The Way Art Works: Insights for Community Development

Julie Crawshaw, Menelaos Gkartzios

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

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How can we articulate what art does in rural community development? Drawing on a one-year experimental study combining ethnography and artistic fieldwork on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne in the north east of England (referred to hereafter as Holy Island), we explore the ways art works in the context of neo-endogenous forms of community development. We propose that the art experience is catalytic to processes of community engagement, personal and collective reflection, revealing relationships (or even disconnects) between the community as well as between the community and the natural environment. Such reflexive processes are characteristic within ideal frames of rural development that place the community at the heart of the development decision making. We argue therefore that art as a process within a community development strategy reveals the complexity of rural community or in other words ‘reads’ the community where development initiatives are being established. Community-led or ‘bottom-up’ perspectives are commonplace in rural development processes, well discussed within ideal models such as neo-endogenous or networked rural development (Lowe et al. 1998; Shucksmith 2000). Similarly, the role of arts is increasingly now promoted as a vehicle to rural development (Balfour and Alter 2015; Markusen 2006; Bell and Jayne 2010). However, this usually refers to understanding arts in positive or economic terms (Gibson 2010a, 2010b; Arts Council England 2005). This literature does not account for art as a practice on its own terms (an example from arts practice: Crawshaw and Bowman, 2007). Surprisingly perhaps, while these debates draw on theoretical discussions within economic and social geography, planning and rural studies, there is very little intersection with the field of art studies. This chapter aims to fill this gap, evidenced by our interdisciplinary collaboration across art and rural studies backgrounds.

We draw inspiration on the relational perspectives of art practice from art studies. As proposed by Hennion and Grenier (2000: 351) instead of looking at works of art, we rather shape our study to trace the way artworks work. To contribute a nuanced articulation of the effects mobilised by art in rural development processes, through exploratory ethnographic research, we trace associations at the micro level: we are concerned with what art does in practice. To discuss the relational nature of communities, we draw on rural studies and in particular the framework for ‘reading communities’ suggested by Ruth Liepins (2000a, 2000b). In tracing associations, we notice how art impacts on community meanings, practices, and spaces and structures amidst complex relational networks. As such we make a specific contribution to the understanding of art in community development: through tracing the micro relationships of art in rural development, we propose art as a ‘relational reading’ of the community.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Community Development Perspectives from Around the Globe
EditorsSue Kenny, Brian McGrath, Rhonda Phillips
PublisherTaylor & Francis
VolumeThe Routledge Handbook of Community Development
ISBN (Electronic)9781315674100
ISBN (Print)9781138940765
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2017


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