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Poly-Technic (artists Kate Genever and Steve Pool) with Pyramid Pioneers in Bretton, Peterborough working on a poster printing project for Planet B Festival, 2017. Photo: Steve Pool. www.poly-technic.co.uk

5 January 2018

First validation system to boost opportunities for socially engaged artists

Professor Amanda Ravetz is leading a Knowledge Transfer Partnership inspired by her previous research

The first online, networked system of validation for socially engaged artists is to be developed through a partnership with university researchers and a charity that supports artist development.

Manchester Metropolitan University is working with Axisweb via a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to create a system that helps champion the role of such artists and their value to society.

Socially engaged art involves artistic practice to create dialogue about social issues with individuals, groups and communities through collaboration and interaction.

Rapidly growing field

It is a rapidly growing phenomenon across the health, education and criminal justice sectors, with projects instigated by public sector bodies and private sector organisations fulfilling their corporate social responsibility agendas.

Despite this, research undertaken in 2015 by Professor Amanda Ravetz from the Manchester School of Art at Manchester Metropolitan University found that there is currently no accepted validation model for socially engaged artists which makes it difficult for them to achieve public visibility for their work, find professional and peer-led support, and to make links with commissioners.

Axisweb has a membership of around 2,000 artists, many of whom undertake work in traditional gallery settings, providing a platform for them to make connections, receive accreditation and other practical support, and find out about opportunities. Axisweb commissioned the 2015 research after realising that many of its members also have a socially engaged practice.

Professor Amanda Ravetz

There is now a significant development opportunity to expand on their existing model to develop a validation system for socially engaged artists on an enhanced digital platform.

Professor Ravetz, the KTP lead, said: “My interest in the KTP comes from my previous research with small arts organisations where I have been interested in artist development.

“In 2015 I led a pilot study working with artist Dr Lucy Wright, Post Doctoral Researcher on the Participatory Arts and DIY Cultures project at the University of East Anglia, and Axisweb, where we found that socially engaged artists lack external forms of validation and envisage different models of validation from those associated with the gallery system. The KTP follows up on those findings.

“It is a brilliant opportunity to involve Axisweb’s artist membership proactively in developing alternative models of validation through our advisory and stakeholder groups, interviews and questionnaires, focus groups and events about socially engaged artistic practice.”

These artistic practices are challenging the language of display and the very idea of the aesthetic experience that forms the basis of many gallery programmes.

A small number of micro-commissions and artist-led investigations will be launched as part of the research and dissemination process of the Models of Validation project.

The project aims to grow Axisweb membership and services, contribute to understanding and provide essential resources for those in the socially engaged art field, and to develop an online participatory model that validates artists through exchange and inclusion of multiple interests, from those who participate directly in socially engaged art, to funders and commissioners, and wider audiences.

Dr Rebecca Senior, Research and Development Coordinator for the KTP, said: “The Models of Validation project presents an exciting opportunity to explore alternative routes to validation by socially engaged artists, who often operate outside of the gallery, object-based system of art marking.

“By developing a platform that enables socially engaged practitioners to network, share, and highlight the issues faced by those who work in this way, we hope this project will create something that artists can take ownership of, and use to further enable their practice.”

Challenging language of display

Mark Smith, Executive Director of Axisweb, said: “I’ve witnessed how many more artists are working in socially engaged practice – where communities and individual people, often unrelated to the arts, form the material and outcome of a practice. These artistic practices are challenging the language of display and the very idea of the aesthetic experience that forms the basis of many gallery programmes.

“Yet, I’m all too aware of the tension created by not ‘fitting’ within existing frameworks and conventions. Recognition, support and value of such artistic ‘social’ practice is marginal compared to practice supported by galleries.

“My desire for the project is to explore how socially engaged practice is represented, valued, preserved and transmitted. If we can understand these implications then we can go some way of achieving our purpose of making artists work possible.”