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An enquiry into artist development: changing policy by practising agonism in the counterpublic

De Mynn, Rebecca (2017) An enquiry into artist development: changing policy by practising agonism in the counterpublic. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This research is the product of a collaborative doctoral award with partners Castlefield Gallery (CG) and Manchester Metropolitan University. Using CG as my case study, I adopted an ethnographic methodology to investigate practices of artist development (AD), and consider how they were part of the wider relationships between artists, CG, and representatives of the policy paradigm. To do so, I employed various methods including participant observation, semi-structured interviews, Document analysis, and participant feedback. It takes as research participants artists who were part of CG’s membership and exhibition programmes, CG staff, and representatives of the policy paradigm. It found that, broadly speaking, AD is when an artist requires support for their practice, and when an organisation or individual offers that support. Artists engage with developmental support throughout their career, and at moments of change in their practice, also termed critical junctures. Practices of AD are qualitative, context-specific, and their effectiveness is determined by the values of those experiencing it. Offerings of AD at CG are divided into four categories: nurturing an environment, skills and/or knowledge, resources that feed a practical output, and showcasing opportunities. These are broken down into a further 13 sub-categories, including 146 different offerings of AD. As well as documenting the multiple different offerings of AD, it was used as a lens to understand how policy is produced through the relationships between artists, CG, and representatives of the policy paradigm. In observing a reciprocal relationship from which different actors learn about one another, I generated a theory termed practising agonism in the counterpublic. In doing so, I add to the fields of policy change and cultural policy, as well as the theoretical traditions of constructivist institutionalism and democratic theory. Up until now, reports aiming to understand organisational practices of AD have mostly been the product of researchers commissioned by the sector. Much previous research is grounded in how the dominant use of quantitative measures in this setting renders practices of AD invisible. Researchers are generally asked to shed light on areas that quantitative methods are unable to capture, and make recommendations based on what it is they have learnt. Recommendations tend to be targeted at both organisations and policymakers, in the hope that a consensus over measurement may be reached. This thesis provides a much-needed expansion of documented understandings of AD activities, and questions whether consensus is in fact a viable way forward; it is a self-consciously agonistic thought experiment, designed to provoke debate.

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