York Performance and Engagement Conference 2017

Philip Kerrigan participated in and delivered a talk at the 2017 Performance and Engagement Conference in York, 17-18 March 2017. The Conference is an annual celebration of public engagement and arts-informed research practices; an opportunity to explore the many ways in which arts-based and performative methodologies such as storytelling, songs, film, and live performance can help in engaging the public more fully with research that may be relevant to their lives.

The organising committee was led by Kitrina Douglas from Leeds Beckett University and also included Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow Delia Muir who is based at the University of Leeds and who, with an actress colleague, led an inspiring workshop and performance around dementia.

The thirty or so delegates came from a range of academic backgrounds across the social sciences, arts and humanities and health sciences and there were also a number of artists, designers, directors, and public engagement facilitators. For several of the university academics their art-making was integral to their research.

Many of the delegates had attended the Conference in previous years and talking to them it was apparent that they very much valued this yearly opportunity to escape the pressures of the University environment and get together with like-minded people to creatively share hopes, ideas and concerns.

The friendly, inclusive and supportive atmosphere that the organisers and facilitators fostered opened up many stimulating and thought-provoking conversations over the two days. Topics ranged from creating pieces of immersive interactive theatre which might explore say the social, cultural and philosophical issues around potential future cures for mental health problems to street games to encourage engagement with climate change consequences. Philip Kerrigan presented on the C2D2 Artist-in-Residence programme and the mutual benefits that artists and researchers described from working together as well as the public reception of the works.

A repeated observation was that people often choose research topics that link to personal experience but can nevertheless be wary of directly incorporating such experiences into their research and public engagement. It was pointed out however that being open about one’s own experiences and interest in a topic can lend an authenticity and authority which often helps greatly in winning the confidence and buy-in of members of the public and patients. Also it was agreed that honestly acknowledging and exploring one’s own motivations, feelings and personal perspectives, encourages greater clarity and integrity in the way a person researches.

A special feature of the Conference was an evening of live musical performances: ‘Songs as Research’ and films which powerfully communicated the passion and personal commitment of the researcher-artists who made them and brought vividly to life the power of the arts and performance to reach us both intellectually and emotionally by appealing to all our senses and drawing on the visceral impact of metaphor and individual narrative.

Watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hPRnQ0oTd8 on YouTube

Video of Conference created by Kitrina Douglas - embedded from Youtube