Grizedale Arts

The Grizedale Summit

Tuesday 24 July '12
(from The Grizedale Summit)

That's Edutainment

Tate Liverpool Collective shaping the future in the Coniston Institute Reading Room

The second text I would like to share with you is a draft outline for how a UK manifestation of the 1848 project might be and this is underpinned by a question relating to the issue of how we might measure usefulness and how we might measure aesthetics.

If we believe in the idea of usefulness and if we believe in aesthetics (in its widest conception of the reception, communication and processiing of the senses) as the how and why of art and society - how do we measure these things, as Sam provokes, without damaging the object of study?

The New Mechanics

The New Mechanics is a touring concept and a project to develop youth citizenship that is delivered over multiple venues across the England. It is being developed with three UK art institutions and Grizedale Arts.

Project Overview

The New Mechanics is designed as the UK component of a larger international project 1848: The Uses of Art, an ambitious 5 year project, conceived by Grizedale Arts and developing six major European Musuems and two Universities. This pan-European Project aims to reintroduce the idea of Use Value as a central function of art and to develop the civic future of museums and galleries using the concept of the Mechanics Institute.

At the heart of this endeavor is an ambition to use art, artists and art institutions more effectively in civic society and to build a form of citizenship based on creativity and social responsibility.

This process would involve a drive to reshape museums and art, based on current socially oriented art practices and revisiting the Mechanics Institute as a mechanism for social change – working with a more comprehensive, expanded constituency, reaching and building new audiences and developing a model of art that is valued more widely, beyond the current conventions of economic and personal impact.

The consensus of opinion that has grown around this project (particularly the idea of the usage of art) has formed from a new generation of work by artists and curators that aims to be effective outside the performative frame of art – that is understood for how it works, not how it is consumed.

This project was initially formed out a synthesis of recent work by Grizedale Arts around a rethinking of John Ruskin, the 19th Century Mechanics Institutes and Liam Gillick’s current work around European revolution in 1848 and grown with interest from writers such as Barbara Steiner, Marie Jane Jacobs, Jeremy Millar, Simon Critchley, Tom F McDonough and Stephen Wright. It will consist of a long term programme of activity (a touring concept rather than a touring exhibition) built around three key themes:

1. Education: the use of art and creativity as an educational and developmental tool

2. Land: The role of aesthetics in social and ecological change

3. History: Rethinking the story of how art can be used in society

The New Mechanics in the UK will primarily focus on education and rethink how art is presented within an art institution. This is envisaged not as a stand alone project, but one that will emerge out of existing relationships forged through the Plus Tate Learning project and create content for and inform the larger European Touring programme over the next five years.

This project addresses some crucial questions around the role of art, artists and art institutions:

  • What does the art institution of the future look like and how can we shape it with the new generations who will use them?
  • In a era of de-development what forms of institution are best suited suit help society adapt to change and how can the younger generations direct this process to their advantage?
  • How do we more actively engage with our constituencies, particularly young people as the future users of culture, who cannot use the resources of museums and galleries?
  • Can we work with these groups to develop better ways to operate more meaningful programmes that are clearly valued for how they can be used by the public, rather than increasing cultural capital?
  • Working with the project participants, what kind of new institutional forms could be developed which would increase the civic, social and cultural function of our organisations.
  • How do our institutions create programmes that are valued by a broader population? And as a reference point look at the Mechanics Institutes as a public resource that were valued enough to support a subscription membership, over and above public subsidy.
  • With the participant groups, can we test the institutions to fully synthesise the educational and curatorial programmes?

Existing work

The participating UK venues of Grizedale Arts, MIMA, Tate Liverpool and Ikon Gallery are currently working together via the Plus Tate network on a JP Morgan funded programme re-thinking young peoples’ learning programmes. This project consists of each Institution developing learning programmes though residential trips to the Lake District with their respective youth programmes. This experimental research stage culminates in a conference with all 18 Plus Tate partners in December 2012. Rather than seeing this as an end, we would like to think of this as the start of a durational set of evolving relationships that comes to fruition with active projects in The New Mechanics, expanding on the work already undertaken, drawing on education as a way of thinking about institutions and how they engage with audiences and communities and in particular young people.


