Keeping research simple (because it will become complicated all by itself)

I was recently lucky enough to attend an international symposium organised by CIDA, on 'Creative Industries: the Roots of Business Innovation', though I've been too busy since to write about it here. It was a very stimulating day, despite missing the first hour due to delayed train. There were numerous themes to emerge but here are just three.

1. Arts as research, arts within research, research within art.

Fortunately I was able to read Graham Devlin's publication 'A place to think' as my train travails meant I arrived promptly for the coffee break having missed his talk. Drawing on some fascinating case studies, some of whom were also represented by other speakers, it explores the area of research in the arts and the academy. This includes practice-based research by artist-academics, which after much struggle has become increasingly accepted by the research boards, research which brings together specialists across disciplines (Scott Delahunta from Random Dance gave a great talk about the work he leads with scientists and Wayne McGregor), and what you might call art as art as research by practitioners outside formal academic constraints or disciplines.

This latter was brilliantly illustrated by the
Banff Centre in Canada and Akademie Schloss Solitude in Germany, both of which are what Sarah Iley from Banff called 'non-parchment' research centres. Connection to arts practice is central, not accreditation.

Graham Devlin's conclusions include the key ones that there should be real equity between arts researchers/practitioners and academic institutions, clarity around purpose and greater flexibility of assessment. Of these equity seems to me paramount - and two way. Just as I've seen artists squeezed by academies, I've also seen artists not genuinely respect the institution that pays their wages. More often, I should emphasise, I see a properly productive relationship.

2. We are Time (but time is money...)

Common to a number of the presentations was the role time plays in arts research. Time away from day duties, time to see how things develop, time to disseminate findings. The impact of time together, or time in a particular place was clearly huge, but it comes at a cost. besides making me scribble down the question 'can an artist ever waste time?' which I'll save for the occasion that demands an undergraduate essay topic, it made me think there is a need to develop some transferable arts research practices. These could, for the sake of argument be split into two types; short and sharp, and long and deep. One of the best things about the early days of Arts Council England's Grants for the Arts programme was it enabled investment into long and deep time for artists. That has, I suspect, diminished, and is likely to do so even more. But how might short and sharp experiences be structured and supported by arts organisations and HE partners?

3. Resilience as research?

The afternoon session might have been enough to depress a weaker man. Not because the sessions were bad, far from it, but Will Hutton's talk was really rather doomy, and Mette Koefoed Quinn from the EU seemed a world away from the SlimState world being shaped in the UK. (You have till the end of the month to comment on the EU's Green Paper on the future potential of cultural and creative industries
here.) Conference chair, Lee Corner, asked the audience to think what could be done, especially picking up on Will Hutton's emphasis on the importance of creating 'institutions' within the innovation ecosystem.

In general, I agree with him, but if the state is being rolled back, one might say it's foolhardy to ask the state and its arm's length agencies to create them - interested bodies are going to have to do more of that for them/ourselves, perhaps around disintegrating institutions such as universities according to some arguments. This could be particularly important for the resilience of regions and regional towns and cities.

My conclusion would be it's down to the sector to follow the example of business and workers by creating its own institutions. Things like
AIR might be an example of how this is being done already. Creative organisations coming together as the local 'Chamber of Creative Commerce' might be another way, cheesy name and all.

(The title of this post is adapted from the title of the artwork by Benedict Phillips we were all given, 'Keep everything simple because it will become complicated all by itself No 2.' He gave a great talk elucidating the background to the piece, and also supplied one of the quotes of the day: 'You should have received an artwork and if you haven't there are some spare.' Made me laugh (and think about Hans Abbing) anyway.)


  1. Some interesting ideas about new networked models of organisation are emerging (partly out of necessity, and partly because of insightful planning by artists, as in the case of AIR and also NAN - networking artists networks that began in 2004). Alliances of like-minded arts organisers and artists in the case of Canada have resulted in changes in legislation and emphasis, for the benefit of the arts. AIR is currently hosting a secondment from April Britski the Director of CARFAC - Canadian Artists Representation and invites for her to bring her knowledge into arts policy discussions here are most welcome


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