Place matters: the arts and humanities and the place agenda

Woman forming a heart shape with her fingers

Place is the foundation stone of individual and collective life, a geographic location and a repository of emotions, experiences, meanings, and memories.

Places are where life courses are shaped, social networks are formed and the site of lived and felt experiences. We can each probably think of places that makes us feel happy or calm or sad or angry. We each have somewhere that we like and dislike, we probably also have places that make us fearful or places that we long for.

Shaping our lived experiences

Within these felt experiences places also shape our lived experiences or put differently what we do and where we do it. Places are also tangible realities where:

  • boundaries can be mapped
  • data can be collected
  • policies can be enacted.

This powerful combination is recognised within policies and practices as place is an increasingly important aspect of current and future UK government research and development strategy.

I am delighted to lead the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Place programme and to demonstrate how arts and humanities approaches can make a real contribution to:

  • how we understand the complexities of place
  • how we can use this knowledge to shape the future of places.

Place, identity, and community

Arts and humanities approaches can shed light not only on the history and heritage of urban and rural places but also open new avenues of investigation into the role of place in:

  • generating local and national identities
  • connecting people to their natural and built environments
  • uniting communities in shared appreciation of their localities, culture and heritage.

Artworks, poems, novels, films, museums, and exhibitions each powerfully curate, tell and translate the stories of place. In addition, through research and creative practice the arts and humanities actively shape the everyday lived and felt experiences of people within places.

Together, the arts and humanities bring to life why places matter to people and help us to understand the past, present, and future of places.

Understanding the past to inform the present

As the Programme Director for the Place-based research programme I am excited to bring people together to build an evidence base. The evidence base will demonstrate the many ways in which approaches from the arts and humanities can contribute to understanding past and present places and shaping future places.

Over the course of the next 18 months, we will be working with partners from across the UK to:

  • develop a programme around new and existing investments
  • demonstrate the effectiveness of arts and humanities research for addressing the needs of different locales
  • help to make the case for further investment.

Place-based policy and practice

To achieve this, we will work collaboratively with communities and those within and beyond academia, government and industry to bring together individuals and collectives interested in, and working on, place.

We will increase access to relevant arts and humanities research and expertise and build capacity to make use of this to utilise relevant funding sources beyond AHRC and to inform planning.

Our knowledge exchange projects will bring arts and humanities research to local and regional decision makers and consider how this information can be used to support place-based policies and practices.

We will be:

  • issuing calls for evidence, establishing research, practice, knowledge exchange and advisory networks
  • working to capture the breadth of approaches to understanding places
  • listening to the needs of key stakeholders
  • learning lessons from how we currently understand and shape places.

Together the programme will help to identify and evidence areas where arts and humanities-led research does and can continue to address the place agenda.

Top image:  Credit: Adene Sanchez, Getty Images

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