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.

Institute of Place Management paper

I recently presented on my placemaking typology and the agency of social practice placemaking at the Institute of Place Management's (based at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK) annual conference, this year focused on inclusove placemaking. 

Thank you to all in the room for the enthusiasm with which this was revived and also for the great questions and conversations that followed. 

Link here to the slidedeck and notes

Placemaking typology SPPM Jan 2015.jpg

Arts in Place - free for the next 60 days!

In collaboration with Readcube, my Arts in Place book on my research into social practice placemaking and case studies in London, Dublin and Indianpailos, published with Routledge, is available for free download for the next 60 days. 

Its in PDF form and can be downloaded here


2016 conferences


January 2016 sees me delivering a paper, Performative architecture: reclaiming a vital architectural practice (abstract below) at the All-Ireland Architecture Research Group annual conference; and then talk about my PhD research, in relation to community groups making change in their built environment, at the British Academy-funded Landscaping Change conference, organised by Dr Samantha Walton at Bath Spa University. I will also be returning to the American Association of Geographers annual conference in March/April, co-convening a session, Creative Placemaking and Beyond, with National College of Art and Design, Dublin’s Anita McKeown (abstract below, and more details on that will follow).

Landscaping Change conference takes place at the Arnolfini, Bristol, on 1st January.

AIARG conference takes place in Cork, 29th and 30th January.

AAG conference takes place in San Francisco, 9th March to 2nd April.


AIARG abstract:

Performative architecture: reclaiming a vital architectural practice

This paper will present performativity in architecture as an emplaced social arts practice, performed on the margins of formal urban space and architectural practice in liminal and meanwhile spaces, a critical spatial practice (Rendell 2006) in the urban public realm.

The paper will locate this thinking in contemporary practices of ‘social practice placemaking’ (SPPM) (Courage 2014) and will draw on global examples of SPPM, including that from the author’s PhD research project, ‘Making places: performative arts practices in the city’, signposting examples of masterplanning and architectural build that have successfully incorporated this approach, such as that of Croydon Council’s award-winning placemaking-led regeneration.

It will position this contemporary practice as one where architects and artists work together in a collaborative practice, and co-produced with the micropublic (Amin 2008) in positions of relative expertism. Inherent in this co-produced practice is a subverting of sector normative representation and power, of who can speak for whom, when and how, if at all and will thus argue for performative architecture as questioning and support of intersectional production and use of space. As a post-modern social arts practice, performative architecture will be positioned in the arts canon both with and contra too the avant-garde (Kester 2013) and new genre public art (Lacy 2008), relational aesthetics (Bourriaud 1998). It will argue that performative architecture is of a dialogic aesthetic (Kester 2004, 2013), productive of new cultures of architectural knowledge.

The paper will close with a provocation to the architecture sector on its need to adopt co-productive modes of design to maintain, and arguably reclaim, its cultural significance in the built environment, essential for the future of the sector in extending its practice, reaffirming its relevance and ensuring its vital role in the current and future urban realm.


AAG CfP (now closed) abstract:

Creative Placemaking and Beyond: Continuing and re-invigorating the arts-led conversation

This session will continue the interrogation of notions of creative placemaking started at the RGS 2015 annual conference, bringing this conversation to the US and to broadening its international and sectoral/practice discussion. 

The creative placemaking (Landesman 2009) term has entered the arts-driven placemaking sector narrative presented as a ‘new [U.S.] policy platform across all levels of government’ (Markusen and Gadwa 2010:26) with a particular ethos; a cross-sectoral approach to arts-led regeneration (Markusen and Gadwa 2010) and of including non-arts stakeholders within community revitalisation (Poticha, 2011).

With contemporary debates around creative placemaking and its relations now reaching a moment in maturity and diversity a critique and a deeper understanding of practice is necessary.

Persistent questions arise around issues of arts practice/process, power relations, individual and community agency and creative placemaking’s relation vis-à-vis the neoliberal. As such, this session encourages a re-consideration of the role of the arts and creativity within socially-engaged placemaking practices for their potential to encourage self-organisation and how citizens can take the initiative in effecting their lived spacetime (McCormack 2013). It seeks to broaden the constituents in the creative placemaking discourse through presenting an international conversation that focuses on socially practiced, co-produced and citizen-led placemakings, addressing issues of scale, interdisciplinarity and radical practices within creative place production and co-production.

Given the vital need also for theorists to be in dialogue with practitioners, this session is seeking abstracts from both constituencies, with papers spanning theory and practice and examples of where the two intersect in the academy or in the field. It thus aims to provide a critical assessment of creative placemaking and of community driven placemaking (Hou and Rios 2003) and social design across all settlement types and conceptual, empirical, methodological papers are invited.