Claire Bullen (UK) is the winner of the 7th Cultural Policy Research Award 2010 (CPRA). Claire is a 2nd year PhD Student at the Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures – an inter-disciplinary research centre at the University of Manchester. The title of her research project is “European Capitals of Culture and everyday cultural diversity: Comparing social relations and cultural policies in Liverpool (UK) and Marseille (France)”.  Taking the European Capital of Culture programme as the analytical entry point, the focus will be threefold: 1) the local, national and European cultural policy contexts and their interaction with urban restructuring; 2) policy implementation at the local level; and 3) the ways in which the lives and practices of ‘ordinary people’ and cultural actors are affected by cultural policy implementation.

1. What motivated you to start working on this project? Why do you believe that the theme is important?

The origins of this project date back to 2004, when I was recruited for three months as the ‘Diversity Project Developer’ by a regeneration agency working in a small area of Liverpool. I was given a number of tasks to carry out as part of their strategic objective to ‘promote positive attitudes between people from different backgrounds’. These included working alongside the Chinese residents living in the area to prepare a neighbourhood-based Chinese New Year’s Festival. My contract was extended and I ended up working on a number of different projects until 2008.

The regeneration agency was funded by the national government, but managed locally. It had the usual focus of regeneration programmes: housing, employment, education, poverty, health and tackling crime. It was engaged, more or less, with other actors working across the city. Some ideas and themes that emerge from the Liverpool European Capital of Culture programme, such as the concept ‘World in one city’, were incorporated in neighbourhood-based cultural and community projects we supported.

My interest in this research topic developed for a number of reasons. Much of the literature that I read on cultural-led regeneration tends to focus on city centres and headline economic indicators. There is a lack of in-depth, qualitative knowledge about the ways in which ordinary social, cultural and economic interactions within neighbourhoods are affected by local, national, and transnational policy interventions.  Furthermore, the creative and economic potential of some of these ‘deprived’ neighbourhoods is almost always overlooked.

I became increasingly aware, particularly when meeting other people as part of events organised for European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (2008), of the different approaches brought to the issues of cultural diversity and culture-led regeneration across Europe.  This is why I decided to develop a project with a comparative perspective to look at the impacts of culture-led regeneration on people living in these two cities – cities that differ in many aspects, but also share a number of similarities (port cities, visible migrant communities, sites of major urban regeneration, European Capitals of Cultures). Rather than assuming that all cities are unique, the aim of my project is to see whether there are trends that emerge which transcend the differences that might help reveal broader patterns of changing social relations and urban restructuring within the wider global economy.

2. You plan to use an “ethnographic approach” for your research project. What does it mean?

For me, the essence of an ethnographic research project is that it takes place in the field, alongside research participants, over a relatively long period of time. It involves gathering what is said and done by people, where, when, how, to and with whom. It is an attempt to record the multiplicity of social interactions and understandings – which of course are constantly changing – and the social, economic and cultural contexts in which these take place.

For this project this involves my living alongside residents in areas of Liverpool and Marseille where cultural and urban regeneration projects are being targeted, starting with Marseille, where I have just arrived. I will volunteer with cultural organisations operating in the area and participate in local, national and European cultural policy networks, taking detailed field notes all the while.

3. There are a lot of discussions around “culture-led regeneration policies” at local level. What is your own definition? Does this definition changes depending on the specific country and local conditions (e.g. small versus big cities, isolated regions of Europe versus well known one, etc.)?

As your question implies, defining ‘cultural policy’ is notoriously difficult, because first it means trying to define what we mean by ‘culture’ and, secondly, because ‘culture-led regeneration’ implies different things to different people both within and across European cities. So, rather than imposing my own definition I instead aim to explore how different understandings of ‘culture’ and ‘culture-led regeneration’ may be mobilised by different actors (local residents, artists, policy makers) as a resource. The differences and similarities that emerge will then be included and analysed as part of the research findings.

4. In some of your publications, you talk about “European citizenship”. For many artists and people working in cultural organisations, this might sound like a “buzzword”. Could you give a practical example what does it mean?

In 2003 I worked on a European project as part of a team of researchers looking to develop a set of indicators to compare the different legal, political and socio-economic frameworks for the integration of third-country nationals within European member states. The idea of ‘European citizenship’ in the context of the project could be considered more of a normative concept rather than a lived reality.

5. The topic of your MA diploma back in 2003 was “Exploring perceptions of refugee integration: the case of Liverpool”. If you were you write it now, what would be the 2 or 3 things to change in the content or the research approach?

One of the major limitations of this project was the lack of time. The research, which involved qualitative interviews with people seeking asylum, people with refugee status, and refugee support agencies, took place over a three-month period. It could, therefore, only give a snapshot of people’s experiences.  I would have loved to have more time to spend with the research participants to get a greater sense of how terms like ‘integration’ are understood, adopted and/or negotiated in people’s everyday lives or work. Also, the research project took place a year after European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) had produced an important policy paper on the importance that ‘integration’ should be seen as a dynamic two-way process, between refugees and the wider society.  If I were to do the research again, I would broaden its scope so that the perceptive of non-refugees could also be included in the analysis.

6. Who has a major influence in your professional life? Any professional advice you have received, which has really helped you throughout your career?

The first major influence on my professional life is my former colleague from Kensington Regeneration, Martin Pinder.  Martin, who has worked in over 30 different countries for, among others, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, always came up with meaningful and interesting opportunities for volunteers and students, which is how I first met him. He has an amazing gift of creative, lateral thinking, an almost limitless energy and real passion for his work. It was a privilege to work alongside and learn from him.

My second major professional influence is my current supervisor at the Research Institute for Cosmopolitan Cultures, Professor Nina Glick Schiller. I first saw Nina speak at a conference in 2008 and was hugely motivated by her ability to make explicit and theorise the links between everyday phenomena such as I was observing in my day-to-day life and the wider global economy.  She continues to inspire me, and I look forward to working with her and gaining from her insights as I start analysing the field-data from this project.

7. Finally, what is your hobby? What do you do in your free time? Do you have any preferences to an art form?

As well as doing my PhD I run a small social enterprise, Making Faces United, which provides community-based face painting training in Liverpool.  In what little free time I have, I tend to read books, drink beer or wine and watch films. I am also an intermittent attendee of theatres and arts institutions.

Since starting my research in Marseille I have been introduced to many exciting cultural organisations that use collaborative art forms as a means to animate and explore public spaces, particularly:  T-Public, Association d’Idées, a street theatre company that explores and intervenes within the city, and Les Pas Perdus, an association that has been developing collaborative visual arts projects inspired by everyday creativity for over 20 years.

Read the interview also on LabforCulture.org: http://www.labforculture.org/en/moderators/lidia-varbanova/51495/75183

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