A new year-long study is to explore the part played by artists within the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) programme, Connected Communities. Co-producing legacy: what is the role of artists within Connected Communities projects? is led by artist Steve Pool with academics Kate Pahl (University of Sheffield), Helen Graham (Leeds University) and Amanda Ravetz (MMU).

The study, which won AHRC funding, is exploring the legacy of Connected Communities, focusing on why artists got involved and what they got out of it. Launched three years ago as a cross-Council programme, Connected Communities was designed to better understand the changing nature of communities in their historical and cultural contexts and their role in sustaining and enhancing the quality of life.

The 300 research projects funded set out to strengthen connections between community endeavours and academic research. The projects were across five core themes: community health and wellbeing; community creativity, prosperity and regeneration; community values and participation; sustainable community environments, places and spaces; and community cultures, diversity, cohesion, exclusion and conflict.

In total, 100 artists were active in the projects that encouraged academics to work directly with artists in the realisation of artistic ideas, bringing a community-engaged approach to the research. Concurrently, artists framed, challenged and informed the socially-engaged research undertaken by academics.

“Some of the things artists have done within the programme are inspirational, high-profile, engaging and interpretive,” explains Steve Pool. “The input from others is perhaps far less noticeable – where artists have entwined themselves within the structures of research, people and place.”

Innovative form of enquiry

The team for this new year-long project will combine use of established research methods with an innovative, open-ended ‘studio’ form of enquiry, aimed at understanding how artists have been working across Connected Communities projects. The studio methodology will investigate how artists come to understand their role when working within communities and which theories of change they carry with them. Particular lines of enquiry are around how artists created different ways of knowing, being and learning within the university contexts, and what artists offered university-based researchers.

Pool, who initiated the project as an integral part of his own collaborative practice, says: “After 25 years working as a freelance artist across multiple sites and initiatives, I’m using this study to ask myself a question my Dad used to ask me as a child: ‘What do you think you’re playing at?’ It isn’t that I don’t reflect, gather and analyse quantitative and qualitative data both internally and externally within my practice, it’s just that on occasion I forget to ask why.”

Others in the project team are Richard Steadman-Jones, William Gould, Irna Qureshi, Zahir Rafiq, Marcus Hurcombe, Kate Genever, Graham Jeffery, Anne Douglas, Johan Siebers, James Oliver, Katie Hill and Tessa Holland. The team is collaborating with Castlefield Gallery, a-n, Arts Council England and the AHRC Connected Communities leadership fellows to generate and disseminate findings.

See Kate Genever and Steve Pool’s blog at http://kategenever-stevepool.blogspot.co.uk/

More on www.a-n.co.uk/research-papers/ – read all a-n’s specialist Research papers and outcomes from the Future Forecast enquiry.