circuit conference

Conferences. We all get to go to them and sometimes we present. Sometimes we even organise them. This year Nicky Sim got to organise a very important conference – the first of a series of wrap-ups of the Circuit programme. It was held at Nottingham Contemporary on March 10th.

Circuit is/was a four-year programme funded by Paul Hamlyn. It brought art galleries and youth organisations together to provide cultural programmes and festivals for young people who might not typically be engaged with an art museum.

We are connected with Circuit in two ways – Nicky has conducted ethnographic research into ‘partnership’ through a TATE – Nottingham AHRC funded studentship, and Becky Coles and I are doing a longitudinal study of 21 people engaged in the ‘youth’ programming/curating collectives. So Becky and I were there, as well as Nicky of course.

The conference theme addressed the possibilities, risks and challenges of developing democratic practice between young people, youth organisations and galleries. (Young people are defined as 15-25)

The attendees came primarily from the ‘youth’ and ‘gallery’ sectors with a few other people, researchers and arts administrators, added in.


The proceedings were a mix of presentations and discussions with some time for ‘table’ conversations.

Some of the learnings of Circuit were clearly on show, both as displays and in the discussions. Youth Collectives have taught galleries that

  • successful programming for young people is inter-disciplinary – film, music, visual and performing arts together
  • young people need to see themselves represented in gallery activities
  • there has to be something for me, something that is relevant to me
  • activities have to offer something – personal development, the opportunity to socialise, new connections
  • activities have to be free and accessible.

Difficult questions were raised and some of the more obvious tensions emerged – the terms ‘young people’, ‘diversity’ and ‘hard to reach’ were an ongoing issue. The hierarchies of power within galleries, the continued attacks on the youth sector and informal education, the possibility of institutional critique becoming a programme of concrete activity challenged all of us.

Becky and I were both pleased to discuss the gallery as a ‘gig’  economy and the parlous state of employment in the arts in general and for young adults in particular; this is a major issue emerging from our research.

conference line drawings by @askthefaces, a Nottingham based artist

Nicky and Rachel from Circuit did a great job in organising the conference. Nicky’s commitment to ensuring that a wide range of views were on the table was enacted through the programme. The process and the topic were congruent.

I’m sure all of us left with some key things to think about and  even perhaps with a concrete action in mind.

PhD studentship working with Nottingham Contemporary

We are now advertising a studentship for three or four years to research  the learning that occurs in Nottingham Contemporary education programmes. 

The ad reads:

The place of learning: teachers, artists and young people at Nottingham Contemporary

The University of Nottingham and the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) are offering a fully-funded PhD studentship in collaboration with Nottingham Contemporary.

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Nottingham Contemporary has a strong commitment to ensuring that young people in the city, many of whom are from families struggling to get by, have access to meaningful visual art experiences and offers both formal and informal opportunities for learning, in the galleries, through public events, through family and young people’s programmes and through programmes in schools.

While there are regular evaluations conducted of the Nottingham Contemporary educational programmes, there has not yet been any in depth longitudinal research of the benefits that those engaged in school programmes get from their gallery engagements. The gallery is increasingly asked for evidence of the value of its programmes. This project will provide the first robust examination of the NC learning programmes and as such, it will inform future developments at Nottingham Contemporary, but will also be of significant interest to partner regional contemporary art galleries (the Plus Tate network).

First Supervisor: Professor Pat Thomson
Second Supervisor: Professor Christine Hall

Portland.jpgThe project examines the learning affordances of the Nottingham Contemporary Learning Programmes for teachers, students and artists. The researcher will be based in the school’s Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy and will undertake an ethnographic study of the NC learning programme and examine the different ‘impacts’ of NC’s programmes for students aged 5-16, their teachers and the artists who work with them.

Specifically, the researcher will, over a nine-month period (a school year including school holidays), undertake ethnographic research in the gallery – observe young people, their teachers and artists who participate in school programmes; interview teachers and students in ten city schools; and administer a cultural participation survey to young people.

The full time studentship provides funding for three or four years (PhD/MA+PhD) to start on 1 October 2016. The award will cover full PhD fees and provide a tax-free stipend for UK candidates (£14,057 p.a. in 2015), or fees only for EU candidates.

Candidates should have a masters degree in Education, Anthropology, Sociology or a related Social Science or cognate discipline such as Art History or Fine Arts. Prior experience in qualitative research is highly desirable.

The application process and further information is online. 

Closing date: 21 February 2016 (noon).