Researchers from five universities and several non-university based collaborators have come together to explore the role of the arts and creativity within diverse communities. The three-year (2016-19) Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded research project will focus on how marginalised communities use the arts, media and creativity to challenge exclusion. The project will produce outputs including academic articles and publications, a theatre production, films, a photo exhibition and digital installations.
Collaborators include migrant and long-term resident, food factory and warehouse workers in the East of England; African, Caribbean and South Asian screen practitioners and activists in the UK; refugee, migrant and LGBT communities in Northern Ireland; Palestinian filmmakers and solidarity networks in the UK and internationally; and a cross-section of faiths in Punjab and the Punjabi diaspora in Scotland. The research team is based at Brunel University London, the University of Sussex, Sheffield Hallam University, Queen’s University Belfast and University of Strathclyde.
Creative Interruptions emerges within several important social, cultural and political contexts. These include the deep correlation that has been identified in the creative industries between ‘race’, class and citizenship status and levels of cultural participation, raising questions about how to diversify cultural access, representation and engagement. In addition, acute austerity measures since the 2008 financial crisis that have led to, for example, a cut in funding for the arts and community public spaces, have altered the dynamics of creative production, sharing and value. More broadly, recent migration trends and geopolitical shifts have coincided with an intensified climate of ethnic separatism and border anxieties, resulting in a populist shift against immigration and former principles of multiculturalism.
Within these contexts, we explore the role of culture in representing diverse communities, especially those that have been found to be excluded from the creative industries and disenfranchised more widely through the enactment of law, public policy, and social practices that can create obstacles for all citizens to participate fully and have their voices heard. Creative Interruptions responds to recent academic and industry debates by asking what mainstream creative practice might learn from more marginalised creative practice.
Taking the perspectives and experiences of these communities as our starting point, we provide a space where creative practitioners can discuss how their work seeks to challenge current and past practices of exclusion in society. We also examine, within the austerity context, how disenfranchised communities come together to produce work that generates creative outcomes and how cultural value is understood from their point of view. And whilst we recognise that all communities can cause divisions and exclusions, we are interested in how the social antagonisms laid bare in the run up to, and following on from, the UK’s 2016 In/Out referendum over membership of the European Union, are impacting on grassroots creative interventions. Furthermore, what is their potential for shaping new understandings of those disenfranchised because of their ‘race’, class or citizenship status?
Creative Interruptions therefore proposes to identify, analyse, promote and share evidence on the contribution that diverse communities make to creative culture and translate these findings to inform policy and decision-making in the arts and cultural sectors. The research will be of interest on national and international levels to those concerned with ideas of community, connectivity and creativity.
The kind of creative work, that we will both produce and research, ranges from film and theatre to social media expressions and we are keen to develop historical and contemporary understandings of how and why these are generated, and the transformations they might produce, both locally and globally. In particular, we focus on the creative responses to legacies of British colonial retreat alongside contemporary transnational migration and the evolving experiences of people affected by institutional racisms, intensive workplace regimes, faith-based conflicts, nationalisms and continued occupation.
Motivated by a concern to listen to largely unheard stories, the project therefore engages with past and emergent grassroots arts work that has responded to migration, racisms and forms of social exclusion. Central to our research ethos is collaboration with participants. This allows us to assemble new public memories, whilst deepening public understandings of diverse creative practices and cultural value, and foregrounding the role of creative processes in challenging exclusion.
Our method of co-creation is one of the ways in which we are building on existing studies. A further contribution is in how we develop an alternative, decolonised paradigm where disenfranchised communities are actively part of the research process and are situated as agents who can make claims on their own terms, including through creative practice. This is a collaborative research endeavour that also requires us to be deeply reflexive about inherent power relations within our own study.
By bringing together diverse practitioners, activists, academics and non-university based collaborators we aim to build a space where creative practices as well as theoretical, cultural and policy perspectives converge. Art is used here as a forum to exchange knowledge about these experiences and to research across divides. It also offers an opportunity to develop skills and training in creative production, for example, by upskilling actors who will work with professional artists and producers and enabling local filmmakers to produce new work during the course of the project.
 See Kate Oakley and Dave O’Brien, ‘Learning to labour unequally: understanding the relationship between cultural production, cultural consumption and inequality’, Social Identities, 22 (5), 2016, 471-486. Also see Dave O’Brien and Kate Oakley, Cultural Value and Inequality: A critical literature review (London: AHRC, 2015).
 Dave Berry in ‘Cultural Politics in the Age of Austerity’ (Routledge, 2017) assesses the impact of austerity on the dynamics of cultural politics.
 See Jack Newsinger and William Green, ‘The infrapolitics of cultural value: cultural policy, evaluation and the marginalisation of practitioner perspectives’, Journal of Cultural Economy, 9 (4), 2016, 382-395.