Hannah Kemp-Welch profile

Hannah Kemp Welch

Hannah Kemp-Welch

University of the Arts London (2023)


Professor Cathy Lane


Listening in Socially-Engaged Art: Artistic Strategies for Equitable Collaboration


Socially-engaged art has been foregrounded in international art festivals and exhibitions in the wake of the pandemic. This practice has roots in the community arts movement, aiming to dissolve hierarchies and empower citizens through participation in artistic inquiry (Kester, 2013), catalysing social shifts. Now popular with public sector funders (Matarasso, 2019), commissions increasingly invite artists to work with ‘marginalised’ community groups, as spending on the arts is justified by social outcomes (Bishop, 2012). Artworld agents gain cultural (and financial) capital from work with community groups. This professionalisation of participatory art can provoke tensions around ownership, representation and quality, placing artists in de-politicised ideological frameworks which, whilst ostensibly promoting cultural democracy (Hope, 2022), remain largely uncritical of these issues.

My research will investigate the ecology of social art, focusing on artist-community collaborations and strategies that respond to and mitigate issues of inequality within them. The project has three key objectives: to develop a framework through which to interrogate the conditions of social art, with reference to critical pedagogy (Freire, 1968) and situated knowledges (Haraway, 1988); to investigate the role of listening within social art, drawing on sound arts theory (Carlyle & Lane, 2013; Scott-Cumming, 2017), and to develop and test protocols for listening, which can support equitable practice in artistic collaborations.

My central research question focuses on listening as an artistic as well as a social practice. How can listening be generative for creative endeavours with others? How can it be used to negotiate collective aims and aesthetics? By questioning the role of listening in this setting, the project opens a cross-disciplinary dialogue between sound arts theory and socially-engaged art, in order to develop new methodologies for a ‘peoples’ praxis’ (Fiala, 2015). Alongside a thesis, key findings will be presented as a resource for socially-engaged artists, distributed through sector networks.