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A display of Arts Council Collection catalogues at the Longside gallery, photograph credit to Aurella Yuseff.
A display of Arts Council Collection catalogues at the Longside gallery, photograph credit to Aurella Yuseff.

The Arts Council Collection is collaborating with academics in the Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies at the University of Birmingham on a research project that will chart the development of the Collection. 

Exploring its history and how it came to be as it is, who was involved in its formation, and what this can tell us about the artistic cultures, identities, and creative ambitions of the country from 1946 to the present.

The Arts Council Collection is the largest and most widely circulated national loan collection of modern and contemporary British art in the world. As it approaches its 80th anniversary year in 2026, it is in the process of creating a new store facility in the heart of Coventry city centre, bringing together for the first time most of its works in one place. At the same time, it is developing new strategies to extend its reach so that it has a greater impact on stakeholders: artists, curators and partners, audiences, and participants.

Our collaborative research will provide a launch-pad for this process by developing new insights into the Collection. In July 2022, we held an active research workshop, where we reflected on our research goals and methods. We invited a panel of curators, artists, arts educators, producers, academics and engagement specialists to share their insights and to discuss different ways in which collaborative research in the arts can be made meaningful and inclusive to a broad range of audiences.

 

A flow chart, with arrows and symbols illustrating the links between the key terms and questions from the article: for example, two arrows create a circle connecting the words ‘sharing’ and ‘perspectives’
A flow chart, with arrows and symbols illustrating the links between the key terms and questions from the article.

We are delighted to share with you some of the key findings from this workshop about open and equitable approaches to research in the arts. Here are our top tips for other researchers:

  • Positionality: remember to acknowledge if/ when you operate within structures that can be/are problematic in terms of access. Reflect on and acknowledge your positionality.
  • Language: given that language and terminology have an impact on wider understanding and inclusion, discuss and agree on the use of key terms, both within research outputs, but also during the research process: a jointly agreed stance on terminology, enacted across all forms of communication, can help with this.
  • Valuing partners and collaborators: re-think your preconceptions of who is an expert! Seek professional guidance on how to value and support people who you work with from outside your organisation… and be transparent about this!
  • Be open to debate: invite questions, create space for constructive debate to happen. Don’t avoid subjects for fear of getting it wrong: instead, make sure there is a mechanism in place by which to address different perspectives and identify and correct errors.
  • Be transparent: be open about your research processes and your positions and create spaces in which to invite feedback and acknowledge any biases. A public position statement, that can be updated, can help with this.
  • Be ambitious: embrace the opportunity to challenge your preconceptions: lean into disruption and discomfort and reflect on why these feelings have arisen. Actively seek out other voices and perspectives from beyond your institution and sector. Make room for multiple, interweaving narratives: there is a richness in telling a layered story, so design research questions in a way that in1vites this.
  • Ask for help: ask a wide range of people to give you feedback. Return the favour in kind!

This research was made possible with the support and collaboration of our wonderful colleagues at the Arts Council Collection, Deborah Smith, Director, and Lala Thorpe, Learning Curator. We are immensely grateful to our workshop participants for their generosity in sharing their experience and advice, in particular: colleagues from NSEAD, Newlyn Art Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Birmingham Museums Trust, The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, The Art Fund, Sunderland Culture, Opal 22 Arts and Edutainment, University of the Arts London, Alice Correia, Mike Tooby, Abigail Reynolds, Hammad Nassar, and Jon Sleigh. Thanks to Jim at Boo Yeah! for the illustrations.