The aim of East Street Arts’ Live/Work scheme is to provide good quality space for combined residence and studio work that encourages artists to live in an area and become active citizens in their community – stimulating the locale and resident communities by supporting artists to create physical and wellbeing impact in the neighbourhood. It is an opportunity to explore the real possibility for residents to be co-producers and investors, rather than just consumers, with the prospect of unlocking and sharing experiences, learning, resources and relationships between community and artists.
Artists House 45 is located in a traditional two-bedroom, back-to-back home in the residential area of Beeston, Leeds. Owned by Leeds City Council the property had been unoccupied and was renovated by East Street Arts who have secured the house and are renting it from the Council for five years to push the boundaries of socially engaged practice and community activity. Artistic Director Karen Watson said: “Artist House 45 is a new kind of space for the residents, workers and visitors of this area of the city. The project is unique; we have researched and visited spaces in Belgium and Holland, but have not found anything similar in the UK. We want Leeds to be the first place in the country to transform residential areas through the combination of artists’ living and work spaces.”
In partnership with the University of Huddersfield, the project provides a unique opportunity for a doctoral researcher to engage with an established artist-led organisation and their audiences, to understand their priorities in relation to cultural and urban regeneration.
Whilst research about community-public art tends to focus on the aesthetic, cultural and political intentions and processes that shape its production, this PhD position also examines the challenges around measuring the impact and social/cultural value of Live/Work situations and associated artistic production in a domestic/community location, working with the community to analyse the effectiveness of Live/Work upon artistic endeavour and as a process for public engagement. This research is undertaken through methodologies established by working with East Street Arts, their Live/Work artists, related communities, University of Huddersfield and Local Authorities to ensure that the research responds to the priorities of non-academic stakeholders.
The researcher’s starting questions include:
- What happens to a neighbourhood when an artist (and their families) are placed in social housing projects, long-term, beyond conventional art residencies, to live and make their work?
- What is the significance of positioning Live/Work schemes in relation to broader community public art criticism, urban design, urban sociology disciplines and Local Authority policies?
- What opportunities arise in the communal co-interpretation of Live/Work, and what are its limitations?
- What can be learnt about co-producing research with non-academic collaborators through this project, and what might be lost in widening research from the lone researcher context to this collaborative model of public engagement and cultural leadership?
The methodology utilises traditional ethnographic and sociological research, in that the researcher is embedded within the specific social setting of Live/Work for a prolonged period of time, in order to develop a richer understanding of the dynamics and complexities involved in the project. Within the scheme the student observes and records, drawing on multiple methods, to experience and understand ideas, practices and perceptions from the perspective of the non-academic stakeholder.
Community responses and interpretations to the Live/Work scheme as public art will be further considered for their effect upon reflecting different cultural representations, cultural leadership and place making: drawing on the research process of ‘co-production’ widely adopted in the social sciences.
To understand current critical and historical knowledge of community-public art in relation to the Live/Work scheme and in the contexts of public engagement and cultural leadership, the study will also examine other national and international Live/Work examples. It will produce public-centred outputs such as exhibitions, workshops, symposium to add value to the Live/Work scheme, related communities and relative public and voluntary sector professionals, in addition to an academic thesis.
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