CoDesRes – Discussant response

I recently had the pleasure of being the Discussant as part of CoDesRes: CoDesigning for resilience in rural development through P2P networks and STEAM place-based learning interventions session, convened by Dr Anita McKeown, at this year’s Royal Geographical Society annual conference in Cardiff.

CoDesRes (co-designing resilience) is a methodology and a project that brings a STEAM practice into the community and environmental justice setting. It’s a two-year Environmental Protection Agency (Ireland) funded project, situated in the Iveragh Peninsula in Ireland, and led by a collaborative and interdisciplinary team of artists, scholars, engineers and marine biologists to iterate and trial the methodology for engaging communities to implement local responses to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 4,11,14 and 15. The project considers the rural has a role to play in the development of sustainable communities and cities by developing viable realistic alternatives to urban dwelling and supporting positive economic social and environmental links between the urban, peri-urban and rural areas.

The conference session was formed of four presentations from the project leads from University College Dublin, Ireland: CoDesRes: CoDesigning for resilience in rural development through P2P [peer-to-peer] networks and STEAM place-based learning interventions, Dr Anita McKeown; Inclusive design for land stewardship: Community engagement in coastal biodiversity management through p2p networks, Eleanor Turner; Marine Education; influencing youth education through STEAM place-based interventions, Lucy Hunt; and Waste as Resource; embedding circular economies in community contexts through STEAM place-based interventions, Colin Keogh.

Together, the presenters gave a deep-dive 360-degree purview of the project and their own academic, professional, personal and residential place in them. As audience, we couldn’t help but be charmed by the passion and dedication of the team and the community of which they were speaking of, are part of and are serving, by the first hand narrative given to us.

I was asked to respond to the project from my role at Tate Exchange, as a platform with a premise of interrogating how art and society interface and affect each other.

Much of the work of CoDesRes is with those young people in their transition school year. This is a an optional one-year school programme that can be taken in the year after the Junior Certificate in Ireland, and is not led by a formal curriculum. ‘Transition year’ struck me as an apt metaphor for the whole process that the communities of Iveragh are embarked upon through CoDesRes – a time of unscripted exploration, of learning in innovative ways and engaged in a conscious-raising step-change of self and society.

Here art was being used as a tool – something the funders and stakeholders both might expect and be familiar with – but also as an approach – something that may extend their understanding of the true value and agency of the ‘A’ in STEAM. In CoDesRes, the arts drive its generative, iterative, question-posing and solution-finding, explorative and inter- and trans-disciplinary process. Finding out by doing, playing to everyone’s expert positions – including that of the community being the expert in being the community – is the stuff of socially engaged arts, and at the core of CoDesRes. It was evident that in this, CoDesRes is on a journey with its communities of changing their view on what art is and what role art can play in society, and placing art as a driver in the blue, green and people (education, community development etc.) ecologies of Iveragh. Will this perspective change also be seen with the funders and policy-makers come the end of the project?

I am intrigued too to find out what the exponential outcomes of this project will be, come the end of its tenure. With the concern around rural population decline, it was heartening to see both Eleanor and Lucy returning to the place of their upbringing to share their skills and knowledge and love of place with its future generations and its current ones – Eleanor told a story of how a former teacher of hers, after joining her on a walking reading of the landscape commented that they had never understood the place like this before, even though they has been walking the area for decades. These women are leading by example, what effect will this have on the generation coming up behind them, seeing that they have a potential future there and seeing a different kind of leadership in action, and on the one above them in seeing and conveying that potential to their young people? It took CoDesRes to join together previously disparate projects across the peninsula and join as one its overlapping blue, green and people ecologies into one holistic one. This is one of the keys to success in precipitating pervasive cultural change, in becoming greater than the sum of its parts: change has already started in the first six months of CoDesRes, what will it have set in motion for its legacy at the end of its two years?

As any good conference session should do, it raised more questions than answers for me too, and in no particular order:

·         What is the art practice, specifically?

·         Is art changing the community?

·         Who are the peers in this process? Who are the collaborators needed? What are the gaps? Is there a baseline of collaborators needed to start and maintain a project?

·         How does CoDesRes critically problematize the notion of ‘sustainable development’?

·         What will be made of the autoethnographic methodology?

·         What are the funders stipulations, what do they see as success?

·         Is this methodology applicable to other situations? How could that be made so?

·         Is the duration long enough? What is long enough?

·         How to manage the multiple layers and purviews of this project, from policy, to schools, to local government.

·         Can this rural context talk to the urban one?

·         Is intergenerational conversation happening? Where and how?

·         Has this changed people’s relation to their place?

·         What does P2P practice integrity look like? what is its excellence?

·         What can sibling sectors learn from it? what do they have to change to work with it? would this put them off?

·         Language and definitions – lots of acronyms and layers of info, which is alienating, where is the point of access info this for people?

