AAG 2018 – Call for Papers – Arts research, theory and practice

AAG 2018 – Call for Papers – Arts research, theory and practice

American Association of Geographers annual conference, 10th to 14th April 2018, New Orleans

With the theme of the 2018 AAG conference being Black Geographies and Geographies of Struggle and the Association’s concern with engagement outside of its academy thresholds, we are seeking papers from academics and practitioners from across the geography, arts and community development disciplines and sectors to form a three-part whole-day session on these issues.

Session 1 will focus on practice-based research; Session 2, on theory and its application in this regard; and Session 3, on practice and practitioners.

We are seeking contributions from a global field from all settings; urban, suburban and rural. We are especially interested in contributions from practitioners and ‘non-academics’ and in directly including the community voice in the paper presentations. We aim to include both qualitative and quantitative research and project evaluations, as well as methodologies, and critiques of the same.

Please submit an abstract for consideration, of no more than 250 words, by 20th October, to both cara@caracourage.net and anita@smartlab-ie.com. Successful applicants will be informed by 23rd October for their timely registration to AAG 2017.

We cannot offer funding for attendance at the conference at this time so responses to this CfP should be made on this basis. For all information relating to the conference and its registrations deadlines (25th Oct 2017), please visit: http://annualmeeting.aag.org.

Musicity - Southwark, 7th-10th September

7th to 10th of September sees Musicity come to Southwark - four days of specially-commissioned music and sound art inspired by the buildings of and place that is the borough.

Musicians include: Throwing Shade, William Boyd, Hejira, Stick in the Wheel, Moses Boyd, Sean O'Hagan, Patten, and Sooski is doing a live set on the Saturday night; Buildings include: Borough Market, The Shard, Time and Talents; Finnish Church, Canada Water Bus Station, Peckham Library and Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre.

Sound artist, Sian Hutchings, is leading two sound walks around Peckham; The Building Exploratory is working with a group of elders on a sound/place project; and I'll be talking at one of the events and leading a sound map walk.

Musicity is the idea of Nick Luscombe, presenter of BBC Radio 3's Late Junction, and its been a joy to join the team and work on this!

All info and to secure your free tickets here

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TEDxIndianapolis talk now online

This April, I was part of TEDxIndianaplis, talking on the scale of placemaking from the bottom-up, the placemaking and civic agency of local people and of artists. 

The talk is now online and can be viewed here

It was an honour to be asked to participate and to be on that stage, shared with so many great speakers that day, as it felt like a home-from-home homecoming. The place and the people of Indy, not least those of Big Car, have had such an important and inspirational role in my PhD research and since, I was able to give something back to them in this tribute. 



IJAMCP paper

I have a paper published in Volume 4 of the Irish Journal of Arts Management and Cultural Policy. The paper focuses on my Dublin case study research as part of my PhD, Art Tunnel Smithfield, and is concerned with art practice, process, and new urbanism in Dublin. 

The journal is open access and the paper available to download



This paper presents research with Art Tunnel Smithfield (ATS), Dublin, positioning it in Dublin-wide placemaking practices, and situating it within the city’s tracts of vacant land and Dublin’s bespoke new urbanism. It focuses on the project as a form of social arts practice, giving examples of arts activities and agencies in the space, and locating the work within placemaking typology as ‘social practice placemaking’ (SPPM). SPPM is conceptualised as an extension of participatory public/new genre public art (Lacy, 2008) to a ‘new situationism’ (Doherty, 2004). This perspective views the co-production of art as constructive of new spatial configurations and emergent relations between users and space. Locating this work in the socio-politics of urban life, SPPM has to be understood as an art form that dematerializes the built object and is concerned with creative and social processes and outcomes.

Tate Switch House

Last week I had the joy of going to see the Tate Modern's new extension, the Switch House. I saw it in full action of performances and so mobbed by the art crowd attending that I saw the circulation areas being put to the test (and largely, succeeding). 

I wrote a short review of the building for Guardian Opinion, focusing not just on the architecture but the ambition for the arts of the space, to include live and performance art and a socially-leaning art programme too. 

Unsurprisingly, I gave it 5 out of 5. 

The review can be found here and click through the images below.

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

Look At The Estate We're In

Last week I was honoured to be part of the Look At The Estate We’re In (LATEWI) conference, organised by students at Camberwell College of Arts and Peckham Platform.

The subject of the conference in its largest form was the politics of the housing estate as they intersect with the arts, ‘an exploration of the unmapped relationship between the council estate, the community and the arts’.

