On the 23rd of May 2013 Research to Action attended the University of Huddersfield‘s Public Engagement and Impact: Articulating Value in Art and Design symposium at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London. The event brought together practitioners from a diverse set of backgrounds to explore the challenges around measuring public engagement in relation to evidencing impact. In this post, one of the Symposium organisers, Dr Anna Powell, situates the impact debate across contemporary issues in the UK cultural sector.
What do we mean by ‘public engagement’?
‘Public engagement’ are current buzz-words in cultural and academic spheres, but what do they actually mean, and how do we measure or record public engagement in relation to contemporary art and design?
How do we define ‘engagement’ with art and design works and who is ‘the public’ to which we are referring? Should we, perhaps, be speaking of ‘publics’, and can ‘engagement’ be more easily understood as different levels of ’encounter’ or ‘interpretation’? Even if these terms can be defined, how then do we measure the instances, or the impact of public engagement in art and design disciplines? Furthermore, how do we effectively communicate and learn from them?
How might issues around public engagement feed into or stem from broader issues and questions such as cultural and political agendas? What might be the future of contemporary art, design and architecture in education, research and practice with or without effective public engagement strategies? How might public engagement issues differ in a contemporary art, design and architecture context compared with other fields? (Why) is it important that publics are able to engage with contemporary art, design research and practice? What can be achieved through effective public engagement strategies? What are the challenges and the barriers to public engagement?
Here in the School of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Huddersfield, we are conducting research into different interpretations of public engagement, and into how people might engage with contemporary art and design in different ways. In particular, we are interested in exploring the different ways in which members of the public are able to encounter and interpret new art and design works.
Through an examination of previous and current exhibitions of work by University of Huddersfield researchers and practitioners, including a 2012-14 partnership exhibitions programme (entitled ROTOЯ) with Huddersfield Art Gallery, we are exploring different ways of measuring public engagement across these disciplines.
ICA Symposium – Public Engagement and Impact: articulating value in art and design
The discussions emerging from this research around public engagement in art and design were further explored at the symposium on the subject at the ICA.
In 2010 The Work Foundation published a report entitled ‘A Creative Block? The Future of the UK Creative Industries’, which stated, ‘the UK creative industries are now under threat from a combination of recession-induced cuts, [and] the global trends towards convergence and digitalization’, adding that, ‘unless acted upon quickly, there will be a block to the UK creative industries…as a driver of growth and innovation’ (Dr Benjamin Reid and Alexandra Albert, The Work Foundation, December 2010).
Successive Arts Council policy goals underlined the importance of greater public engagement and collaboration, with a view to attracting and inspiring new audiences and ensuring the arts are ‘sustainable, resilient and innovative’ (‘Achieving Great Art for Everyone, A Strategic Framework for the Arts’, Arts Council England, November 2010).
It was further observed in 2010, in an AHRC/ESRC report to the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) entitled ‘Measuring the value of culture’, that due to the ‘cooler climate’ facing cultural and arts organisations, central government and parts of the publicly funded cultural sector have recognised the need to ‘more clearly articulate the value of culture using methods which fit with central government’s decision-making’ strategies (‘Measuring the value of culture: a report to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport‘, Dr Dave O’Brien, 2010).
In light of the 2014 Research Excellence Framework these complexities are now being addressed with renewed vigour for UK art and design HE institutions. The symposium explored the social, cultural and political challenges around measuring public engagement in relation to evidencing impact, and the implications of this for those working in Higher Education and Museum/Gallery sectors.
The following video showcases one of our Public Engagement case studies – a partnership exhibition programme with Huddersfield Art Gallery:
Images, feedback from the event and a place for you to contribute/comment can be found here: http://contemporaryartengage.wordpress.com/ica-symposium/
RADAR, the Review of Art, Design and Architecture Research, an annual publication by the School of Art, Design and Architecture at the University of Huddersfield, is exploring some of these issues in its next volume. If you are interested in contributing to radar, please see the call for contributions here. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like more information.