Whitworth’s RESEARCH in the Park

Guest post by Nicola Harding (MMU) who teamed up with Rachel Smith (UoM) to collaborate with The Whitworth for REAlab 2016.

During the summer of 2016 I embarked upon a research project with Dr Rachel Smith, assessing the impact of a new installation in Whitworth Park, Manchester. Facilitated by REALab in conjunction with the Whitworth Art Gallery, this evaluation formed part of a report to the Arts council of the impact of the recently installed Anya Gallacio sculpture within the gallery in the park.

REALab facilitated the process of obtaining a brief and organising a pitch, offering training from experienced consultants who successfully apply their experience in academia to wider arts and culture groups, and in industry.  Through this process we pitched a co-produced evaluation, which placed local young people as key stakeholders, acting as a voice for the local community within this research. Upon accepting our research pitch, we began to work closely with the Whitworth. In particular with the curator Matthew Retallick, who aided us at each stage of the research process providing knowledge specific to the Whitworth, and Denise Bowler from the Learning department, who aided us in recruiting local schools and young people to take part.

In the spirit of the Whitworth’s award winning creative engagement with young people, we devised a creative evaluation which included community mapping, walking methods, photovoice, and creative photo elicitation. Over a three day period in July 2016 we engaged with 65 children and young people from the areas surrounding the Whitworth and the gallery in the park. Children from a local primary school completed a sensory walk from their school to the gallery in the park; they then drew their own community maps that relating the importance of the gallery, the installation, and the park to their everyday lives.

Young photographers from local colleges took part in a photo ethnography of Manchester and the Park, creating over 900 photographs. These photographs were then used by young people from local schools and colleges, and Whitworth Young Contemporaries to create a visual piece of photo elicitation. These pieces were used as the first stage of the analysis, making the research a full piece of creative participatory action research.

In October 2016 we presented a full research evaluation of the installation and the connection that it is already beginning to forge with the local community to the Whitworth. The whole process of learning about consulting outside academia, planning the pitch, pitching to the Whitworth, designing and implementing the research and writing the report was highly enjoyable. Doing this research has shown me how I can apply my research skills outside of academia in creative and meaningful ways; I now feel that more research paths have opened up to me post-PhD. Through this process I have become confident about how my research skills can be applied to wider issues, and that I have the ability to conduct evaluative research within art and culture groups and within industry; something that I hope to pursue further.

Nicola Harding,

Manchester Metropolitan University

See more information on RESEARCH:IN THE PARK on Nicola’s blog

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