The Mechanic Institutes of the 19th Century are a neglected model for how culture can work effectively in society today. The Mechanic Institutes sprung up across Britain as places of education, social reform and where the growing working class could develop with the new skills of the age. Much like a cultural centre for the working man, the Institutes provided educational instruction in technical subjects - including the arts - and access to literature and learning in a variety of different fields and trades via a small subscription. The Institutes were built around a holistic and altruistic programme of arts and sciences and social, collective action.

Proposed Activity

This project proposes that the art gallery today should be re-viewed, much like the Mechanics Institutes were used in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, as a place for learning and public interaction. The principal is to develop a programme, across all four venues, of artist commissions, events and activity focussing on young people as an emerging generation of civic participants, who will build the next generation of institutions. The programme will be developed by all partners to draw on their education and social programmes as the central activity, to enhance their existing work but to find linkages and cross programming to interact with the other sites. At the core will be a range of young people focused art-based projects that attempt to reinstate creativity to the centre of civic society. Using the Mechanics Institutes as an inspirational starting point the project will open up how an art gallery is used and perceived by their visiting audiences and the wider constituency.

The programme, as with the methodology of the wider European project, is not a touring exhibition but a touring concept, creating an active network of discussion and development for young people to reshape the institutions for the future.

The key to this will be to develop large scale projects for each partner with their constituent youth groups, working with an artist or artists whilst ensuring that the young people are genuinely empowered to drive the project.

The project is conceived over a long timeline of 12 months to ensure strong relationships and meaningful evolution. Each project is initiated in April 2013 on the back of the research and findings of the Plus Tate programme.

It is therefore not a one off project, but the nexus of a continuum of thinking and activity that will work to re-establish the fundamental role of the Institution within society and make it fit for purpose.

Four venues will work together to develop an artist brief with their locality in mind however there will be a relationship between all partners to establish core principles and keep a coherency across the project – as the aim of the project will later be manifest in the European touring project as exemplars of effective practice. It is hoped that the six key partners of the European project will advise and contribute to artists selection.

Throughout this process opportunities will be created for exchanges and collaborations between projects and people.

Where appropriate activities will be integrated into the galleries ongoing curated programme, with the full participation of the curatorial teams, who will see this project as part of core programme, not that of the outreach nor education departments.

There will be encouragement for the young people to take over gallery resources for the purposes of the project. We will be commissioning artists to work with the gallery and young people to develop projects that embed the activities of the gallery back into the fabric of their everyday lives, pushing the idea of active citizenship for both young people and the host institutions.

Beyond the 12 month period of the project in 2013 the 4 projects will feed into the expanded European project with the potential to develop the idea of a ‘touring audience’ to work in international partner venues.

The project would be centred on a research question, which comes from the groundwork undertaken in the current Plus Tate/JP Morgan project between Grizedale, Ikon, MIMA and Tate Liverpool. In turn this question should in effect come from the participant groups of young people and look at changing the way the sector works.

The project is aimed at challenging the established ways of touring programmes. It is a large scale and important body of research, which aims to genuinely find strategies that work for each partner and to genuinely fulfil the goals of public funding and government agendas. In this process there should be an emphasis in learning from each other, given the range of contexts, experience and scale of operations.

As a consequence it has to be experimental and, to certain extent, open ended in nature: although it is thought that a reasonably prescriptive brief is drawn up for the artists’ projects.

Within the process there will be a series of conversations around sociology, the role of culture and growing institutions in relation to current thinking beyond the art sector for example, economics, sociology, wellbeing, history and so on.

Tuesday 24 July '12
(from The Grizedale Summit)


I would like to share with you two documents. These are two draft project outlines for projects in development which show you the trajectory of our thinking.