I was part of the symposia talk, ‘Power to the People? Self organisation versus official arts organisations’, alongside Emily Druiff from Peckham Platform, Focus E15 Mothers, and Lois Keidan and Katy Baird from Live Art Development Agency. Our talk included the storytelling of the activist pressure group Focus E15 Mothers, and went on to discuss the relation between the ‘arts organisation’ and the activist artist. The photo with this blog post is of the Peckham Peace Wall, an apposite image that for me sums up the politic and art of the festival.

I also ran a LookUp workshop around Peckham, the photos from which can be found here.

Next week I will be continuing the conversations started at LATEWI, and starting others, at Some[w]Here Now – The Day of Small Conversations, at the Pump House Gallery. The day’s focus is on ‘exploring how artists may work collaboratively, with ‘local’ communities and in ‘public’ places, in the context of Now’ – and more information can be found here

Peckham Peace Wall, Peckham Square, London SE15. Peckham Platform (2012). 

Peckham Peace Wall, Peckham Square, London SE15. Peckham Platform (2012). 

What do (social practice) artists do?

I recently asked my networks of artists the question, ‘what do (social practice) artists do? The question took inspiration from Frances Whitehead's What Artists Know, spurred also by the confusion I sometimes meet in others around what the art is in this type of practice, and having to explain how play or talk is art - I feel now is a time to really call out for what this practice is and how it does it.

Below is a (very) first level complication of the many comments and views I received in response to this question. The initial call can be found here on FB.


We do things

Play, talk, listen, build, design, make, knit, cook, garden, storytell, film, draw, mould...

Disrupt, provoke, draw attention to, question, protest, experiment, inspire, raise awareness, trust, observe, connect, dream, fail, succeed...

Outside of institutions and institutional thinking


We work with

The community, community of place, of interest, of the marginalised, the silent

Self and other, individual and collective, everyone as equal participant, collaborate, co-produce

As an expert in our own right, with other experts in theirs - which has paramount the community as expert in their own lives

Not knowing what will happen


We make things...

Street furniture, meals, murals, films, stories, gardens, sculpture, song, images...

Prototypes, pilots, tests, debates, progress, encounters, fun, mess

Join together, people together, people and their place, autonomous and in solidarity


We help things happen...

People to see, people to speak, people to listen, people to reflect, people to change things, people to act again, relationships to form, networks to be made

Break resistance, encourage resistance, right wrongs, question the status quo and the ‘always-done’

Places to look nicer, places to feel better to be in, places to work for the people that use them, shape the future space and place as agents of change


We work in...

Streets, squares, houses, shops, parks, canals, car parks, schools

Physical spaces, material form, emotional places, contradictions, harmonies

Contested spaces, left-over spaces, forgotten spaces, hidden spaces, derelict spaces, potential places, the grassroots

Communities, businesses, offices, city hall’s, governments


Social practice art is active in the realm of creative and social interactions, embedded in its community location and equally concerned with the art process as much as the art object created through it, and the relation between its knowledge and that of others.

Social practice art is ever-evolving, all-encompassing and unbounded; no-one exhaustive or definitive list can exist for such a pursuit, but with social practice artists being called on by many – from the bottom up and the community, to top-down and the government – to help create material, social, cultural, political and economic betterment, there is cause now for a moment of reflection, articulation and further dialogue on what social practice artists do, where, how and why.


Cara Courage, work-in-(endless)-progress, 2015

Created in collaboration with: Jason Bowman, Donna Close, John Collins McCormick, Lloyd Davis, Terry Hardy, Sam Hewitt, Dimitri Launder, Shauta Marsh, Anita McKeown, Carol Parker, Rachel Preston Prinz, Stephen Pritchard, Matt Rudkin, Simone Sheridan, Lindsey Smith,  Charles Stanton, Peta Taylor, Dan Thompson, Chris Thorpe-Tracey, Daniella Vg, Jim Walker, Simon Wilkinson, Ed Woodham.


What Do (Social Practice) Artists Do?

Taking inspiration from Frances Whitehead's What do Artists Know, I am working on a similar list/manifesto for What Artists Do, in particular, What Social Practice Artists Do.

This is spurred in the first instance by the confusion I sometimes meet in others around what the art is in this type of practice, and having to explain how play, or cooking or gardening or talking is art, I feel now is a time to really call out for what this practice is and how it does it.

In the spirit of social practice art, this of course is a collaborative endeavour and when this gets published (in my thesis, on my website, in papers and at conference), all will be named.

