The Social Factory

the blog of King's CMCI PostGrad Society

Higher Education engagement with the art and cultural sector: bridging community knowledge and practices

Dr Roberta Comunian (King’s College London) and Dr Abigail Gilmore (University of Manchester) recently visited Queensland University of Technology to discuss the relationship between higher education and the creative economy in Australia. Bringing the UK experience into this discussion they consider the role of collaborative frameworks for connecting universities with regional arts and creative industries.

Originally posted on Arts Queenland. See original post here: Arts for all Queenslanders Strategy

roberta comunian

Historically universities have been key cultural players in cities and communities, and the UK higher education sector has long been engaging with arts and culture, for example through hosting museums and performing arts spaces on campus and by engaging in academic research on arts and cultural topics and activities. Latterly, there has been a growing pressure from policy to understand better the real contribution (and impact) of higher education to the arts sector and the creative economy, and also to facilitate and support this engagement to enhance its potential. There has been a marked evolution in the thinking and practice of engagement between higher education institutions and the arts and cultural sector in recent years in the UK, which has been fuelled by a series of policy and consultancy research reports as well as by new funding initiatives such as the AHRC Creative Economy Hubs.

Initially, relationships between higher education and the arts and cultural sector have been characterised by the assumption that knowledge sitting within academia can benefit the work and practice of creative practitioners and organisations. Although this ‘ideal type’, which we call in our typology the ‘injection model’, is still relevant to today’s collaborative practices (especially in the case of consultancy work and commissioned research), it remains quite unidirectional. Similarly, collaborations which position higher education institutions as ‘cultural agents’ in their own right (often via their own galleries and cultural infrastructure) can have limited scope in linking university stakeholders with local communities to widen participation.

However, other modes of engagement are emerging to take central stage in this landscape, which question and blur the boundaries and roles of academia and the arts sector. Two dimensions are key to these new, more essentially collaborative approaches: firstly, human capital, and secondly, the production of shared space or ‘third space’.

In reference to human capital there is a clear acknowledgement both within academia and the arts world that collaborations and exchanges are based on individuals and their networks and knowledge. Here the arts is a source of knowledge assets for academia, as theoretical knowledge requires the importing of practice-led expertise, for example professionals engaged in teaching as guests and sometimes even in tenured, permanent positions. Similarly students and academics are encouraged to take part in community cultural activities, which see their ‘local citizenship’ and ‘social responsibility’ as a key element in the dialogue. One interesting case study of shared human capital is at University of Manchester, where the Director of the university-owned Whitworth Art Gallery, Dr Maria Balshaw, is also Joint Director of the Manchester (City) Art Gallery, and has just become the Strategic Lead for Culture for Manchester City Council (you can listen to Dr Maria Balshaw talking about this here).

Shared spaces are another key form of engagement which instigates collaborative practice.  Some shared spaces are physical infrastructures (for example incubation spaces, shared facilities), others are virtual platforms or ‘third spaces’, where academic knowledge mixes and negotiates with specialist knowledge from the art sector and its communities. An example of creating shared space is the curated Public Programme ran by Nottingham Contemporary in close partnership with the local universities (listen to the presentation of Isobel Whitelegg on this project here).

The AHRC-funded research network ‘Beyond the Campus: Higher Education and the Creative Economy’ tries to capture these modes of engagement and dialogue that enable higher education and the arts and cultural sector to add value to each others’ work via collaborative practices and knowledge exchange. It can be difficult to capture the nuances of the wide range of interactions taking place but we hope that a better knowledge of these modes of engagement – and their limits and challenges – can give both academics and creative practitioners better tools for future collaboration on and off-campus.    Whilst early research shows a reciprocal commitment from both parties, there are also challenges and difficulties emerging in the findings specifically in reference to institutional and practical processes and structures and also connected to motivations and rewards for collaboration.  It would be interesting to find out whether these challenges are relevant in the Australian context and whether arts organisations face different issues in their work with academia in Queensland?

Dr Roberta Comunian and Dr Abigail Gilmore

Dr. Roberta Comunian is Lecturer in Cultural  and Creative Industries at the Department for Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College London.  She previously worked at the University of Kent and at the University of Southampton. She holds a European Doctorate title in Network Economy and Knowledge Management. She is interested in: relationship between public and private investments in the arts, art and cultural regeneration projects, cultural and creative industries, creativity and competitiveness.

Dr Abigail Gilmore is Director of the Centre for Arts Management and Cultural Policy at the University of ManchesterHer doctoral research, awarded by the University of Leicester, was on popular music, cultural policy and local music scenes and communities. She has been involved in a range of policy-related academic research projects, including an AHRC funded study of the Millennium Dome, the development of local cultural strategies and creative industries mapping, before going on to work in advisory and consultancy positions to the cultural sector with government departments and non-departmental bodies in the North West, for the last five years.

The research network is supported by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

Feature image:  Queensland Academy for Creative Industries  Photo by Dr Abigail Gilmore

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