Some key questions and ideas that floated around during the engage 2011 conference, and have stayed in my head afterwards…

What is participation?  Is there a shared understanding? Is Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation right or is there more of a spectrum (Johnny Gailey’s view)?  What doesn’t count as participation?  Is art instrumental?  Arts as good, but not ‘good for us’ (Joli Jensen) – art as medicine cf. arts as experience?  Fiona Whelan as ‘story gatherer’ and Irish police project – reading out stories together as live event.  Dan Thompson and #riotcleanup – agile methodology, open source philosophy and LEADERLESS ANARCHY.  On institutions…  ‘let the institution be the place to problematise the institution’…  Mingle-mangleness.  University of Local Knowledge – annoyed me intensely – what IS the difference between this art project and an oral history project?  What is knowledge?  Whose knowledge is shared?  What is community?  Have we done social engagement to death?  Engagement fatigue?  Are participant guinea pigs for social agendas?  How do we define culture?  Ian Bottle, Eliot and Isabella on their lovely GENERATE project – inter-generational/family/learning/playfulness/imagination by making and creating – with Jonathan Barnes from Canterbury Christ Church – inspirational teacher.  Is art at school different?  Andrea Hawkins from Lanternhouse who had tricky role of taking over from inspirational character, John Fox: polyphonic communities.  Who is influenced by whom?  Permeable membranes.  Educational turn (still not sure what this is – Mick Wilson as impenetrable to me).  Reputational or service economies?  Role of artist – ownership in community/social projects?  ‘Object-referencing’ in autism as something I found out from person from Aspex Portsmouth – need to contact and find out more…  Also she was brilliant on asking re. travellers and warden issues – ‘come and play with worms!’  She was tweeting (Louisa?)…  Ramblings and snippets complete for now.

And so to the 2012 conference!


engage at the seaside

I went to the engage conference from 15 – 17 November.  Entitled ‘Work in Progress: Artists, Education and Participation, it was held at Turner Contemporary and the Winter Gardens in the seaside town of Margate in Kent.  I’d never been to Margate, and was expecting a sad resort, past its heyday, but nevertheless offering signs of hope through the regeneration that I thought would have been brought about through the development of this new David Chipperfield-designed gallery.  I think my hopes were slightly ambitious – there is still much to be done in the way of bringing people back to what could be a thriving tourist resort.  It just needs a bit of tlc and some solid investment.  In this regard, it really reminded me of the Hepworth in Wakefield (same architect and similar environs despite lack of sea).  Although I suppose it was November, so not exactly bucket and spade, donkey riding and ice-cream eating weather.

So – what did I do, see and learn while I was there?  Well, as with most conferences, the highlight was meeting interesting people doing interesting work, developing new contacts and sharing ideas.  So – who did I meet?  In no particular order…

  • Karen Eslea is the Head of Learning at Turner Contemporary.  She’s dynamic, passionate and very inspiring.  She also has an Object Dialogue Box (another post to follow) – Beatrice Prosser-Snelling is the Education Officer who I need to contact about that…
  • I also met people from Nottingham Contemporary including Kay Hardiman (new Head of Learning) who talked about the Klaus Weber exhibition that I must see and also wondered if I could publicise events to the PhD list (or at any rate send her the details)
  • Emma Kay from IKON was interested in finding out more about ODBs (and her mother’s maiden name is Woodall!)
  • Lara Goodband is doing a fantastic SeaSwim project and I hadn’t seen her since engage Yorkshire days
  • Jocelyn Arschavir and Michiko Fuji were there from MAG and also staying in the same hostel which was great – lovely to get to know a bit better
  • Constanze Eckert, an artist from Berlin who recommended the Muzeum der Dinge (not the first time someone has told me to go there)
  • Sally Booth who was interested in sharing Mary Greg’s collection with her visually impaired group from London
  • Ruth Lloyd who I had met years ago on Image & Identity and now manages V&A residencies and does exciting things with objects.  She’s also doing the Leicester MA in Interpretation by distance learning – must go and visit!
  • Ruth Lewis-Jones is at Lakeside in Nottingham and worked with archives and was interested in ODBs too
  • Penny Jones, ex-engage and now freelance was also staying in the same B&B
  • Sarah Campbell and Rosie O’Donovan from Kettle’s Yard
  • I went to the pub with Alicia Bruce who is a Scottish photographer tweeting and blogging about the conference for engage
  • and also Emily Wyndham Gray also from Scotland
  • as well as PhD student Stephen Vainker (doing the Tate/Exeter Artist Rooms research).
  • Kezia Merrick – now at Bedford Arts (was ‘called’ there) – had dinner with her
  • Also saw Lisa Jacques (still at Leicester), Sheila McGregor, Jude Thomas, Veronika Sekules (not to be confused with Katrina Siliprandi who I’d seen in Leeds a couple of weeks earlier and nearly made that mistake!)

There were several PhD students there which was refreshing – including Miriam Craik-Horan who I knew from the Crafts Council and Yanyue Yuan whose object-based research at Cambridge sounds like it will have resonance with my own.  I like engage because it has a rare and refreshing mixture of gallery professionals, freelance educators, teachers, artists, and this strong academic presence as well.  It’s not all about saying how marvellous everything is, but is more critical and self-reflexive.

In addition to my first ever Prezi, it was also the first time I have ever tweeted at a conference: I found it odd to be typing brief quotations from people as they were speaking, but actually rather enjoyed it, not least because people were interacting both from the room, but also from outside…  Anyway, more on the actual content and key questions later.


I have been fiddling about all afternoon with Prezi (which, if you haven’t come across it, is a whizzy online presentation-making device – web 2.0 meets clouds meets PowerPoint or something).  I’m still not sure if it’s a gimmick, or whether it’s actually a really sensible way of plotting a map of how concepts link together, and using images, video to share these ideas…  It makes me feel a bit sea-sick though so I hope that the audience are forgiving.  You might be able to see my presentation ‘opening up and letting go’ – there a few glitches (mainly with frames) but for a first attempt, self-taught and on a Sunday afternoon, it’s ok.  Low-tech, but ok for now.  I wonder what the audience at engage will think (of the tool not the content).