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    Cultural measurement on whose terms? Critical friends as an experiment in participant-led evaluation

    Hope, Sophie (2015) Cultural measurement on whose terms? Critical friends as an experiment in participant-led evaluation. In: MacDowall, L. and Badham, M. and Blomkamp, E. and Dunphy, K. (eds.) Making Culture Count: The Politics of Cultural Measurement. New Directions in Cultural Policy Research. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave. ISBN 9781137464576.

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    Abstract

    Critical Friends is an enquiry into the commissioning, planning and delivery of participatory art carried out by the people that such projects claim to empower. Participants become interviewers, researchers and evaluators, acting as ‘productive parasites’ to a process of socially-engaged art. Aims of social cohesion and active citizenship underpinned a series of publicly-funded art commissions in North Greenwich, London (2008-2011). The group of Critical Friends were residents of North Greenwich who came together to investigate what, why and how these socially engaged art projects were happening in their area. Did the projects reflect the ambitious aims to ‘stimulate debate to generate action and change’ and ‘develop connections and relations between people’? Facilitated by myself and Rebecca Maguire over three years, Critical Friends developed their own questions and methods for finding out. While participation and engagement is usually measured for such projects in terms of numbers of people who attend workshops, Critical Friends was a space for enacting a different kind of cultural measurement. The group focused on trying to find out the qualitative experiences of other participants and interrogated the underlying motives, targets and politics behind the commissions. They did this by acting as participant observers in the projects themselves and by interviewing artists, commissioners, board members, their neighbours and friends (http://criticalfriends.sophiehope.org.uk/).

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