·         What does the place in 5, 10, 50 years look like? Will it have halted/reversed rural population decline for example?

·         How is the legacy sustained? Mention of a media legacy, how will the public be supported in marinating this? Has consideration been given to the emotional and physical labour required to sustain legacy? What is the expectation of this?

·         How will it affect all those structural/socio-political issues in the area that form its whole ecology? What is this projects role in/plan for that?

·         Work within and beyond the arts/different ways that art has become active over the last 60 years and how artists have changed our understanding of what art can be and what it can do: how can art make a difference to people’s lives and society?

·         How do the projects operate as methods?

·         How is CoDesRes being evaluated?

The presenters went a long way to answer these questions in their presentations and in the dynamic and engaged plenary discussion with the audience after, but as ever in the live setting of a project, I am mindful in my own practice of coming back to core questions as a means of generative development, reflection and evaluation. In CoDesRes I see a project team and methodology that shares that approach and is well on the way to co-creating a project that is changing ways of living and creating a sustainable ecological and community development legacy for the people of the Iveragh Peninsula.

More on CoDesRes can be found here and via Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.


CoDesRes also got me thinking about the grammar of social practice, the subject and object positions of place, its actors and themes, and I will continue to explore this in the coming months.

CfP RFS 2017: Decolonising placemaking knowledges: considering global placemaking

Convenors: Dr Cara Courage, and Dr Anita McKeown

Paper/panel session at Royal Geographical Society 2017 Annual International Conference, London, Tuesday 29 August to Friday 1 September 2017.

Placemaking as a practice and philosophy has been written about extensively since the 1970s, in the main by US, UK and European scholars and practitioners. This session aims to open the consideration of placemaking from a global perspective, through papers from global practitioners and projects from the non-Western, non-Northern hemisphere.

Attempts to humanise the process of spatial planning and design (Healey, 2011, 2010) has evolved with the re-emergence of the importance of place (Casey, 1998) and post-colonial discourse. The potential to engage creative, collaborative and ecological practices within placemaking’s processes (Schneekloth and Shibley, 1995; Silberberg, 2013; Wright, 2005) become necessities if we are to combat the negative impacts of planetary urbanisation, anthropocentric climate change and social justice and cohesion.

Broader philosophical definitions such as ‘retrospective world-building’ (Basso, 1996:5) the creation of a meaningful humanly authored world (Tuan, 1976), ‘daily acts of renovating, maintaining, and representing the places that sustain us" (Schneekloth and Shibley, 1995:274) and ‘to create a sense of belonging through place’ (Silberberg, 2013) further complicate the relationship between professionals, residents and the practice of placemaking.

From this perspective what placemaking knowledges have yet to be integrated into current practices and thinking? How might global placemaking, in particular practices and processes of placemaking from non-Western/non-Northern hemisphere countries, Indigenous practices, feminist practices and more expand the current discourse?

The session forms a panel/paper session from a broad range of fields and perspectives presenting short provocations that explore and share the concerns of such practices and how these practices can lead thinking on issues in placemaking faced in US/UK/Europe today. The panel/papers will be followed by world café breakout sessions to discuss the issues raised by the panellists with the sessions attendees.

If you are interested in joining the panel/submitting a paper, please submit an abstract for consideration, of no more than 250 words, with a short biog, by Friday, 10th February, to and

Successful applicants will be informed by 13th February, to confirm attendance by 16th February. Regretfully, particularly in light of the topic, no funding is available to support national or international travel so those interested should only submit an abstract if they are able to self/institution/organisation fund. 

RGS 2016 sessions

Very happy to have had the confirmation through for a total of four sessions I am co-convening with Anita McKeown from NCAD, Dublin, at this years Royal Geographical Society annual conference. 

The first is a triple session, The Nexus of Art and Geography: practice as research, the second, Sensory orientations: transversal practices and dissemination within art and geography. Abstracts and programme below. 

The conference takes place Tuesday, 30th August to Friday, 2nd September, all information here.  

The Nexus of Art and Geography: practice as research

Spatial practices are not unique to geography, historically artists have engaged with materialities as social practice (Courage, 2015; Kester, 2011; Lacy, 1998) physical environments (landscape painting, perspective) and exploring and shaping concepts of time and space (virtual worlds, telematics/telepresence). Both fields share experiences of spatial and social turns in theory (Soja, 2008; Bishop, 2006; Bourriaud, Massey, 2005), and practice (Mel Chin; In Certain Places; M12; France Whitehead) with theoretical, methodological and epistemological impacts.  

The artistic and spatial turn across arts and geographical disciplines is maturing and the conversation is not an exclusive, but mutual conversation. Artistic practices utilise geographical methods; Cartography, GIS, Spatial Inquiry, Participant Observation and share research interests with geography e.g. Information Modelling, a cultural and emotional engagement with place. Equally, geographers are utilising arts-based methods (Hawkins, 2012; Rose, 2011); visual and performative methods and methodologies e.g. Photography, Compositional Analysis, the Situationist’s dérive, to expand their understanding of the world and make connections to synthesise knowledge between disciplines.

