The Art of Engagement Symposium

By Michelle Kelly

5 April 2011

Researchers Elaine Lally, Ien Ang, and Kay Anderson from the Centre for Cultural Research at the University of Western Sydney received funding from the Australian Research Council’s Linkage Projects scheme in 2006 to conduct research on the C3West initiative. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (MCA), Casula Powerhouse and Penrith Performing & Visual Arts are partners in the Linkage grant and, with Campbelltown Arts Centre, the organisations behind C3West. C3West is a long term partnership which has explored and delivered a range of projects in Western Sydney and Goulburn for artists to extend their practice beyond the gallery. Each C3West project is developed through a unique collaborative process, bringing together businesses, artists, and communities.

The Art of Engagement Symposium, one of the outcomes of the ARC project, was held on 21 October 2009. Over 100 individuals from Australian universities, art colleges, councils, galleries, and community organisations gathered in the Harbour Terrace room on the sixth floor of the MCA. The event was convened by CCR, with assistance from the MCA and C3West. The symposium took C3West as the starting point for a dialogue about contemporary art and its new modes of engagement, considering other kinds of innovative partnerships between contemporary artists, communities, and corporate organisations.

Keynote speakers included Sylvie Blocher from the collaborative art and social action group Campement Urbain, who has worked with Penrith Panthers as part of C3West; Michael Krichman, the Executive Director of the US / Mexico collaborative art project inSite; and Karin Becker, Professor of Media and Communication Studies at Stockholm University.

In other sessions, The Work of Engagement panel explored C3West through the perspective of a C3West artist, cultural partner, corporate partner, and a council director. The panel Implications and Prospects situated C3West in a wider context, with representatives from academia, the cultural sector, and the Australia Council offering their reflections at the conclusion of proceedings. Elaine Lally, formerly Assistant Director of CCR but now Associate Professor in Creative Practices at the University of Technology, presented on behalf of the Art of Engagement team, which also includes Research Associate Phillip Mar and Research Assistant Michelle Kelly.

Frank Panucci, the Australia Council’s Director of Community Partnerships, stressed the importance of the research team’s function in understanding and articulating the “competencies, skills and experience” different individuals and institutions bring to bear on each C3West project. The Art of Engagement Symposium demonstrated the role that research can play in documenting and critically reflecting on experimental cultural projects such as C3West. The event was a great success, with much positive feedback reported by C3West cultural partners, and attendees describing the day as “enormously interesting,” “inspiring,” and “one of the best symposiums I have ever been to.”

The Art of Engagement, an edited collection which discusses the C3West initiative in the context of engaged contemporary art practice, is scheduled for publication by UWA Publishing in 2011.


Segments from the Symposium are available for public viewing below:

Welcome and introductory remarks


Engaging art: C3West in context

San Diego/Tijuana: Art practices of intervention and engagement in the public domain

The work of engagement: The artist, the gallery director, the businessman and the city planner

“Wasted time” and the process of emancipation

The work of art[ists] in public space

Implications and prospects