Personal development and public policy benefits of conceptual art

Submitting Institution

University of Southampton

Unit of Assessment

Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Art Theory and Criticism, Other Studies In Creative Arts and Writing

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Summary of the impact

Research carried out at the University of Southampton into the social and intellectual value of conceptual art has been the basis of creative education and personal development programmes designed for school children, teachers, young offenders and the general public. Through public engagement activities run through the University's John Hansard Gallery, public knowledge and understanding of conceptual art have been deepened. Research has had a significant impact on 93 young offenders whose participation in arts-based programmes has resulted in the attainment of educational qualifications, enhanced employment prospects and a drop in re-offending. New programmes, co-developed with Southampton Youth Offending Service, have influenced public policy at local and national government levels, with impact reach evidenced when they were recognised by the Ministry of Justice as a model for best practice.

Underpinning research

Conceptual art offers immense scope for learning and affords new perspectives on the world. Research carried out at Winchester School of Art, led by Jonathan Harris, Professor in Global Art and Design Studies (2011-present) and at the University of Southampton's John Hansard Gallery (JHG) under the directorship of Stephen Foster (1987-present), has resulted in exhibitions and expository analyses of the social and intellectual value of conceptual art. These formed the basis of complementary research undertaken by Ronda Gowland-Pryde, Head of Education and Access at JHG (2000-present), towards the development of art-based learning programmes to support personal, professional and social growth.

Two exhibitions curated by Foster, Stuart Brisley: Crossings (2008) [3.1] and the group show Dark Places (2009-10) [3.2], exemplify JHG's research into conceptual artists' use of complex visual metaphors for exploring the individual and social meanings of identity, community belonging and social purpose in times of societal crisis. Crossings featured works exploring two famous 20th century marine tragedies (the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912 and MV Estonia in 1994) and examined how these disasters reflect the anxieties of the age in which they occurred [3.1]. Dark Places featured works exploring the covert technological or scientific sites and institutions run by governments but concealed from public view [3.2]. Key insights arising from these exhibitions included how artworks can offer practical and symbolic resolutions to crises for both individuals (artist and audience) and communities. Harris further developed this analysis of conceptual art's clear relation to themes of personal and social progress through the JHG exhibition of work by Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt, leading figures within the Land Art movement (2013). Drawing on (on-going) research by Harris tracing the lineage in 20th-century art of artists who have explicitly set out 'utopian global' themes and values in their work [3.3], the exhibition focused on work made during a journey Holt and Smithson took through England and Wales in 1969. Key findings linked their work with that of the German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, a leading theorist of individual, social and 'green' liberation [3.3/3.4].

Building on this work, Gowland-Pryde has undertaken closely related research into the personal and social growth potential of the gallery's learning programme rooted in its use of JHG exhibition contents. Based on a review of a range of art programmes for socially marginalised people, Gowland-Pryde designed creative interventions particularly aimed at young people categorised as `at risk'. Beginning in 2007, these interventions were rolled out through JHG in partnership with the Southampton Youth Offending Service (SYOS) — formerly the Wessex Youth Offending Team. Gowland-Pryde's related doctoral research, started in 2009, focused on selected autobiographical experiences of seven participants and involved analysis through Qualitative Longitudinal Research (QLR) methods. Her findings indicated that, through the use of conceptual art materials and resources, participants were able to construct new positive narratives for themselves, developed communication and practical skills and experienced a shared sense of community [3.5].

Context for research

This research has been mobilised through assiduous planning, resource allocation, and delivery and review mechanisms. The University's recently established Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media (formed 2011) quickly provided significant new, dedicated funding (£10K) for Gowland-Pryde's research and learning programmes. A new JHG Regional Advisory Group (RAG) was set up as the organisational means through which to help review the gallery's public engagement activities, bringing in new local and regional community voices, businesses, public agencies, policy and Third Sector representatives. The RAG meets regularly to assess and support JHG programme development, especially important now in the run-up to the opening of the gallery's new and expanded building to be located in Southampton city centre, due to open in 2015.

References to the research

3.1. Stuart Brisley: Crossings curated by Stephen Foster. JHG, 11 February-5 April 2008, and catalogue essay `Introduction: The Proximity of Catastrophe': pp.7-13. 978-0854328819 Colin Perry, Exhibition Review of Stuart Brisley, Crossings, in Art Monthly, Issue No. 315, April 2008, London: Britannia Art Publications Ltd, p. 26: "Brisley's measured voice emerges from the tangle of sounds to provide death-count statistics and a nautically precise breakdown of events [...] In Crossings the same voice calmly dredges up the debris of bare reality from the deep." [p. 26]


