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A TOWN UNITED BY ART AND CULTURE

I am a collaborative research-led Artist currently in the final year of my BA Fine Art degree at Blackburn College in which I am developing a practice through the interrogation of socially engaged and place-based research and the application of interventionist artwork.


This is the first of a series of blogs I will be posting which will be discussing the methodological process of Action Research within creative practice and how this process might have potential within the function of a radically re-validated Art School and its engagement with the wider community. I will also be discussing my delivery of a live artwork and intervention which responded to my critical research during an Arts Council England Research project.


This blog post introduces and outlines the community in which I practice and addresses a running tension between practice and Creative Placemaking.


A TOWN UNITED BY ART AND CULTURE


Through my position as an emerging artist and student of the Fine Art course in Blackburn and a continuing engagement with the town and its creative and cultural activity, I have been immersed within a growing sub-community of practice. This has enabled me to establish an identity and develop my own body of work. I have evolved my own strategies, objectives, values and the ability to deliver socially engaged work. This is an organic growth which has been facilitated by the course I am on and its supporting networks throughout the town.


Blackburn BA Fine Art has a strong sense of identity forged through connections with the town and organisations like Deco Publique, Super Slow Way, Prism Contemporary Art Gallery and events like the Festival of Making and the British Textile Biennial. Fine Art students throughout their degree are working with these creatives and collaborating on their outputs. This level of engagement, involvement and connections with professional artists in the area, is a distinctive selling point of the course.


This uniquely special narrative of Blackburn’s Fine Art course and its connections with industry and the wider context of the town, shows independence and individuality.

As a student on this course I have participated in a range of projects, collaborating with various creative professionals. This has included my role and engagement in highly rewarding work experience such as artist assisting, the delivery of festival workshops, internships, conference speaking and council commissions.


I am interested in the relationship between the artist/creative and the community in collaboration; and have been building a body of critical research around this. I have interrogated the roles, strategies, aims and values of a range of socially engaged practices. A common narrative shared among these practices is that of Creative Placemaking.


Placemaking is a problematic term and strategy through its affiliation with Artwashing, social cleansing, urban re-generation and gentrification. Nevertheless, Placemaking is tied into the circumstances, or perceived circumstances of the town.


I would argue that the re-generation of Blackburn, which is happening right now, differs from the common re-generation strategy of Artwashing. The re-generation of Blackburn is happening through its own grassroots. Through locally manifested art which is deeply embedded in Blackburn’s Fine Art course and its links with industry and heritage.


The festival of making, the British Textile Biennial, Prism Contemporary Art Gallery and other art organisations involved in delivering events and art projects, have succeeded in attracting substantial revenue into Blackburn and are navigating a trajectory of creative re-generation throughout the town. They bring diverse demographics of local people and various communities and cultures together; challenging the pre-conceived notions of segregation and low engagement in the arts, imposed on us by the media. They kick down the barriers of the class divide associated with the artworld.


This is achieved through a spectacular community of support and practice and the utilization of Blackburn’s empty buildings for exhibitions, installations, film screenings and performance. Putting art not into elitist institutions, but into places that ALL the people of the town can relate to on a cultural level.


The opportunities for grass-roots artists and graduates are ever expanding. Nothing shows this quite like Prism Contemporary. An art gallery and artist studios founded and operated through the local artist community including the students and leaders of the BA Fine Art Course.


The urban re-generation of Blackburn.


Urban re-generation on the terms of the people who already live, work and study there.


These people and these practitioners are collaborating on meaningful projects, creating work which the town can relate and respond to, causing the manifestation of un-expected outcomes, discussions and ideas; organically transforming the town, and uniting its people through art and culture.


And yet, here still lies this tension. The prospect of exploiting ourselves through Creative Placemaking.


Only through un-structured and modifiable ways of working and learning can we address this tension.


Therefore, I would suggest adopting the process of Action Research across our community of practitioners, organisations, faculties and institutions.


Wilfred Carr and Stephen Kemmis describe Action Research as: “simply a form of self-reflective enquiry undertaken by participant’s in social situations in order to improve the rationality and justice of their own practices, their understanding of these practices, and the situations in which the practices are carried out.” (Carr and Kemmis, 1986)


Perhaps through this process we could thoroughly and robustly sustain a self-critical, reflective and responsive approach to our community of practice and the organisations and institutions we are a part of. We could explore the tensions, un-comfortabilities, differences and contradictions of our work through conversation, participation, collaboration and co-operation with each other and the wider community.


By doing this, a united town of diverse communities and cultures, with fundamental voices regarding political, cultural and social context, could participate within a collaborative discussion about the community as whole.


A community equipped to confront the un-settling connotations of terms like Creative Placemaking.

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