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Transformational fieldwork, or, How might a sustainable cultural provision in the rural/small town context be framed?

Zeiske, Claudia Friederike


Claudia Friederike Zeiske


Jen Clarke


While a lot has been written in the past two decades about the impact of participatory arts on people in urban places, my practice-based research aims to fill the gap in relation to the rural context - often places with little traditional arts provision. Based on the development of Deveron Projects in Huntly/Aberdeenshire - where the "town is the venue", rather than a gallery or arts centre - my aim is to show how cultural provision can be framed through a combination of durational commitment to place and effective cultural management. To do this, I have been reflecting on twenty-five years of working in the small-town community setting, examining retrospectively my role as curator/producer. Underpinned by Scottish philosopher Patrick Geddes's Place/Work/Folk thinking machine and artist Joseph Beuys' idea of social sculpture, as well as other thinkers' engagement with place and social context, I show how we can create a cultural ecology that assists the wellbeing of rural communities. The research is based on four case studies that explain how the collaboration with artists can lead to transformative change through participatory, practice-led projects. Through them, my inquiry leads from the identification of socio-political themes to collaborative development of the projects between community, artists and ourselves - the "Anthro-Producers". The research shows why and how art provision in rural locations can be structured sustainably through field-research akin to anthropological methods. The ensuing approach I call Transformational Fieldwork, a form of cultural management that combines social engagement with research methods relating to long-term participatory observation. Structured around 16 inter-woven administrative/artistic principles, this framework offers a toolkit for continued arts development in the rural community context. My contribution to curatorial sustainability discourse is, therefore, to show step-by-step how Transformational Fieldwork can contribute to rural development and community wellbeing in places that, unlike urban cultural contexts, have limited involvement with contemporary art.


ZEISKE, C.F. 2022. Transformational fieldwork, or, How might a sustainable cultural provision in the rural/small town context be framed? Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis. Hosted on OpenAIR [online]. Available from:

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Sep 6, 2023
Publicly Available Date Sep 6, 2023
Keywords Art and rural society; Art and society; Art and wellbeing; Community arts practice; Rural development
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