Holding the paradox

hands by Chris

photo: Chris Fremantle

How can art respond to complex social and ethical problems? When should the demand for solutions be resisted? And how might this affect our understanding of cultural leadership?

These were among the questions keenly debated in the first of our series of full day seminars on Cultural leadership and the place of the Artist which took place in Edinburgh on Friday 20th May.  Our thanks go to the artists, researchers and cultural organisers who attended and contributed so fully.  The day brought together participants from various phases of On The Edge research alongside new friends and colleagues from our project partners Creative Scotland and ENCATC.

Discussion ranged across different understandings of what is meant by leadership and how it relates to artistic production.  This led on to questions about the role of art in public life.  Some compelling suggestions were made about the distinctive capacity of art to embrace contradiction, to find potent material in the midst of uncertainty.  In a world of ‘wicked’, irresolvable problems, there is a value to being able to hold conflicting ideas in creative tension. Can art therefore help us to live with our difficulties?

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Questioning cultural leadership

Who do you depend upon to make your role in the arts possible? Who looks to you for support? What form of change would you most like to see happen – and who can help you bring it about?


Photos: Graeme MacDonald

On The Edge posed these questions to a diverse group of artists, researchers and organisers at the first event of its new AHRC investigation, Cultural leadership and the place of the artist, on 14th March at Woodend Barn, Banchory. Each question was approached through the viewpoints of a range of archetypal roles: artist, funder, teacher, policy maker, board member, parent, venue manager, volunteer.  We built a network in miniature of the relationships and forms of influence through which our actions are shaped in aesthetic, organisational and social contexts.  Opening up issues of leadership in culture beyond the operation of hierarchies, we tried to understand the interplay between policy and practice; artist and institution; individual and structure; action and influence. Among the discussions that followed we introduced the ten-year trajectory of On The Edge research from The Artist as Leader onwards and tested ideas for the new project. [Read more…]

Cultural leadership and the place of the artist

Traditional Sicilian puppets at Rustico's restaurant, AberdeenOn The Edge has secured a new £100,000 international project to develop professional engagement with its research into artistic and cultural leadership at Gray’s School of Art. Establishing new relationships with the Clore Leadership Programme, Creative Scotland and ENCATC (the European network of cultural management and cultural policy education), the work will generate events and discussions with the cultural sector in London, Edinburgh and Brussels. New publications will be produced and the project aims to inform new developments in cultural leadership training, theory and practice.

The year-long initiative is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) with further support from the three partners. It builds on the longstanding ‘Artist as Leader’ research as well as Jonathan Price’s Ph.D research into ‘Discourses of Cultural Leadership’ (2012-2015).  Price will co-ordinate the new project while Professor Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle, the co-authors of the Artist as Leader report, will be Principal Investigator and Co-Investigator respectively.  Douglas said: ‘This AHRC award and the support of our cultural sector partners is welcome recognition of the quality of the research at Gray’s and its significance in the professional field. This opportunity allows us to build on our earlier work and on recent doctoral research in the School, shaping debates in the UK and Europe.’

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On The Edge in Utrecht


On The Edge researchers Anne Douglas, Caroline Gausden, Jon Price and Helen Smith collaborated on a panel session for the Participation & Engagement in the Arts conference at the University of Utrecht in June 2014. Challenging the idea that there is any single agenda of participation in the arts, the papers and debate explored some political and ethical contradictions emerging from practice which are too often hidden by common terminology. The event was co-organised by Leeds Metropolitan University and co-hosted by the Netherlands National Centre of Expertise for Cultural Engagement and Amateur Arts. It was good to see many old friends and to make a few new ones in the course of some wide-ranging, quality debate in magnificent settings.

Experiential knowledge and improvisation

Kathleen Coessens and Catherine Laws September 2010, Orpheus Institute Ghent, playing Kurtag's Jatekok (Games)

Experiential knowledge and improvisation: Variations on movement, motion, emotion

This paper was presented by Anne Douglas and Kathleen Coessens at the EKSIG Conference, University of the Creative Arts 23rd and 24th July, 2011.

Anne Douglas, Grays School of Art, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK and Orpheus Research Center in Music, Ghent, Belgium

Kathleen Coessens, Vrije Universiteit, Brussels and Orpheus Research Center in Music, Ghent, Belgium

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Movement and Moment: in between Discreteness and Continuity

This paper was presented at Bodies in Movement: Intersecting Discourses of Materiality in the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, 28-29 May 2011.

It will be published in a special issue of the Somatechnics Journal, University of Edinburgh Press entitled Somatechnics of Movement early 2014.

Movement and Moment: in between Discreteness and Continuity

Kathleen Coessens and Anne Douglas

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On Calendar Variations

Coessens, K. and Douglas, A. (2011) On Calendar Variations. Banchory: Woodend Barn.
Publication associated with exhibition at Woodend Barn, Banchory, Aberdeenshire (2-27 April, 2011).
With artistic contributions of Georgina Barney, Chris Fremantle, Reiko Goto, Fiona Hope, Jono Hope, Janet McEwan, Chu Chu Yuan.

Calendar Variations is a collaborative art research project that responds to Kaprow’s Calendar score,  1971.  Developed by a group of artist researchers from On The Edge Research, the project started as a response to the Unexpected Variations research festival, September 2010, at the Orpheus Research Institute in Musical Practice, Ghent.

First of all we performed the score through drawing, interpreting drawing through a variety of possible responses.  Each individual was invited to respond from within their own aesthetic understanding.  We then came together and shared our productions, seeking agreement about how to perform the score together.  We decided to walk the score.