3.2. Dark Places curated by Stephen Foster, Nicola Triscott, Rob La Frenais, Neal White, Helen Sloan. JHG, 24 November 2009-23 January 2010, and catalogue introduction: p. 3 Paul Roberts, Exhibition Review of Dark Places, in AfterImage: Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, Vol. 37, No. 5, New York: Visual Studies Workshop, p. 35: "It urges us to engage with sites that may have been intentionally hidden from the public sphere [and] it reveals sites we have simply overlooked through ignorance or indifference." [p. 35]

3.3. Jonathan Harris `Mother Nature on the Run: Austerity-Globalist Depletions in the 1970s' and `Some Kind of Druid Dude: Joseph Beuys's Liturgies of Freedom,' 2 chapters in Harris, The Utopian Globalists: Artists of Worldwide Revolution, 1919-2009 (Wiley-Blackwell: Boston and Oxford, 2013): 246-286 and 165-210. 978-1-4051-9301-6 (REF2014 output)


3.4. Nancy Holt and Robert Smithson: England and Wales 1969 curated by Stephen Foster. JHG, 10 May-17 August 2013 Paul Carey-Kent, Exhibition Review: "Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966 - 1979 and Nancy Holt & Robert Smithson: England and Wales 1969", in Art Monthly, Issue No. 367, June 2013, London: Britannia Art Publications Ltd, pp. 22 - 24. The review praised: "[T]he amount of relatively unfamiliar work in ... [the] exhibition [...] and the emphasis not on the land in isolation but on how people — both the inhabitants of the landscapes explored and the artists in their often humorous interactions with it — relate to the landscape." [p. 23]

3.5. Ronda Gowland-Pryde `Freak Fucker: Stereotypical Representations of Sexuality in British Disability Art' Disability Studies Quarterly, Fall 2002, Volume 22, No. 4, Ohio: Ohio State University, pp. 120-7. Please note DSQ is a peer-reviewed journal. Gowland-Pryde's article was cited in peer-reviewed journal essay by Margaret M. Quinlan and Benjamin R. Bates `Dances and discourses of (dis) ability: Heather Mills's embodiment of disability on Dancing with the Stars,' Text and Performance Quarterly, Vol. 28, Issue 1-2 (Routledge: Oxford, 2008), pp. 64-80

Details of the impact

Disseminated through the John Hansard Gallery's exhibitions and a programme of learning activities, Winchester School of Art research has reached thousands of members of the general public with specific benefits for primary school children, teachers and `at risk' adolescents.

General public

JHG's core programme of six exhibitions per year has attracted 511,899 visitors since 2008 [5.1]. JHG's varied educational programme (creative workshops, talks or conferences) based on exhibition contents and supporting research have been attended by 470 members of the general public since 2008 leading to greater public understanding and appreciation of conceptual art. For instance, in May 2013, 55 people attended a symposium on the societal implications of work in the Smithson/Holt exhibition as researched by Harris. In feedback, one participant noted that the event brought "the political context of land art in the UK" into sharper focus and another commented that it had given them a "greater historical understanding" and "greater appreciation" of land art [5.2]. A variety of educational workshops were organised to complement Crossings (attendance - 159 people) and Dark Places (attendance - 174 people). For example, after visiting Crossings, schoolchildren participated in a supporting gallery workshop that echoed the exhibition's concern with the return of the repressed. Constructing a 3-dimensional underwater scene of the wreckage of the Titanic, they discussed what they might discover about a ship once thought unsinkable through this practice-based journey.

Schoolchildren and teachers

During 2009/2010, Gowland-Pryde designed and facilitated educational workshops for trainee teachers and 43 local primary school students as part of the Arts Council England-funded Engage programme `Watch This Space 6' (WTS6). Designed to support the new primary curriculum, sessions based on JHG exhibitions developed participants' visual analysis and creative skills [5.3]. Ofsted said that the partnerships "encouraged students who would not normally visit galleries to do so regularly"; and "teachers, at all stages of their careers, saw the opportunity to develop new teaching approaches in unfamiliar contexts as a significant turning point in their work" [5.4]. A local teacher said "it [made] me focus on [...] skills that allow children to respond to and create art with more confidence" [5.5].

In 2011, JHG was selected by the Arts Award national agency to coordinate and pilot two new educational programmes: `Discover' and 'Explore', through which participants can earn qualifications based on arts activities completed in galleries [5.6]. An exhibition of artworks created by schoolchildren during the pilot went on public show at JHG (November 2011-March 2012; 1,767 people attended) and images from the pilot feature in the Arts Award 2012 Guide (45,000 printed copies; 31,388 views online) [5.6] and in Arts Award training toolkits (2,383 toolkits distributed to individuals and organisations, largely working in education and the arts, attending Arts Award training). The pilot was featured in an article in Children and Young People Now (29 May-11June 2012), a magazine for professionals working in social care, health and education (readership 16,000), in which a schoolchild commented that thinking about "the art I see and hear around me makes every day feel special" (p.20). Arts Award launched its new 'Discover' and 'Explore' levels nationally in 2012 and one of the teachers who participated in the pilot has trained to become an Arts Award Advisor. Over 9,000 students nationwide have received Arts Award `Discover' or `Explore' Awards since the launch.