So, my question to all of you, what is it that (social practice) artists do?

Please either email me or reply on the comments below. The results of this will be published here in due course. 

Dinner at the Carey Estate for residents, cooked by the artists, part of the drawing shed's Some[W]here in 9 Elms, Wandsworth project, May 2015 

Dinner at the Carey Estate for residents, cooked by the artists, part of the drawing shed's Some[W]here in 9 Elms, Wandsworth project, May 2015 

Open Engagement 2015

I attended this year’s Open Engagement conference on social practice art, held at Carnegie Mellon University and at Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

The week started with a day tour of various arts projects across the city, a day curated by the Office of Public Art, a public art consultancy based in the city and working across the region. 

The tour started at the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild, an arts education establishment working across artforms with young people and adults at all levels of education through after-school classes, adult ed and summer schools. We then went on to visit the inspiring City of Asylum, a human rights organisation that formed to house asylum-seeking writers, the houses of which have been decorated with the artist’s work of poems and prose. The afternoon started at contemporary art museum Mattress Factory with presentations from a variety of social practice arts projects, including Side Street Projects, a mobile social practice placemaking group with an HQ in Pasadena; and the awe-inspiring research and practice project on I-Hotel, San Francisco’s anti-eviction human rights and race politics legacy. We ended the day at Spaces Corners, a photography publisher and gallery, talking about its social and crowdsourced project, A Peoples History of Pittsburgh.

The theme of the conference was ‘place and revolution’, discussion panels and presentation approaching this theme from as varied angles as social practice art is varied itself. Stand out session’s included that by artist Jon Rubin on the Conflict Kitchen project, using food to galvanise political and social consciousness across the globe; and the Ethics and Aesthetics of Place panel, which included meaningful discussion and case studies of projects with a clear ethical imperative matched with a high arts value, Public Matters and Skid Row Housing Trust; and presentations from USA projects On The Map|Over the Rhine in Cincinnati, Table Alchemy by Amber Arts in Philadelphia and Wassaic Project, NY.

The conference closed with a keynote from Rick Lowe, founder of the legendary Project Row Houses, artist and recent winner of a MacArthur "genius" fellowship. Rick talked with great humour, passion and compassion about seven things that he has been thinking of around social practice.

His thought of ‘learning how to see place rather than making place’ in particular is prescient for the placemaking sector, with many, and especially those from a social practice approach, questioning a dominant placemaking ideology that is ‘place-making’ rather than ‘place-led’; this comment in particular made me think if the variety of placemaking practice that I identify in the placemaking typology and the relative value in practices placed on working with the value already in place rather than placing value in place from outside. 

City of Asylum houses, Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh. L: House Poem, Huang Xiang, R: Jazz House. 

City of Asylum houses, Sampsonia Way, Pittsburgh. L: House Poem, Huang Xiang, R: Jazz House. 

Placemaking typology

An artworked version of my placemaking typology, with explanatory text and example projects has been created by Rachel Gillies. This typology has emerged from my PhD research, firstly from my own need in process to classify projects that I see, but then to also aid the sector.

The typology can be found here as well as below. 

Whilst various types of placemaking may share common concerns, essentially the making of place by actors in the urban realm, there is a need for a clear classification of practice in the sector for several reasons, not least the risk of an attenuation of the term and practice of placemaking. Owen (1984) states that community art’s failure to construct its own theoretical framework was reason for its relative devaluing in the art sector. If the placemaking sector does not create its own theoretical framework it risks a similar reduction of a “naïve romanticism” of its claims to outcomes and a side-lining in urban design and planning as a creative, worthy “welfare arts” (ibid., p29) adjunct to be deployed tactically by social service administrations and for city marketing and regeneration, rather than as a meaningful strategy for urban living (Schneekloth and Shibley 2000 p130). This would only be compounded by the cumulative confusion augmented by the competing demands made and expectations of placemaking (Markusen and Gadwa 2012, Fleming 2007).

It is hoped that the sharing of knowledge across types of placemaking will redress exclusory power practices by uncovering the many different types of placemaking undertaken by different ecologies of practice and people and result in the opening up of a continually negotiated border position that Schneekloth and Shibley (2000) advocates.

A placemaking typology then could illuminate nuanced practice for this professional cohort, as well as clearly articulating to those outside of the placemaking sector the variety of and value in these practices.

The typology will appear in my PhD thesis in this form that has a magnification of social practice placemaking as the focus of my research, and also with an equally weighted form.