The first is the concept I have written out and currently developing with six significant European Museums, who are all looking at this as a way to rethink how their institutions can develop in new and relevant ways for their constituencies, particularly as public funding gets withdrawn, the established value systems and modes of operation are increasingly prone to criticism and cuts.

1848: The New Mechanics

A touring concept developed by Grizedale Arts

1848/1984: The New Mechanics  is a long term, multi-faceted project to promote a movement, or growing consensus, to re-establish the idea of use value as a central tenet of art.

On the one hand this project will highlight artists and art strategies that share an ambition to have effect beyond the confines of the world of art, whilst on the other looking to the origins of our present era, signified by the years 1848 and 1984, to offer a new reading of art history that supports the case for a new approach to art, whilst rescuing the best of modernism’s ambitions.

The endeavour will be a mix of historical exhibitions and live projects, making clear links between the emerging arts practice of activism, action and effectiveness with its antecedents in the socio-cultural history of European Culture.

The historical aspect is seen as a rethinking and part of a solution to unlock the current stasis that pervades at a moment of declining Western influence, economic crisis, ecological anxiety and an inability for the arts to make a case for their value in society.

1848 proposes a range of approaches that attempt to reinstate the function of art at the centre of civic society.

The key principles of the project are:

1: To re-introduce the idea of the use value of art, or the usage of art, for social, aesthetic and educational development and as a means to resist the entrapment of art by the idea of the Contemporary and its recognizable forms. In this there is an ambition to open a discourse around the idea of a value system of usage, that could be used to differentiate between the work of artists operating in the social context, whilst reevaluating historical works through the lens of a use-concept.

2. To foreground approaches to art that operate on the periphery of the performative frame of art and present them as viable alternatives to market orientated work.

3. To rethink the standard of the art historical survey and to revisit the 19th century structures and concepts that instigated the Modern era (Ruskin, Mechanics Institutes, European revolution, social re-organisation) as a way to re-read of our current situation of technological advancement, social and political unrest, ecological crisis and to use new readings of time to bear on how we re-think this past.

4: To promote education, in its broadest sense, as central to the process of art, foregrounding and presenting it as a primary function of the institution – to bring the respective educational activities of each venue into centre stage.

Concept outline

The aim of the New Mechanics is to articulate a new, emerging tendency in art; a movement built around the idea of the use value of art and the value of art as tool to see, mediate and effect the world around us.

It is conceived as an ambitious, landmark project and it will look to advance the position of art beyond the conditions that have dominated the last two centuries under the influence of modernism and the Romantic paradigm. This will be achieved through a network of exhibitions, discourse and activity, presenting new emerging art, artists and art-like projects, alongside a re-thinking or a re-reading of the last 200 years of European art as way to help formulate new forms of art that can have a use in present times.

The timing of this project is pertinent; against a background of economic, ecological and cultural crisis as the world moves from an era dominated by European thinking to an era of not just global interdependency, but also planetary thinking – a broader ecology of culture and nature. Furthermore it is being developed in response to the continuing dominance of market orientated work as the ‘main story’ whilst there emerge from the periphery a range of viable other artworlds, or ways of making art, that none the less are part of the continuing history of art. In many ways this is a claim for the role of aesthetics as central to social change.

1848: The New Mechanics is proposed not as a fixed touring body of material, rather a touring concept, an evolving body of work (in the operative sense) and a productive discussion between European partners that will advocate for art as an active agent in society.

This concept has its roots in the early 19th century and the beginnings of industrialisation; as society reorganized itself through Mechanics Institutes, revolution, democracy, environmentalism, social welfare, education, in a moment when art, science and civic society were still fused together. It is subsequently seen in alternate paths that weave through Carlyle, Ruskin, Morris, the Bauhaus, the Utility movement, the Diggers and even current strategies utilized by political activism.

Therefore this project is as much historical as it is current. In order to assert the usage of art, it needs, as part of the concept, to use history as vital and continuous part of our present.


