almost 1,000 attendees to this summer’s eisteddfodau have already been conducted, with a view to gaining a broad understanding of the cultural values involved, how they are perceived by attendees and how they are consumed. This has been followed up with nearly 30 in-depth telephone interviews, with the aim of developing further knowledge on how people connect with the values connected with eisteddfodau. The next step is to conduct focus groups with eisteddfod attendees to discover how the cultural values are embedded in communities and transmitted to Wales, the rest of Britain, and beyond.

Speaking to eisteddfod-goers, it is already very clear to us that the eisteddfodau are widely regarded as iconic expressions of Welsh cultural values. To describe them as the crown jewels of Welsh culture would be no exaggeration.