|dc.description.abstract||Arts organisations in receipt of public funding should seek to understand the impact of their work, for
a variety of reasons. Contemporary outcome-based arts evaluation practice dichotomises impact as
intrinsic or instrumental with the latter perspective defining what counts. However, a widely held
belief in the transformative power of the arts is apparent in both arts policy and practice. It therefore
follows that if evaluation is fundamentally about discerning value then arts evaluation should
recognise transformation as core.
I contend that visually-based research methods offer alternative ways of seeing and knowing from the
methods that dominate arts evaluation practice. As a result, I consider how these methods might help
to identify what is transformative within the context of a community arts project. To explore how
evaluation can better reflect the transformative power of the arts, I ask three research questions.
Firstly, can participants’ experience be theorised and understood as transformative arts-based
learning? Secondly, to what extent can participants’ experience of a community arts project be
understood through visually-based research methods? Thirdly, what are the implications for existing
practices of arts evaluation?
I explore these questions in relation to a single participatory arts project. The Happy Lands, funded
(primarily) by Creative Scotland, brought together communities across Fife with a professional film
crew to create a feature length film based on local stories of mining culture. Employing visual
ethnography my research methods included image-elicited interviews with 19 participants over a 20
month period, participant observation during the making of the film, and documentary research.
The theoretical contribution I make extends Morgan’s (2010) conception of the transformative
potential of travel to the transformative power of the arts, which I define in terms of inspiration,
interconnection and insight. I propose a conceptual framework that views the experience of
‘sameness’ (interconnection) and ‘Otherness’ (inspiration) as conducive to the possibility of voice
(insight). The interaction of self, other and artwork in the context of the participatory (community)
arts project leads to the creation of shared identity (identities) and a sense of belonging manifest in the
symbolic status of objects and behaviour (‘spirit of place’) associated with the arts project.
Visual research methods, combining subjective meaning-making and objective (representational)
qualities, offer opportunities to understand and (re)present participants’ experience. I advance a
methodological contribution that suggests image elicitation offers an epistemologically appropriate
approach to understanding participant experiences of an inherently visual project.
The identification of sense of place and spirit of place can be viewed as indicative of a transformative
environment. I contend that the creation of an outcome acknowledging the transformative
environment of the arts project would respond to the needs of government but also the beliefs of arts
educators effectively redressing the balance of instrumental versus intrinsic worth. Moreover, the
subjective and objective possibilities afforded by visually-based research methods would enable the
latter to speak creatively, in language(s) reflecting their values. As a result my findings are offered as
one possible version of a humanities-inspired approach to arts evaluation (Belfiore and Bennett,