Art Schools and Place: PhD Research

2015 – 2019

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


Art schools and place: An investigation of place-based learning, artistic practice and spatial relations in Manchester and Leipzig


The relationship between art schools and place has found little attention in existing geographical research about the art world, although it embeds the question why artists locate in specific places. Evidence on this is provided through Manchester School of Art (UK) and Leipzig Academy of Fine Arts (Germany) where biographical and ethnographic interviews were conducted with art students, graduates and lecturers as well with representatives of local art organisations. This research considers art school education as place-based learning, through which artistic practice emerges as source for understanding artists’ sense of place and their spatial relations. The different practice profiles attained at art school can highlight the contrasting capacities for developing spatial relations between place attachment and mobility as interconnected processes. Relational and spatial practices can, but do not necessarily, lead to bonds with a specific place. They can be understood as transferable artistic method. Contrary to their practice being removed from place-based activity, painters have developed place attachment at the level of belonging to a specific community of practice in which place has attained shared meaning. This points to the importance of understanding art scenes as source of belonging and how they are constructed through practice boundaries more so than based on location. As artists navigate multiple places during or immediately after their time at art school they develop a global sense of place, which underlines the nature of a globalised art world and multi-layered conception of art scenes.

Key works: art schools, contemporary art, art world, artists, place-based education, communities/landscapes of practice, global sense of place, spatial relations, rootedness and mobility

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 studie0


Case study schools:

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