As the scale and scope of this endeavour is so large it is proposed that the project evolves over a five year period and is developed specifically in each location in partnership with the staff of the host institution, with each context developing the material and content using the resources (programme, community, collections, learning programmes, etc) at its disposal.

The project is built around a core body of live and documentary material that exemplifies the new work being made by artists and art agencies that have or aim to have a useful function within a socio-economic context.

Each host partner will elaborate this theme with use of its collections, outreach/social programmes and partnerships with its own constituencies, to bring to life the ideas and actions that are pertinent to its own context.

In this there is an ambition to open a discourse around the idea of a value system of usage, that could be used to differentiate between the work of artists operating in the social context, whilst reevaluating historical works through the lens of a use-concept.

This lens would be considered as having three facets, with each of the partners choosing to emphasize one of these three facets or subject sub-themes that demonstrate the idea of the usage


Relating current issues to the 19th century structures and concepts that instigated the Modern era (Ruskin, Mechanics Institutes, European revolution, Thorbecke, social re-organisation) as a way to re-read our situation of technological advancement, social and political unrest, ecological crisis and perceived ‘decline’ and to use new readings of time to bear on how we re-think this past.

Also using historical and modern works to re-write the history of art according to how it can be used, at a personal level (how an individual subject uses a work of art) and at a political level (how a society uses a work of art).


To foreground approaches to art that operate on the periphery of the frame of art and present them as viable alternatives to market orientated work. This ‘new territory’ would include artists whose practice, or rather implementation, functions as rural activism, ecology, social architecture, food supply, political action, architecture, farming, urban planning and sociology – making the case for art as an essential component in a bio-physical and socio-cultural ecology.


To promote education, in its broadest sense, as central to the process of art, foregrounding and presenting it as a primary function of the institution – to bring the respective educational activities of each venue into centre stage, rather than supplement or to the core program or even for the education programme to take over the gallery.


The New Mechanics is formed out of a synthesis of recent work by Grizedale Arts (for the last few years proponents of the idea of making artists useful) around a rethinking of John Ruskin (as an artist, art critic, educator and social reformer), the 19th century Mechanics Institutes and recent work by associate artists around European revolution in 1848.

These historical phenomena can now be read as extremely pertinent moments in our present, offering new insights into current art and particularly the urgency for sociality and ethics in art.

In the case of John Ruskin, for example, this can be re-read as complex body of work that prefigures the issues now surrounding social reform, environment, ecology, capital, aesthetics and politics, combined with the complex, difficult persona of the artist. To date his writings have been subsumed by a formalist story of modernism, which he was partly responsible for, yet he is now emerging as a critical voice in the debates around the emerging calls for art to be more effective in society.

At the heart of this, is the case for restating the use value of art, an idea that has arguably been neglected (and refuted) since 1848, subsumed by the value systems of truth and money in the evolution of the Romantic model, whilst there is an assumption that usage is antithetical to art, or at least an uncultured view.

Four our purposes 1848 is cited as the symbolic date that frames the current conditions, that marks the end of the key period or industrial and social reorganization in the west, dominated by the Machinery Question (1815 – 1848) that identified the effect of technology on social, economic and political systems. In this project we can identify this period as a parallel enquiry to our own in the era of digitized information and biotechnology.

Equally there is at the forefront of this project an emphasis on the new politicization of the rural, ecological or the peripheral. This new ecology, far further evolved from the ecological debates initiated by Ruskin in the 19th century, now includes economics, activism, technology, shifts in global power, rapidly increasing demands on agriculture and natural resources.

This is not a straight forward historical re-evaluation, but an analysis of current art production through a restructured historical context, citing the mid 19th century as a vital and pertinent part of our own critical context with all its human endeavour to adapt and survive. Perhaps this project can be seen as an ahistorical survey for a post-chronological era, history as subversion, a non linear re-evaluation of the social purpose and complex function of art, presided over by artists such as John Ruskin and Liam Gillick.

