Un-curated projects
: strategies towards a socially engaged curatorial practice in sites of urban change

  • Aislinn White

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Socially engaged art has become increasingly embedded in governmental and local authority policy, as well as private capital ventures. Such practices have been seen as an intrinsic way to help tackle social issues ‘outside of art’ while also adding to the economic growth of cities and the gentrification of neighbourhoods. In the UK, socially engaged art practices have been prominent in placemaking agendas and urban development schemas. Considering this increasing volume, and visibility, of such art in processes of urban regeneration, it is not a surprise for it to be used as an example of art instrumentalised, often against its own rhetoric, for economic gain and art-washing. Socially engaged art has held a complex position within both the contemporary global city and the artworld.

Set in dynamic, contested and complex sites of urban change, this thesis reframes embedded socially engaged art as opportunities for creative negotiation. In acknowledging the curatorial as a fundamentally collaborative and dialogical praxis, it explores strategies for a socially engaged curatorial practice, that is entangled in the changing city and involves co-production with communities to create small, yet critical sites for discourse and exchange. These temporary sites can be conceived as un-curated rather than spaces controlled by a curator as a mediator of civic and cultural engagement.

The thesis reflects on the author’s own socially engaged collaborations and practice as a project’s curator, including a collaboration with Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk in Cambridge as an ‘embedded researcher’ and two projects developed with young people in sites of mass regeneration in London. The case studies further explore how the production of collaborative community projects can affect the narratives of place and the empowerment, and the disempowerment, of its inhabitants.
Date of AwardJul 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorSuzanna Chan (Supervisor), Daniel Shipsides (Supervisor) & Ullrich Kockel (Supervisor)


  • Curatorial practice as research
  • Urban studies
  • Regeneration
  • Socially engaged art
  • Community engagement

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