'The geography of the art world: Art schools' role in the development of local art scenes (PhD Research)

2015 – 2018

Joint supervision:

Dr. Roberta Comunian, Dept. of Culture, Media and Creative Industries and Johan Andersson, Dept of Geography (King's)

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 (Sassen, 2005), 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 DIY initiatives emerging in different cities around the world (Relyea, 2013) or through trust relationship between local gallerists and artists (Velthuis, 2013) that re-evaluate physical distance in the art world.

Within this context, the role of art schools for local art production and innovation within the globalised art world circuit does not surface. My thesis takes Madoff's (2009) argument that "art schools are always local" as starting point to discuss their potential for creating and sustaining local art scenes (While, 2003). 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?" (Madoff, 2009: 239). My research aims to investigate this process at both individual and institutional level, hypothesising that artists engage with place and mobility through their studies and practice, while the institution fulfils the role as hub for the local art world with which it recurrently forges links and opportunities – including those links that extend to global circuits. Themes of identification with place, the negotiation between local and global ties as well as how aspects of teaching and practice inform the relationship of an artist with place are discussed.

To provide empirical perspectives on these processes, I will draw from the experiences of students, graduates and staff studying and teaching art in Leipzig and Manchester. Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts is known historically as paradigm for establishing a critically controversial yet market-hyped scene, i.e. the New Leipzig School (Gerlach, 2008). I took this as starting point to understand the current dynamics in Leipzig, and also to study how this applies in a different context in a comparable city, which is why I chose to work with Manchester School of Art.

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!