This panel, taking inspiration from the nexus theme of the RGS-IBG 2016 annual conference, aims to bring together ‘artist-geographers’ and ‘geographer-artists’ to present on the perspective of practice-based/practice as research, engaged in nexus discourse towards social-ecological resilience.

·         Art without artists? An experiment in facilitating community-led arts commissioning, Phil Jones, University of Birmingham

·         A translocal approach to dialogue-based art, Rachelle Viader Knowles, Coventry University

·         Qualitative representation in the space between arts practice and geography, John Stell, University of Leeds

·         CRYSTALLINE - The Arctic Circle, Siobhan McDonald, artist

·         Interrogating Territory: Borders, fictions and contradictions, Anne Gough, KTH - Royal Institute of Technology Stockholm

·         Brokering Connections: public art as a nexus of knowledge production, Elaine Speight, In Certain Places and University of Central Lancashire

·         Mapping the Scottish Borders: collaborative art practices, Inge Panneels, Northumbria University

·         Mapping Systems, Frances Halsall, National College of Art and Design (Dublin)

·         Bodies of Water, Amy Sharrocks, artist

·         Visualising Changing Identities, Communities and Labour Practices on Dublins’ Docks, Moira Sweeney, Dublin Institute of Technology

·         Expeditions as Art: Impacts of Fieldwork by Artist-Geographers in Our New Ecological Reality, Andrew Ranville, artist

·         Breaks, flows, interruptions: Discovering new questions through collaborative research, Sally Labern and Bobby Lloyd, artists, The Drawing Shed


Sensory orientations: transversal practices and dissemination within art and geography

This session presents a curated selection of papers that represent a breadth of arts practices that operate at the intersection of geographic study in the field, addressing the vital question of what is the potential for these practices to disseminate complex geographic ideas and engage individuals on a human-scale with the physical world?

The practices are sensory and embodied and variously visual, tactile, sonic, gustation, even olfaction. This session curates a range of practitioners active in research to collectively present insights into how artistic practice re-configures spatial narratives through collaborative co-performances of ‘making-sense’ producing cognitive maps (Lynch, 1976); the mental organisation of sensory experience.

As individuals navigate their daily lives they mark the environment through their own spatial practices and narratives. These interactions are often in contrast to spatial narratives developed over time through city planning, urban design and geo-political ideologies. This ongoing organisation and re-organisation transforms space dynamically and continuously into places of meaning and value (De Certeau 1984; Tuan, 1977) challenging static understandings that may come from institutional or political ideologies. Over time this enables collective constructions and re-constructions of space; socio-politically, culturally and economically.

Agile and adaptive these practices appropriate when necessary social forms and are cognizant of a range of theoretical and practical disciplines. Their critical inquiries develop creative, dynamic and complex methodologies combining ‘action with vision’ (Wright, 2005;136). Their multiplicitous trajectories (Massey, 2005) include scientific and social science research paradigms, interdisciplinary methods, human and non-human co-constituents. Collaborative by nature and design, their ‘intervention-orientated enterprises’ (Wright, 2005;136) serve to migrate and cross-pollinate ideas to traverse disciplinary frontiers.

Through their creative tools and practices the artist’s explore and exploit ruptures in physical and conceptual spatial narratives by their interactions with residents, environments, technologies and even mountains. 

·         Breaking the Frame: Spatial Ideology and Resistant Practice-led Research Approaches, Lucy Livingstone, University of Northumbria

·         Transient Space: Re-interpreting Place Through Augmented Soundscapes, Andrew Hill, artist and University of Greenwich

·         Guide74: a mountain recording activity, Luce Choules, artist

·         Collaborative Narration –An Artist’s Practice, Jane Dudman, Newcastle University

·         (Re)Art (Re)Geography (Re)Performance, Charlie Rawson, artist

Following on from the RGS...

Both myself and my co-convenor, Anita Mckeown, of the ‘Creative Placemaking and Beyond’ sessions at this year’s RGS-IBG annual conference were overwhelmed with its success and the feedback we got, and thank you all to Graeme Evans, Aditi Nargundkar Pathak, Marie Mahon and Anna Marazeula Kim, who delivered papers; to Alison Williams and Derek Jones, who facilitated the workshop session; and those 40-plus in number in the audience that came with us on this experiment in format and who added so much to the time we spent together – and dissolved the notion of the presenter-audience completely.

‘easily most coherent and interesting session I attended in the conference’

‘inspiring exchange of ideas’

‘a rich gathering of people and ideas’

Aside from the book chapters and papers ideas that were generated between us, Anita and I will be exploring ideas for maintaining the momentum and enthusiasm from the session and progressing ways to enable this – watch this space!