Louise Platt, member of the Institute of Place Management, leads on the MA International Cultural Arts and Festival Management programme at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her main teaching revolves around arts and cultural management, urban regeneration and cultural policy, events and festivity in communities, and she supports research students in related areas at MA and PhD level. Her own PhD was an examination of the performance of identities during the Liverpool 2008 Capital of Culture year. She have since focused on work related to identity and leisure practice from dog walking to knitting. Her current research is an examination of the Manchester and Salford Whit Walks as markers of identities in evolving urban spaces, particularly examining the post-secular city, working class communities and shifts in community identities. Louise is on the executive committee of the Leisure Studies Association.
Louise Platt, You lead on the MA Cultural Arts and Festival Management programme at Manchester Met. What is the aim and content of this programme?
Louise Platt: The aim of the programme is to provide a grounding in the management skills needed for arts and festival managers. Many of the students who come onto the programme do not come from a management background, many have performing arts degrees or other related humanities undergraduate degrees. Therefore, the programme teaches core management skills, such as financial management, strategic marketing, research skills, leadership and enterprise skills. It also offers units which develop the creative thinking of the students and ability to work in teams on presentations and consultancy briefs. With me, the students look at the principles and practice of managing arts organisations or arts festivals. We examine funding, stakeholder and asset mapping, programming, contracting, working with artists and communities and other key skills specific to the sector.
“I see festivals as lenses in which we can examine identities of communities whether they engage with the festivals or not”
The second unit that I lead on looks more critically at the role of festivals in placemaking and placebranding. We explore culture-led regeneration and schemes such as City of Culture and European Capital of Culture. We are returning to Rotterdam in 2017 as a case study for the assessment. The students also have the opportunity to work with some brilliant local festivals. This year we are pleased to be working with Gothic Manchester Festival and Sick Festival. We are also hosting the British Arts Festival Association’s ‘A Festival Career’ student conference.
You have written on Liverpool as a European Cultural Capital 2008. What happened there?
Louise Platt: My PhD research examined how the ECOC08 in Liverpool was an opportunity for the people of the city to think about their identities. The work was an ethnographic study which, rather than looking at the grand narratives and impacts of the year, explored how local people felt about their ‘Liverpoolness’ and how that related to the ‘official’ celebrations. I wanted to examine the way people perform their identities and what conditions enable or constrain this. Coming from a performance studies background, I used this as the theoretical framing to see how far the year allowed a resignification of identities.
“With me, the students look at the principles and practice of managing arts organisations or arts festivals”
The city of Liverpool had long suffered negative perceptions, particularly on a national level, and I found that this contributed to the way local people performed their identities. In fact, I wrote a book chapter which specifically examined the creative potential of negative interpellation that the city had experienced. Linguistic violence offers the chance for resignification of place due to the contingent, social and collective nature of the way that place is constituted.
The concept of identity, in particular the way it is performed through practices such as festivals, is central in your work. Can you share some of your insights with us?
Louise Platt: I am interested in how identity is performed, I drew on Judith Butler’s work on gender performativity to examine of identity performance is iterative and thus open to resignification and improvisation. I see festivals as lenses in which we can examine identities of communities whether they engage with the festivals or not. In my PhD I spoke to many people who did not engage with ECOC08 but were clearly shaped by the fact it was omnipresent in the city they lived in.
“When I come to research which is seeking to understand place, I want to understand how the people in that place understand it”
At a more place-based level I think festivals offer places an opportunity to be creative with identities and ask ‘what if’? Liverpool had an opportunity during ECoC08 to really change perceptions and transform the place-image. My research saw the year as a ‘definitional ceremony’ (based on the idea by Barbara Myerhoff), a moment to be visible and be witnessed which is important in identity practices. Festivals, however do not always offer this in a positive way. I am not just talking here about the idea of commercialising festivals which can lead to an alienation of local communities, but also questions around the ethics of whether we need festivals at all. They can be viewed as a panacea but often, the identities of the communities involved is not fully understood which can then create tensions.
How do you conceptualize place in your work? What does it mean for you and the research you do?
Louise Platt: I would not like to have a preconceived idea of place when I approach the work. I like to quote Edward Bruner when he said: “By focusing on narratives or dramas or carnivals or any other expressions, we leave the definition of the unit of investigation up to the people, rather than imposing categories derived from our own ever-shifting theoretical frames” (1986). Therefore, when I come to research which is seeking to understand place, I want to understand how the people in that place understand it.
“It is great to be part of an institute that brings researchers together from different disciplines but connects us to those working in the field of place management”
At present I am researching the Manchester Whit Walks which have a long history going back to 1801. I am interested in how these Walks are both an anchorage point of how participants experience and understand the city of Manchester but also how they reflect the changes that have taken place physically and socially since 1801. I think what I am trying to say is that I conceptualise place as contingent. I am thinking with Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the refrain in my work on the Walks and I find their idea that territory is a ‘mode’ or an ‘act’ compelling. There is an acknowledgement here that concepts of place cannot be fixed, “a series of events occurring at different paces” (Brighenti, 2010).
You are a member of the Institute of Place Management? How do you think the IPM support your work?
Louise Platt: I value the IPM as an early career researcher! It is great to be part of an institute that brings researchers together from different disciplines but connects us to those working in the field of place management. This brings a real richness to seminars that are held regularly but also via the blog. My work does not sit well in one particular discipline but the idea of ‘place’ resonates through all my work so the IPM allows me to test ideas and get valuable feedback. I only came to Man Met in August of last year and I have found that the support offered by the IPM Directors and other members has meant that I have grown in confidence as a research working on ‘post-PhD’ research. It is a hard transition to make not only coming into a new university but also from publishing from my PhD to starting new projects. I hope to continue to engage with the IPM and learn from its diverse membership!
The interview was conducted by Ares Kalandides.