CHRIS FREMANTLE

Ruth Barker’s Big Questions, No Answers

Posted in CF Writing, Producing, Research, Sited work by chrisfremantle on January 28, 2011

Ruth Barker’s blog post Big Questions, No Answers on the PAR+RS website asks some very important questions which turn the question of skill and expertise.  Taking off at a tangent, these questions are fundamentally to do with inter-disciplinarity, skill, competence and, as Ruth says, responsibility.

One of the sharpest critiques I’ve read draws on Psychology and applies Attachment Theory to recent trends within the arts and culture, i.e. if culture or the arts attaches itself to health to gain access to resources then it is forced to adopt the valuation methods used in health.  (Gray, C., Local Government and the Arts. Local Government Studies. Jan 2002.)

The danger is of course that the arts have attached themselves to health, environment, education (primary, secondary, further, higher and informal), social work, youth justice, criminal justice, etc… each bringing its own formulation and methodology for valuation.  Hence there is an under acknowledged process of specialisation particularly in the field of public art, where successful practitioners have indepth knowledge of very specific policy areas and are able to engage with managers, politicians and policy makers on their own terms.

I would cite for example Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison who can sit down with very senior environmental scientists, policy makers and politicians and engage in detailed discussion of watershed management strategies.  If you take a look at their publication Peninsula Europe you will find an analysis of the financial value of reforesting the high ground of Europe in terms of the amount of clean water produced.  This is only one example.  There are many others: Suzanne Lacy talking about the issues around rape or teen pregnancy.  In Scotland Jackie Donnachie has a relationship with medical researchers of this same quality, but I digress.

The question is whether in this process the artist also persuades these sectors that creative methods (of valuation) are relevant to them.  Whose terms is success judged by?

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