Young Offenders in Hampshire

Since 2008, 40 young offenders have participated in JHG Summer Arts Colleges (SAC) run in partnership with Southampton Youth Offending Service (SYOS) for a group that, generally, have disengaged from mainstream education and training, and lack basic literacy and numeracy skills [5.7]. The Unitas Evaluation Report, which assessed all summer arts colleges, concluded that SACs significantly reduced offending rates — dropping from 8.9 (offences/100 weeks at risk) to 5.7 in the 13 weeks following completion. Post-assessments showed participants improved literacy (69%) and numeracy (68%) scores [5.8]. One participant reflected: "A lot of people said I wouldn't be able to change and I changed. All that has made me think about other things than getting into trouble" [5.9].

JHG also offered a longer-term Arts Award programme from 2008 to 2010, specifically designed for young people in the youth justice system. This provided 20 young people with the opportunity to develop their educational, creative and social skills. In 2009, SAC-participant Carl Morgan continued through JHG's Arts Award programme to achieve Hampshire's first Gold Arts Award (recognised UCAS Tariff 35 points) [5.7]. Subsequently Morgan was invited to meet the Undersecretary of State for Schools, to represent Arts Council England at a Parliamentary breakfast meeting for MPs and went on to study at Central St Martins School of Art. Discussing his experience at JHG, he said it, "helped me to learn to be more focused and think about what I want to do in the future" [5.10].

In 2008, JHG provided two animation workshops to young offenders in the Southampton and Portsmouth area, each attended by a group of 7 young people and in 2010, JHG worked with 8 NEET young people on the project Animating the Cultural Quarter in collaboration with City Eye and the Wessex Youth Offending Team. In 2012, SYOS invited JHG to develop, pilot (4 young people) and deliver 'Kri-8': a 12-month scheme where 7 `at risk' young people worked with experienced JHG artist-educators to develop skills in a wide range of media towards a range of qualifications [5.11]. One Kri-8 participant with mental health issues said: "It's made me get in with people more [and]... feel better as a person." Her mum said: "Every Friday [she] come[s] home with a big smile on [her] face [...] She tells me she is really proud." [5.9] In 2012, Kri-8 was included in the Ministry of Justice's online `effective practice library' to provide practitioners and commissioners in youth justice with easy access to examples of effective practice from other services and providers [5.12]. Over the period of assessment, 69 of the young offenders who followed an Arts Award course gained a qualification, varying from bronze, silver to gold level.

This programme of impact activities — aimed at young children and hard-to-reach, disadvantaged minorities as well as broader publics — has enabled the submitting unit to achieve substantial impact from its research into conceptual art and its social meanings. While considerable reach has sometimes been attained, impact has generally been targeted at relatively small groups, and the focus has been on promoting deep significant change and personal benefits for individuals in crisis.

Sources to corroborate the impact

5.1 Adrian Hunt, Head of Communications, John Hansard Gallery.
To corroborate impact claims regarding work with the general public.

5.2 Feedback form responses and other documentation held at Winchester School of Art.
To corroborate impact claims regarding work with the general public.

5.3 Julie Greer, Head Teacher, Cherbourg Primary School, letter to Ronda Gowland-Pryde, letter dated 3rd May 2013.
To corroborate impact claims regarding `WTS6' work with Cherbourg Primary School.

5.4 Drawing Together: art, craft and design in schools 2005-2008 (Ofsted Report). See To corroborate impact claims regarding `WTS6' work with children.

5.5 Watch This Space 6: Supporting Art and Literacy at Key Stage 2 with Teacher Trainees and their Mentors (Case Study) JHG and Cherbourg Primary School. See To corroborate impact claims regarding `WTS6' work with children and teachers.

5.6 Arts Award 2012 Guide. See To corroborate impact claims regarding Arts Award work with children.

5.7 Lorna Digweed, former Youth Arts Coordinator, Wessex Young Offending Team (as was).
To corroborate impact claims regarding Arts Award work with young offenders.

5.8 Unitas Evaluation Report 2007-11. See justice/effective-practice-library/evaluation-report.pdf To corroborate impact claims regarding Arts Award work with young offenders.

5.9 Participant observation evidence collected by Ronda Gowland-Pryde, JHG, in document Leaping Forward: from names and tags to young artists (Interim Report, 28th May 2013). To corroborate impact claims regarding Arts Award work with young offenders.

5.10 See To corroborate impact claims regarding Arts Award work with young offenders.

5.11 Stuart Webb, Acting Head of Service, Southampton Youth Offending Service, letter dated 22nd April 2013. To corroborate impact claims regarding Arts Award Work with young offenders.

5.12 See behaviour-programme To corroborate impact claims regarding Arts Award work with young offenders.