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From Network to Meshwork: Validation for Social Practice Art and Artists

This report with executive summary disseminates insights from the first sustained programme of public research into validation for social practice artists. It is about the challenges artists face in accessing critical support, acclaim and development opportunities for social practice, essential ingredients of validation.

The research was supported by a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Manchester Metropolitan University and the charity and online artists’ directory Axisweb. Called Models of Validation, the research programme was funded by AHRC/ESRC/Axisweb via Innovate UK and ran between May 2017 and November 2018 full time, and from January 2019 to January 2020 part time.

It adopted an ‘action research’ methodology to investigate the existing landscape for social practice artists, commissioners and funders, while simultaneously developing and testing a new model of validation.It engaged with social practice artists to explore issues they faced in relation to validation and discussed what model might serve them better. 40 interviews were conducted with artists, commissioners and researchers; surveys were run with a stakeholder group that grew to 160 people; and a programme of artist-led commissions was designed and group members invited to apply to it.

The report makes eight recommendations for how to create a new model of validation, scaled up to benefit as many artists as possible through a meshwork approach to organisational structure. It is written for artists working in social practice, but also for cultural organisations who support and engage them and for funders and commissioners working with influential institutions such as ACE and the NHS, who might wish to know more about social practice artists’ current experiences of validation and to influence policy accordingly.