Researching the City through Arts-Based Methodologies

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Mihaela KELEMEN, Keele University, United Kingdom
This paper introduces a new arts-based methodology used to research a city in crisis, i.e., Cultural Animation (CA) through personal stories of loss and hope. Cultural Animation is a methodology of community engagement and knowledge co-production which relies on an array of visual, performative and experiential techniques (Barone and Eisner, 2007). Its aim is to create a ‘safe’ space, away from existing hierarchies, in which academics and community members dream, tell and enact their stories using their own bodies and everyday objects.

By giving equal status to academic expertise, practical skills, common-sense and day-to-day experiences, CA embraces the view that theories are plural, embodied, relational and impactful on the people who co-construct them. The methodology is inspired by American Pragmatism, in particular John Dewey’s work on democratic experimentalism (Vo and Kelemen, 2017).

The project was funded the Arts and Humanities Research Council in the UK and was carried out in an economically and socially deprived city based in the Midlands. A one day long Cultural Animation workshop was held at a local award winning theatre to explore the past of the city, its present and to imagine/construct new worlds through the stories and biographies of diverse individuals living or working in the city: academics, policy makers, community members, NGOs and public sector employees. Some of these individual stories and biographies are captured in a podcast commissioned by the AHRC: (http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/research/readwatchlisten/filmsandpodcasts/weatheringthestorm/).

Encouraging participants to express their emotions and thoughts about their cities via this embodied and visceral process ensured that the past came alive in individual biographies and opened up endless possibilities to collectively re-imagine the future of the city. In more general terms, the process enabled us to bridge the gap between thinking and doing, theory and practice, academics and communities.