Live Art in Scotland

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Culture & Creative Arts


The Live Art in Scotland project sets out to write a major, missing chapter in the history of experimental arts and cutting-edge performance in the UK, and use that knowledge to inform debates about the future of creative risk-taking as the engine of cultural innovation. Though Scotland has been home to much of the UK's most striking and innovative Live Art (characterised by experimental, experiential and time-based practices) through events such as the National Review of Live Art, existing scholarship on theatre and performance has emphasised a literary dramatic tradition. This means that a significant body of cultural practice - often working in advance of existing styles and tastes to explore new possibilities for the relationship between art and everyday life - has been overlooked to date. This project counters that absence while asking how a history of Live Art in Scotland might inform a broader understanding of the infrastructures needed to foster, support and sustain experimental work in uncertain times. If the future of the UK's cultural economies - and our prosperity as a whole - is tied to creative innovation, how best to support artists and cultural workers seeking new forms and models for artistic expression? How can practitioners, funding bodies and cultural institutions work together to create space for new languages, ideas and strategies for representation?

This project answers those questions by synthesizing archival research in major UK collections with a wide-ranging series of oral history interviews. The first element involves engaging with a range of personal and institutional records in collections across Scotland and the rest of the UK - in the first instance, the Scottish Theatre Archive, the Third Eye / Centre for Contemporary Arts collection and the National Review of Live Art collection. Materials spanning documentation of performances, programming practices, funding applications and personal correspondence drawn from these sources will underpin a materialist account of the conditions through which Live Art has been developed and staged in Scotland. In doing so, the research will consider the relationships between individual artists, groups and the different kinds of institutions working to support and present their work - including building-based organisations or venues like The Arches, funding agencies like Creative Scotland (and its precursor the Scottish Arts Council) alongside festivals like New Territories or the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This archival work will be extended and counterpointed through a series of oral history interviews with Live Art practitioners from across the sector, bringing well-established voices into conversation with other informants including those sometimes omitted from 'official' accounts (including producers, programmers, stage managers and technical theatre workers). Edited excerpts from these interviews will be released as a free podcast series, offering an easy point of access to the project's engagement with Scotland's rich history of experimental performance.

Beyond contributing a missing chapter to the history of theatre, performance and experimental arts in Scotland - and the UK as a whole - this research aims to inform cultural policy discussions concerning 'resilience' in the creative sector (meaning the ways in which cultural and creative workers respond and adapt to sudden changes or 'shocks' such as venue closures or losses to funding). To this end, the PI will collaborate with academic researchers, institutional policy-makers and arts practitioners from across the sector - developing a new major monograph on the history of Live Art in Scotland, and leading a series of symposia and public forums. A unique micro-publication 'zine will reproduce materials drawn from the project's archives alongside specially commissioned artist contributions, and be made available as a free publication online and at key festivals and venues across the UK.

Planned Impact

1) Arts practitioners and funding/support organizations working across the fields of Live Art, new and interdisciplinary performance in Scotland.

The PI will curate and run a series of sectoral forums with practitioners, programmers, producers, venue representatives, invited researchers and other stakeholders in sites across Scotland. These events will provide a platform for those currently working across the field of Live Art to explore its history and discover opportunities for collaboration or resource-sharing. The purpose of these events will be to create spaces in which Scotland's distributed Live Art community (focused on the central belt but extending far beyond it) can reflect on the current state of the sector and begin to plan for its future, while also creating pathways for research dissemination in the form of 'lightning talks' centered on material selected from the project's archival sources. A strand of themed discussions will focus on the relationships that exist between individual arts workers (most often working on a project basis) and established organisations in receipt of longer-term funding, facilitating participants to imagine and assess structures of support that better acknowledge and respond to differences in access to resource.

These forums will also support the development and refinement of the project's guide to Live Art infrastructures in Scotland, published to the project's website and distributed/advertised to the sector via Creative Scotland, Take Me Somewhere and the CCA's websites. Initially developed by the PI in consultation with Creative Scotland's Interdisciplinary Performance officer and the project's advisory board, and through feedback in the sectoral forums, this resource will map sources of funding, support and development accessible to practitioners working in Live Art in Scotland. Together, the forums and infrastructure guide will drive understanding of the distribution of responsibilities for risk and resilience across the sector, support challenges to the unexplored assumptions that frequently underpin 'resilience thinking' and use the resulting insights to inform the future direction of (infra)structural reforms.

2) Individuals from the general public interested in experimental performance and arts practices.

Working with a designer, the PI will create and edit an original archival zine, published digitally on the project website and made available as a limited-edition hard copy distributed to key arts venues and festivals across Scotland and the rest of the UK. This publication will comprise the reproduction of images or other documents from the project's primary archives alongside specially commissioned images/texts, and offer an immediately accessible point of entry to the project's engagement with the history of Live Art in Scotland. The archival zine will complement - and signpost - the project's podcasted series of oral history interviews that form one of its central outputs, indicating the ways in which different registers of historical knowledge may intersect, while simultaneously engaging audiences and artists as active participant witnesses in the construction of new historical accounts.

3) The media.

The PI will distribute press releases to promote and advertise the project and its activities e.g. to recruit participants for oral history interviews; on the launch of the archival zine; to advertise the sectoral forums. Targeted media will include: national media in Scotland and the UK; arts industry media (e.g. The Stage, ArtsHub, ArtsProfessional); related bodies (e.g. The National Archives blog, the Live Art Development Agency newsletter). The University of Glasgow's Communications and Public Affairs Office will provide support in the development of press releases and media contacts. This activity will foster and develop the broader profile of the research and of Live Art in Scotland.


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