22 January 2021

SEAS team receives an AHRC Network Grant Award to better understand the impact group-based creative activities have on wellbeing.

Congratulations to Dr Jennifer Coates, Dr Jamie Coates, Dr Robert Simpkins, and Dot Finan on being awarded an AHRC Network Grant Award to support their research project Groups, Clubs, and Scenes: Informal Creative Practices in Japan.

group of students in the park

Congratulations to Dr Jennifer Coates, Dr Jamie Coates, Dr Robert Simpkins, and Dot Finan on being awarded an AHRC Network Grant Award to support their research project Groups, Clubs, and Scenes: Informal Creative Practices in Japan which aims to improve our understanding of the impact group-based creative activities has on wellbeing.

About the Project

What does it mean to engage in arts practice as a group of amateurs? 

What do people get out of informal and unpaid creative practice? 

These are common questions in various academic fields and journalistic investigations. Yet each field faces its own problems and challenges in answering these questions. Some problems are specific to the history of the discipline in which creative practices are studied, while others reoccur in many fields: researchers tend to focus on either the dynamics of the group, the operations of creativity, or the final artistic product. Instead, this research project, led by Dr Jennifer Coates and Dr Iza Kavedžija (University of Exeter) proposes taking an interdisciplinary approach to the question of group-based informal creative practice to address these questions more holistically by developing a toolbox of methods for studying the meaning and impact of informal creative practices, specifically those conducted in groups.

Wide reaching impact

Informal gatherings and group practices contribute to personal and shared senses of well-being. Therefore, this network's collaborative work has relevance for contemporary social issues including isolation, the disappearance of regular and well-compensated work, and how creative activities can improve our environments and lived experiences. Network activities will have relevance to the study of social practices, health, and ageing, as well as developing the first wide-ranging study of non-professional arts groups in Japan.

People walking down a busy street in Osaka, Japan.

Why a focus on Japan?

Daily life in Japan is notable for its high number of activities conducted in organized groups. Many social groups are dedicated to the arts, yet scholarship on clubs (kurabu) and circles (saakuru) tends to focus on those with an obvious developmental effect on the individual, such as sports clubs or language learning groups. At the same time, clubs and circles are a space of relatively egalitarian or 'horizontal' social engagement, in a social context that has often been described as predominantly a 'vertical' society. While the groups included in the network activities vary in the nature of their organization and the degree of hierarchy, they offer alternative spaces for social engagement with notable consequences for hospitality and wellbeing.

Too often we assume that group-based practice is motivated by the desire to build community or improve the self, and so we lack a nuanced understanding of the many uses that citizens have found for group-based creative practice. How do we account for the experiences of people who practice an art with no intention of improving their skill? Or those who engage in group activity without developing significant relationships with other group members? Exploring such cases, which do not fit easily into a simple understanding of informal group-based creative practice, will improve understanding of the roles of creativity and relationality in everyday life.

Japan's creative industries are world-leading, and yet Japan also faces severe social challenges, including ageing, precarity, and overcrowding. To overcome these societal challenges, creativity and innovation is needed both in formal and informal structures of practice. This network will focus on informal creativity conducted in groups to develop models for understanding how relational creativity can be deployed to solve or alleviate the challenges that will face most countries in the near future. We will draw from network members' research on a variety of informal creative practices conducted in groups around Japan to develop models for studying similar practices elsewhere, and to better understand the value of these practices in relation to living a good and satisfying life. We are particularly interested in the role (and limitations) of the group structure and the implications for how we think about building life-worlds, socialization, and resilience across the life course.

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