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image: B+B Archive, 2003, Austrian Cultural Forum, London

This is the beginnings of a proposal for a practice-based research initiative into complex, contradictory histories of cultural democracy and social art practices. This includes culture and leisure policies, all sorts of practices (invited, uninvited, publicly funded, self-funded, professional, amateur), technologies, philosophies, theories and economies related to histories of cultural democracy.

This is a way to interweave my past, present and future research into histories of cultural democracy, community arts and socially engaged art practices, to develop collaborations with others interested in this stuff and create shared resources for our research and teaching.

So, this is me trying to pull those threads together and think about what to do next.

This connects to my past/current work, including:

Years of conversations with Emily Druiff, Director of Peckham Platform about developing a Social Art Resource together – I see this ‘research centre’ as a series of threads that can both nourish and feed off the resource at Peckham Platform.

Conversations I’ve been having with Alison Jeffers, Owen Kelly, Leila Jancovich and others about histories of cultural democracy

Meanwhile in an Abandoned Warehouse podcast series about cultural democracy with Owen Kelly

1984 Dinners – an ongoing website-archive of a series of dinners about art and politics in different parts of the world in the year 1984

My PhD – ‘Participating in the Wrong Way? Practiced Based Research into Cultural Democracy and the Commissioning of Art to Effect Social Change’

Social Art Maps – creating timelines of socially engaged art commissions

Movement for Cultural Democracy – I’m a member of this campaign for the realisation of a radical and transformative cultural programme in the UK.

Contribution to Alison Jeffers and Gerri Moriarty’s publication Culture, Democracy and the Right to Make Art (2018)

B+B Archive – developed with Sarah Carrington as part of our practice B+B (2000-2006), which is now housed in my office at work.

And a number of related conferences and workshops I’ve co-organised on these themes, such as:

‘1979 Revisited’: The Cultural Production of ‘Structures of Feeling’ under Thatcherism – symposium organised with Herbert Pimlott, 21 November 2014, Keynes Library, Birkbeck, University of London

Storming the Citadels? Changing attitudes and frameworks to arts practices and research in community contexts – conference, 25 July 2015, Keynes Library, Birkbeck, University of London.

Footprints and Fingerprints – tracing socially engaged art – 17 March 2015, workshop in my office, Birkbeck, University of London

Archiving the Practice Lab with Rosalie Schweiker and Emily Druiff as part of the Social Art Summit, Sheffield, 2 November 2018.


About the Cultural Democracy Histories Research Centre

The Research Centre is about collecting, preserving, distributing, analysing and sharing traces, but it is also an experimental investigation into how to do this research, and how not to do it. The Research Centre provides some headspace to explore and experiment with feminist, queer, decolonial methodologies and methods of doing history-work. It is an example of slow research based on care, listening and respect.

This Research Centre is not really a Centre, but a leaky container for collating, talking, uploading, rethinking and making visible research into things overtly and tangentially related to cultural democracy and social art practices. An anti-archive in the making.

It involves a process of:

– Keeping the material open, available, free.

– Acknowledging the situated, partial and subjective nature of history-work.

– Making connections between people, spaces, groups – cultural democracy cartographies.

– Looking at the edges, margins of cultural democracy and social art practices (and the connections between these things), foregrounding behind the scenes work and invisible labours, the unhappy stories, awkwardnesses and troubled aspects of these histories.

– Exploring ways to do things that are intergenerational

– Actively looking elsewhere, making meaningful inter/trans-national connections

– Zooming in to explore fine details.

– Panning out to understand the broader political, economic contexts.

– Supporting the bodily, vocal and spatial aspects of cultural democracy and social art practices.

– Playing with the oral and aural aspects of history-work.

This Research Centre might involve physical materials, a website, discussions, readings groups, interviews… All the time, we will be addressing who is speaking, who is listening?

The aim is that any material generated, published and shared through the centre would be done so under a creative commons license.

There are many inspirational history projects which relate to this proposal, including:

The GLC Story

Film and Video Distribution Database

May Day Rooms

Remember Olive Morris

Jubilee Arts Archive

Centre for Historical Reenactments

London Community Video Archive

June Givanni Film Archive

Interference Archive

Arte Útil


Group Material


Charles Parker Archive

Unfinished Histories