Mind the gap!

Camlin, D. A. (2021) Mind the gap! In: Community Music at the Boundaries. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. ISBN 9781771124577 (paperback)


This chapter presents a critical analysis of the role of higher education in promoting cultural participation, drawing from a research study on musicians trained in higher education. I make the argument that gaps in cultural participation can begin to be addressed not just through the encounter between culturally less-engaged publics and 'socially-engaged’ (Helguera, 2011) musicians, but also by the ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger, 1999) within which musicians can interrogate and develop their collective practice. I review a cultural institution’s ‘situated learning’ (Lave & Wenger, 1991) approach to musician training in the NE of England which addresses this issue, capitalising on changes in educational and cultural policy from 1997 to the present day, and revealing how a ‘socially engaged’ artistic practice can also help to address a second ‘gap’, namely the one which exists between study and professional practice in music. I consider the efficacy of such a ‘community of practice’ approach to musician training which situates learning within a community of musical practitioners, and the impact of this approach on the practices, values and attitudes of the musicians involved. An analysis of qualitative data collected via purposive sampling by questionnaire produces a number of findings which highlight the positive impacts of this approach to practitioner development, especially in terms of shifts in musician identity and underpinning values. I conclude that the development of musician training programmes at Sage Gateshead – a major cultural institution in the NE of the UK – has proved helpful in bridging the second gap between study and professional life for aspiring musicians from diverse musical and social backgrounds and practices, supporting them to develop ‘a more differentiated ‘portfolio’ career’ (Renshaw, 2013, p. 42), and contributing to a valuable shift in musician identity toward a fuller appreciation of music’s value to people and society. I also suggest that, as part of a strategy to bridge the first gap in cultural participation between the minority elite consumers of ‘high art’ and a more general public, this institutionalised approach has only been partially successful because of the broader composition of the field of cultural production (Bourdieu, 1993). The approach represents incremental progress toward a more culturally democratic model of cultural participation, including important shifts in artist identity around the value of teaching within a professional portfolio. However, the basic inequalities of access to publicly-funded Arts and culture have not yet been significantly overcome (Neelands, University of Warwick, & Heywood, 2015), suggesting that a more rigorous and epistemologically ‘vigilant’ (Bourdieu, Chamboredon, & Passeron, 1991) position is required in order to broaden access to public funding for arts and culture in future, and ensure that cultural policy initiatives can be more strongly embedded within the communities they purport to serve. I conclude with the suggestion that it is the encounter between socially engaged musicians and their various publics – rather than the institutionalised approach per se – which holds the promise of a more democratic participation in cultural life. While HE programmes such as the ones outlined herein might be said to have made a positive contribution to closing some of the gaps in cultural participation in the UK, they still represent progressive approaches to musician training, and their vulnerability in a competitive market highlights the need to support such initiatives in the face of more conservative paradigms of cultural participation.

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