Mapping Culture – Definitions and Abstract Spaces
Over the months of June and July 2020, I worked on the project “Mapping King’s Cultural Community” as a King’s Undergraduate Research Fellow; to understand how the Culture team and other stakeholders develop and formulate engagement-based programming. This project involved reading about the King’s Culture team and their purpose, developing a database that could be used in the long term for the team’s future programming, and extracting key visualisations and insights from this database.
At the start, I was assigned to reading numerous documents on the Culture team and their history. In doing so, I was able to see the breadth of programming they had developed over the years. I consider myself engaged with the Culture team, but this definitely surprised me! Moreover, reading their plans chronologically; I recognised how cultural work can take years to plan and most entrants in the cultural space will join mid-project. I was also able to attend multiple meetings with various members of the Culture team; and it not only displayed to me how a variety of voices come together to develop outputs; but also how unanimous assent, while difficult to achieve, is crucial to delivering effective projects. These meetings also informed the needs of the Culture team and helped a stakeholder driven perspective on this project. I then set out to develop a database that was in line that recognised the three key spaces the Culture team’s programming was developed around: education, research and service.
Artistic projects are normally ambitious in their scale and in how multi-faceted they can be. Sadly, this work can be more of a challenge to quantify in a database! However, it was recognising the importance of the abstract nature of creative projects that helped in developing the database. It was important to have clear-cut classifications of project data, ensuring they were specific to the work they represented. While working through this paradox of creative projects and “placing it into boxes”; it also highlighted the importance of effectively communicating what each specific programming was to have clarity on a project assessment level. In addition, I was also able to have longevity instilled in the project by creating a survey modelled around the datasets; to ensure this database could be replicated for future projects. As this was informed by the unanimous call for consistency in information collection; I also realised how cultural projects, while have innovation and purpose built in their interpersonal collaborative development, also need a level of consistent organisation to support historical information keeping; which ultimately supports future planning.
There were many technical skills to learn when database building and visualisation as well. This originally felt like the “boring” side of creative work; but once these skills were well developed; a bird’s eye view of cultural programming could be curated. It felt as if there were too many insights! It showed how much crosscutting was happening in creative project development across the fabric of the King’s cultural community. These visualisations also painted how prioritisations in programming portrayed themselves, as a product of their momentary present. Noticing how certain creative artforms cropped up during certain times felt surprising; but was easily understood when the context of that time was assessed.
Meaningful engagement was also recognised, as a product of this database and its visualisations. Recognising gaps in how engagement was supported by understanding how these gaps came to be. Developing this database helped shine a light onto how programming development needs to be hyperaware of its own planning processes; to inform further scope. At the end of the day, artistic projects need to focus on their engagement outcomes; as that is the public-facing aspect: the “art” that we see. This helped me recognise: it is our audiences, engaged or not, that will decide what our projects were.
In reflection, understanding the cultural world through the lens of the King’s Cultural Community and Culture team has helped me reflect on the wider field of culture. The Culture team has also been extremely welcoming and enjoyable to work with. It has been a fun and educational journey to work with the team whom I have engaged with since Nowville. For the future: I hope to look forward to cultural practitioners everywhere, as we truly recover from our current situation, seek for meaning in the outcomes we enact.