Understanding change: Connecting communities through the arts

Lead Research Organisation: The Robert Gordon University
Department Name: Grays School of Art


The research focuses on the relationships of the artist to the organizational as significant for understanding the role of artistic creativity in the development of communities and their capacity for self reliance. It focuses on Woodend Barn, a leading art centre in rural NE Scotland, as a case study, examining its processes and linkages across different art forms and interest groups. It analyses in what way organizations like the Barn can address issues of economic and social sustainability through participation in artistic creativity.

The Barn establishes dynamic interfaces and complex networks that shape the organization, its sub routines and protocols. The research is practice-led, utilising artists' constructs and protocols for critiquing institutions as well as generating social relations.The researcher will address questions that enable her to examine the Barn as a networked organizational model and flat structure that is focused on developing lateral links between individuals, interest groups, local community, local council and art forms of the highest level.

The research questions how creativity is channeled and provoked by the presence of an artist, and in what ways this presence stimulates critical, socially focused action. It analyses the complex dynamics between the roles of artist, audiences and the organization in supporting the potential for heterogeneity of artistic creativity and its impacts in the social/cultural sphere. It also questions whether these roles can be managed, and if so can management be improved by research based understanding of its processes. We are particularly interested in how a networked organization such as the Barn functions in its communities,how it connects and how these connections develop (or not) self reliance through interdependence between groupings.

The research compares the Barn's construction of arts organization with other organizational approaches elsewhere, in particular examining how each construction articulates and connects values; aesthetic, social and economic. The award holder will test her understanding in practice, plotting a social ecology of artistic engagement within a new initiative: the 'Environmental Art Walk'.

The development of this research within the frame of a collaborative doctoral award adds value in two directions. It provides the Barn with the opportunity to deeply analyse the value of its current trajectory of development, enabling it to take a lead in connecting communities in Scotland. The research is also informed by the requirement for communities to become more self reliant and interdependent as public funding decreases.

Furthermore the research presents the relationship of artist to arts organizational practice as potentially entrepreneurial. Focusing on this relationship has drawn together two previously unconnected domains; that of artistic research and its concern with individual art processes and that of management research and its concern with organizational process. It contributes an important case study to On the Edge's emergent research into the changing aesthetics of the public sphere through the increased convergence between the artist and the organizational. It also contributes to established research into entrepreneurship and socially derived enterprises in rural contexts within Aberdeen Business School.

The research will produce new knowledge in terms of understanding the connection between the way the arts and arts organizations are imaginatively conceptualized, their mode of operation and role in producing communities of different kinds through value, activity and well-being. It comes at an important moment in time for the arts/arts organisations both in relation to public funding as well as commercial economies and their roles in sustaining communities effectively.

Planned Impact

Beneficiaries include

Artists and curators who are interested in formative relations with organisational processes

Organisational leaders (in and outwith the arts) that work with artists/curators in the development of audiences/participants/communities and who are currently having to think creatively in terms of how to survive public cuts

Different communities (geographical/interest) who engage with the arts as part of their development (self reliance through critical engagement and reflection)

Local government bodies (e.g. health, education, youth, 3rd Age, environment) with responsibility for building community confidence and skills

Local and regional businesses, especially small businesses will benefit from the knowledge generated about how connections across communities function

Policy makers in the Creative and Cultural Industries (local, regional, devolved, national, trans-national) interested in the role of culture, specifically art in challenging values and behaviours in the public sphere

Academics in arts practice, entrepreneurship, leadership interested in developing research based knowledge collaboratively with individuals with relevant experience

The research will
Map the kinds of relations the Barn as arts organisation engenders through artists and audiences/participants and how these are sustained through initiatives such as the allotments
Articulate the roles and relationships between the organisation, artists and audiences/participants from within knowledge of arts practice in relation to community development and learning
Interrogate these for evidence of how creativity and entrepreneurship through the arts informs, shapes and builds capacity for social relations, self-reliance and well-being
Create a framework for an Environmental Art Walk that interconnects communities as a social/natural ecology

The research will develop a reference group of representative beneficiaries to monitor progress every six months. Members will receive summaries and documentation that inform them of the research progress. They will include Robert Livingston, Director, Hi-Arts; Fiona Hope, co-founder, Woodend Barn; representatives of Sideline Multi Arts, Woodend Music Society, the Lang Byre Gallery, Third Stage and Woodend Allotments; Chris Fremantle, independent producer and associate with On the Edge; Nuno Sacramento, Director of SSW; Marie Shaw, Aberdeenshire Council Arts Officer.

Other mechanisms for public dissemination of the research include 1-2 week annual exhibition with related open seminar/discussion event involving the Barn's interest groups; dissemination through the respective websites; conference papers as well as live participatory art projects.


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