The principle is to tour, not an exhibition, but a concept and a range of methodologies that in each location will elaborate on and adapt the theme working closely with the host institution’s curatorial and education teams.  It will use some historical material to make points, whilst showcase current artist, curatorial and ‘art-like’ projects that operate actively within a social context, to have, at least, an effect, or that seek, in the face of multiple ethics and dynamics, to keep going, to try to make the world a better place.

Alongside a profile of exemplar projects, the project would bring the host’s education and social programmes into centre stage, the activity to be the exhibit itself and return the gallery to its origins as a public classroom in the Mechanics Institute model.

 The different manifestations of the project will add to the whole endeavor rather than repeat the programme. Therefore it might be that in each location the ‘volume’ of the different aspects of this programme are turned up or down accordingly. For example in the UK the emphasis might be on education, in Spain ecology and rural activism and in the Netherlands historical re-evaluation.

In terms of content, the project is used to channel much of Grizedale Arts’ and the collaborators’ ongoing programmes. Particular attention will be focused on artists’ projects that can be read through their use value or ‘double ontological status’ (Stephen Wright) – having applications that are valid and visible outside of the frame of art.

In this respect, there is a case for highlighting projects in which there is an element of co-creation by author and audience or which enhance social activation processes around the direct management of resources. This would inevitably reveal a range of projects that are currently working outside the market orientated art world in ‘peripheral’ zones outside the metropolitan context and present them as strategically advanced ground.

The key issues of history, education, sociality, periphery and ecology addressed by this project are designed to shed new light on the wider political scenario of economic crisis, de-growth, technology and the decline of Western influence. In one way or another, many of the artists or projects that The New Mechanics puts forward, are attempts to adapt to these circumstances and to push for a change in art and the way it is used.

Suggested Exhibition Components

A Barricade

To create a barricade using works of art from an institution’s collections for practical purposes, as was the case in 19c Paris, a provocative method of display and action.

A new art history

Commissioning research and new writing to re-evaluate the History of Art, 1848 – 2012 through the lens of use value. This is intended to develop a more sophisticated language to describe and evaluate current art practice; particularly those are now operating in the social sphere and to differentiate between the multiple strands of this work. Some ideas are being currently being developed with the RCA Critical Writing course.

A core exhibition

A set of historical and contemporary works that can travel between venues for the purposes of education and interpretation. To be developed with the curatorial committee of the project and the host venue.

Project Exhibitions

Developed by each partner in relation to the themes


A number of artist commissions that are operative in the respective venue contexts.

An education programme

To devise a model education programme that will take centre stage at each venue, turning the gallery in to a classroom. Working with project partner education teams, universities, night classes, community projects and artists. This is in some ways intended as a challenge to each participant institution, to present their own social programmes as centre stage, rather than as complement to the exhibition programme.

The Mechanics Institute

A series of projects that looks at the Mechanics Institute as a model for the future development of the civic function of art within society, including the profiling of the Coniston Institute project by Grizedale Arts and associated artists. The Coniston Mechanics Institute was originally conceived by John Ruskin and WG Collingwood as the ideal education for the working man, but also the originating framework for social organisation, democracy, education and art centres in the UK.

The Secular Church Service

A reinvention of the service format created by artists, curators, writers, musicians for a social dissemination of philosophy, music, art, etc as a curated event.

Re-Coefficients Dining Club

Discussion and dinner performance event tested by Grizedale Arts that combines lectures with the banquet format


Club night by the legendary Liverpool dance club for one night only – Chartism meets Situationism meets Ibiza

The Touring Audience

Rather than touring an exhibition, the touring of a group of people to experience the project in all its venues and manifestations.

Coniston Mechanics Institute and Online Library

The new Library for the Coniston Institute, designed by Liam Gillick, will act as a fully functioning Cumbria County Council Library (a meme for rural libraries) whilst doubling up as the ‘research centre’ for the 1848 project.

As part of this there will be an online library that will be an accumulation of texts essays and ebooks that frame the project, considering the use of art, education, social change, ecology, history, politics.


As a key part of the project there will be a network of academic research that will develop the themes pursued with 3 European Universities.

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