Making Interdisciplinary Inquiry Visible: The Role of Artist-Researchers in a Ten-Year Community-University Research Alliance

By W.F. Garrett-Petts and Rachel Nash.

Published by The Arts Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

For the last 10 years, we’ve been exploring the notion of artistic research. This exploration began with the formation of a Community-University Research Alliance, or CURA (2001–2012)--a collaboration with Thompson Rivers University and the City of Kamloops, British Columbia, and focusing on issues of cultural sustainability and quality of life in a small city setting. In particular, the researchers (drawn primarily from the social sciences and humanities: English, education, film studies, geography, history, social work, sociology, philosophy, political science, rhetoric, theatre studies and the visual arts) have been exploring notions of social capital and community asset building in communities 100,000 and smaller. This paper will consider the impact of the artists contributing to this research initiative, documenting how collectively we have refined the roles of artist-researchers, with the artists now following one of three inquiry models: (1) Affinity—where the artist matches existing work with issues under exploration by a particular research group; (2) Response—where the artist creates new work responding directly to the particular research group’s project; and, most importantly, (3) Integration—where the artist works with a particular research group, becoming in effect a co-researcher by committing skills, insights, vocabulary, qualitative problem solving methods, and art production to the research process and findings. Integrated research initiatives, we’ve found, put increased demands on artists to explore and create both visually and verbally; in addition, we’ve begun to understand better how the university research emphasis (replete with its entrenched expectations for traditional publication and exhibition outcomes) distinguishes the work of artist-researchers from those working exclusively in the realm of public art and community advocacy. For the artist-researchers working within the community-university alliance, their practice necessarily involves attention to place, audience, object, interdisciplinarity and research.

Keywords: Artist-as-Researchers, Artistic Inquiry, Community-Based Research, Small Cities

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 6, Issue 5, pp.43-54. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.935MB).

W.F. Garrett-Petts

Professor and Associate Dean of Arts, Faculty of Arts, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, B.C., Canada

Will Garrett-Petts writes about Canadian literature and the visual arts, image/ text relations, and the cultural future of small cities. He is Professor of English and Modern Languages and Associate Dean of Arts at Thompson Rivers University, where he is also Director for the “Small Cities Community-University Research Alliance.” Garrett-Petts’ interest in visual literacy has led to numerous curatorial initiatives, one on photography and literature, two on memory mapping and the small city, and one called “Proximities: Artists’ Statements and their Works” (Kamloops Art Gallery, October 2005). He has co-authored and edited 14 books, including Photographic Encounters: The Edges and Edginess of Reading Prose Pictures and Visual Fictions (University of Alberta Press, 2000) and The Small Cities Book: On the Cultural Future of Small Cities (New Star, 2005), a compendium that localizes questions of globalization and cultural identity at the municipal level, using Kamloops, British Columbia and its surrounding region as a ‘living laboratory’.

Rachel Nash

Assistant Professor of English, English and Modern Languages Department, Thompson Rivers University, Kamloops, B.C., Canada

Rachel Nash is Assistant Professor of English specializing in classical rhetoric and contemporary composition theory. Among her academic accomplishments, she has received two major Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada grants, edited two books, written numerous articles and chapters on multiculturalism and artist statements, coordinated an international symposium on artists and interdisciplinarity, and collaborated as curator for an exhibition exploring the nature of artistic inquiry.


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