Art schools and place: Two case studies (PhD Research)

2015 – 2018

Supervisor team:

Dr. Roberta Comunian, Dept. of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, KCL

Dr. Johan Andersson, Dept of Geography, KCL

Prof. Dr. Ilse Helbrecht, Geographisches Institut, HU

Research context and aims:

While much writing on the geography of the art world emphasises the formation of specialised global circuits, evidence is showing that globalisation of contemporary art production and circulation has specific under-researched local effects. These can for example be explained through the wealth of local artist-led initiatives emerging in different cities around the world, or through trust relationship between local gallerists and artists that re-evaluate physical distance in the art world. Within this context however an understanding of artists’ relation to place(s), as well as a possible geography of art scenes does not surface.

My thesis takes Madoff’s (Art Schools in the 21st Centrury, 2009) argument that "art schools are always local" as starting point to discuss their role in the emergence of art scenes from a specific place. He continues to argue: "Who, if not the young artists studying in a city and the professors teaching them year after year, should define the local art situation?" (p.239). Processes of artistic learning illustrate how artists discover place at the same time as their artistic practice emerges. The local bias on a singular place however is questioned by articulating how art scenes are spatially constructed and need to be understood through a global sense of place.

This research draws empirical perspectives from students, graduates and staff at two art schools. The first case study is Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts, which is known for establishing the scene around the New Leipzig School. This was the starting point for the emergence of this research topic. Manchester School of Art serves as a second case study that applies the same question to a comparable urban context to establish the significance of art schools for the emergence of artists’ place relations and scenes.

Research methods:

  • Biographic interviews with Fine Art students & graduates
  • Interviews with art school lecturers, artist studio providers and local arts organisations engaged in artist's professional development
  • Ethnographic questions and observation
  • Mapping spaces of artistic production and consumption in the city (auto-cartography)
  • Analysis of statistics sourced from secondary data on student’s location and occupation prior to and after their studies

Ethics: Participants will be anonymised, unless they have consented for their name being used in relation to their work only. Participants can withdraw their information at any point by contacting the researcher.


Case study schools:

Many thanks to all lecturers, students and artists providing me with your perspectives and support!