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New Model Visual Arts Organisations & Social Engagement

December 11, 201211 December 2012

Visual arts and heritage organizations

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Based on a literature review, a review of four organizations’ mandates, direct observation, and semi-structured interviews, this study examines how socially-engaged visual arts organizations in the United Kingdom “bring about change in individuals and communities”. The report argues that socially-engaged visual arts organizations, with strong social or civic missions, coherent philosophies of engagement, and clarity of purpose, have “a key role to play in placing the arts at the centre of civil society.”

The researchers outline some key aspects of the socially-engaged arts practice of the four visual arts organizations, including experimentation and diversity. The organizations often produce “audacious, original work, characterised by attentiveness to process and informed by a social agenda”. They are also heavily involved in collaboration, participation, dialogue, provocation, immersive experiences, “engaging with people as social beings”, and stimulating “new forms of connectivity”.

The organizations often insert “art into everyday situations”, thereby demonstrating “that socially engaged art has considerable potential to revitalise the public role of art and to include culturally marginalised audiences”. They also tend to place “local issues and concerns in the context of global development, creating opportunities for cultural exchange, hybridity and connectivity”.

The socially-engaged visual arts organizations are concerned with innovation and ethical practice: “Work that makes a sustained impact negotiates the tensions between ethical practice and aesthetic outcome and actively maintains an environment receptive to the work.” Two other concerns are authorship and participation: “the boundaries between artists, curators and publics are [sometimes] transgressed and the locus of artistic control can shift between any of those involved.”

The report indicates that “projects which produce sustainable change are often intensive and take time. The impacts emerge slowly and are diffuse, complex and difficult to measure.” The researchers also note that the organizations’ efforts may have complex long-term effects, such as “influence on professional practice in other fields; cross-fertilisation with other areas of economic and social activity; long-term sustainable effects on communities; [and] processes of personal change over time.”

The researchers conclude that the efforts of socially-engaged visual arts organizations require policy support and funding in order to achieve “transformative practice”, which involves “creating new, shared forms for the expression of individual and collective feeling, while sustaining a critical consciousness”.

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