Tate Encounters


Editor for this Issue:
Andrew Dewdney and Victoria Walsh

Editorial Board:
Andrew Dewdney
David Dibosa
Morten Norbye Halvorsen
Mike Phillips
Sarah Thomas
Isabel Shaw
Victoria Walsh

Image/Sound/Text/ Editorial Group:
Cinta Esmel Pamies
Patrick Tubridy
Aminah Borg-Luck
Tracey Jordan

[E]dition One: Diasporas, Migration and Identities

The aim of the Tate Encounters [E]ditions is to provide regular reports on the progress of the research programme and to develop and engage an audience in issues raised by the work. Such a dialogue would extend the participatory approaches being adopted by the programme and contribute to the wider research aim of encouraging a multiplicity of voices as well as helping to develop the permeability of research we are striving to achieve.

This edition is based upon work carried out in the first six months of the project. [E]dition One consists of: papers written by the research investigators reflecting upon and developing different aspects of the original and successful application for the Arts and Humanities Research Council strategic funding programme 'Diasporas, Migration and Identities'; edited entries from the co-researchers' Tate Encounters intranet site; and, a series of short films based upon video interviews with student participants from London South Bank University. The first edition is therefore very much a first work-in-progress, which has less to say by way of project outcomes and analytical perspectives, but more to say about research design, methodology and the cultural and political context of the project.

The Tate Encounters research project has been funded for three years and has an active fieldwork programme running until February 2009. It will produce a final report in the Spring of 2010. The practical crux of the project involves triangulating: an analysis of cultural diversity policy; in-depth case studies of 'minority' audience experiences of Tate Britain; and a study of organisational agency and decision making. One of the main reasons for wanting to do this is to gain a greater analytical overview and deeper insights into how Tate Britain operates in relation to cultural diversity policy and precepts derived from government agencies, academic study and the professional museums sector. It is also being undertaken in order to develop understandings of how Tate Britain and the National Collection of British Art 'become present' within British Culture and resonate or not with wider contemporary visual cultures. This edition includes the first research report for Tate Encounters, which describes how the different dimensions of the research programme have been constructed and a plan of how they will be put into practice.

As will become apparent from the papers published here, the literature review conducted for the original AHRC application pointed to a number of real limits upon existing minority audience studies. As a field of study, museum education and museum audience development is patchy and serious research in this field remains under-funded. Reports and evaluations of targeted audience development projects are often instrumentalised, i.e. they are prone to report on the success of targeted initiatives for the purposes of their own institutional management or funders, or, in the case of DCMS reports, they are based upon scant audience statistics, which indicate little more than the absence of 'minority' audiences. Mike Phillips' paper, 'The View From 2005' (2007) fills out this point in more detail and provides readers with an account of the broader political context in which cultural diversity was shaped and became engaged in policy perspectives. Victoria Walsh's paper 'Tate Britain: Curating Britishness and Cultural Diversity' (2007) locates the discussion of cultural diversity within Tate Britain and provides an account of its translation into practical programming.

Tate Encounters argues that in order to find out anything useful or significant for museums about why certain sections of the population do not attend Tate Britain in proportion to the overall demographic of London and the UK, it is necessary for researchers to find ways of engaging the 'the absent audience' in a sustained dialogue. In such a dialogue, the argument goes on, the metaphorical spotlight will also have to fall upon the motives of the questioners, in this specific case the research team and Tate Britain, as much as upon those who are being asked about their apparent absence, if a full understanding of what is happening is to emerge.

This edition also reflects upon how such a dialogue is to be 'staged' or constructed within a research framework. Andrew Dewdney's paper, ‘Tate Encounters: Methodological Uncertainties' (2007) interrogates a number of assumptions built into the original application in order to clarify and develop the practical research practices and stresses the primary position of reflexivity in methodology. It also confronts the question of the power/knowledge relationships between research investigators, research assistants and participants and points towards a greater democratisation of the research process.

The Diasporas, Migration and Identities programme specification invited researchers to ‘rethink’ the classificatory terms and concepts through which people have been identified as: belonging to a minority; having an ethnicity; or by racial markers of appearance. The language of the original Tate Encounters AHRC application remained undeveloped on the question of cultural classification and on reflection, this lack of initial clarity reflected a theoretical ambivalence in the framing of participant groups. The original application had, after much discussion, specifically singled out black and Asian students as target groups for the project, whilst also not wanting to exclude newer migrant groups. The criteria for student participation on the pilot project were based upon inward UK family migration in one generation across three and on this basis the most enthusiastic of volunteers reflected a wide and complex range of migrations. This experience has led the project to think more in terms of migrant and migration as generating a meaningful conceptual framework, rather than that of specific minority communities as David Dibosa's paper, 'Migration' (2007) outlines.

The Image/Audio/Text section of [E]dition One contains an edited selection of Web postings of student co-researchers from London South Bank University. These contributions were made as part of a pilot project, which ran from April to September 2007. The contributors formed an editorial group for the purposes of editing material for this edition. This collection of material elicits some initial responses to the research questions in the form of encounters with Tate Britain and reveals a number of thematic strands. The exploration of the public realm of Tate is strongly present across the entries as is the emergent sense of journeying as a strong feature of 'mobile identities'. The short films made by Sarah Thomas from video interviews with some of the co-researchers reinforce and embellish these themes.

The Tate Encounters project is now in a major period of fieldwork development with a major programme of activities taking place over the next twelve months, which are outlined in the first Research Report (2007). The project continues to operate in reflexive mode, which has entailed further reflections upon and extensions of practice based methods and collaborative links. It is on this basis that the first [E]dition now invites a wider community of researchers with overlapping interests and concerns to contact us with a view to including accounts of other research in the next edition.