Critical Spaces Consultancy Workshop

Critical Spaces Consultancy Workshop

On 23 May 2014, ICCE hosted the London Consultancy Workshop for Critical Spaces.

Critical Spaces is a critical catalyst for socially-engaged artists. This includes all artists working in social contexts, including site-specific, situationist, public, community and outreach artists. We are currently developing a free online platform which will support these artists by:

  • Helping them to find other socially-engaged artists for critical conversations and collaboration – locally or anywhere in the UK, and using specialist terminology.

  • Sending ‘Critical Tasks’ directly to their inbox. These are short exercises created by other artists to stimulate critical thinking.

  • Creating a map of socially-engaged artists across the UK, to increase the visibility of artists working in this way.

It will also help curators and commissioners to search for artists to work with more easily.

So far, 281 artists have registered their interest in this initiative. As a result, 17 workshops have been held across England to support critical thinking, local networks and peer support… And, to figure out how this type of activity can be stimulated on a national scale.

ICCE hosted the last of these workshops, where the final model for an online platform was presented to and tested by a curated group of 17 people. These were predominantly socially-engaged artists, but also included a mixture of consultants, commissioners and curators working in this field.

To compliment these workshops, we will shortly be launching an online survey for those who were not able to attend any of the R&D events.


The need

Critical dialogue and reflection is essential for improving art practice. The use of art to deliver social policy has both brought new possibilities for artists and led to a decrease in criticality and critical language.

Where studio and gallery-based artists are dealing exclusively in art language, social art practitioners are immersed in the language of the Third Sector. They are undertaking professional development training to learn about public licensing, charity status, viral marketing, policy changes and bid writing. Studios become offices, and the curators are charities and governmental bodies. None of these spaces are asking artists to develop and define the value of artistic practice on their own terms.

On top of this, a new breed of student is demanding that their £27k art school degree leaves them industry-ready. These previously experimental spaces – where young artists would generate new terms, processes and concepts for seeing – are fast becoming business schools.

For artists working in the social realm, the designated space for reflection is often the evaluation report. Rather than critical contemplation, evaluation is in fact advocacy. In addition, the looming threat of the quantitative measurement of well-being and payment-by-results means that social value – and by extension social art practice – is increasingly articulated in economic terms. This brings art practice much closer to an economic debate than it is used to.

Within an increasingly pressurised situation – where the artists’ livelihood and an externally-defined value system become intractably intertwined – the critical justification of this work easily becomes a secondary concern. The space for artist-led, autonomous, critical discourse – essential for developing sophisticated practice – is in short supply.

“There is a power struggle that is starting to happen between artists trying to access resources and money. I think there is room for us to come together in some way, when the economic situation outside is splitting us apart and preventing us from serving the people we are trying to reach through art.”

– Myles Stewart, Artist and Art Therapist

“We are so used to scrabbling for funding, keeping ourselves afloat and justifying what we do, that we don’t actually look creatively at the very terms in which we think and act. The spaces where artists used to come together to think differently are diminishing.”

– Matthew Taylor, Artist and Researcher

“We need to create some kind of support network where we can develop alternative instructions and forms and processes [for demonstrating artistic value] than those being directed by policy – and we need to do that collectively.”

– Sophie Hope, Artist and Researcher

Further information

Critical Spaces is an initiative by Hannah Hull in partnership with ixia public art think tank.

Hannah Hull a situation-specific artist, creating social sculpture and political interventions.  As part of her practice, she delivers and consults on creative practice for social change.

ixia is a public art think tank. It promotes and influences the development and implementation of public art policies, strategies and projects by creating and distributing knowledge to arts and non-arts policy makers and delivery organisations within the public and private sectors, curators, artists and the public. ixia is a charity and is funded by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation (NPO). ixia also teach on the MA Arts Administration and Cultural Policy in ICCE.


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