University of Salford Manchester

Connecting creative communities

Professor George McKay focuses on community cultures and social movement activism, offering an understanding of participatory arts organisation and practice, and the history of radicalisation for new generations of activists:

  • Understanding the changing nature of communities in their historical and cultural contexts and the role of communities in sustaining and enhancing our quality of life
  • Connecting communities with research, developing community-engaged research across a number of core themes, including
  • Community creativity and participation
  • Countercultures and protest groups
  • Community environments, places and spaces such as festivals, and gardens.

Informing policy development in the areas of community participation and agency

McKay’s research is always concerned at its starting point with (often musical) culture; whether the cultural politics of protest in the garden or the riot, or popular music (from jazz to punk to techno) and post-subculture, or transatlantic and diasporean cultural exchanges, or community arts, media and festival as history and as practice. The impact described here highlights some of the ways in which McKay’s research supports community participation and agency through offering an understanding of its history and leading to the development of new forms:

In September 2012, McKay was appointed as a three-year AHRC Connected Communities Leadership Fellow to provide intellectual leadership to the Connected Communities Programme, with Professor Keri Facer, University of Bristol. The fellowship has two equally funded facets: work on the programme and with AHRC, and a personal research project. The two Fellows play a pivotal national role in connecting research by identifying cross-cutting issues and supporting the development of collaborations and partnerships. McKay’s focus is 'Understanding changing community cultures and histories and patterns of connectivity within and between communities', and his specific brief is around the contribution of arts and humanities research:

The vision for the Programme is ‘to mobilise the potential for increasingly inter-connected, culturally diverse communities to enhance participation, prosperity, sustainability, health and well-being by better connecting research, stakeholders and communities.’ Effectively, Connected Communities is entirely about funding impactful research, co-designed and co-produced between academics and community partners, and the AHRC Fellowship (one of only six covering all AHRC priority themes across the UK) places McKay at the forefront of such initiatives. Around 280 awards have been made to date, working with over 400 community partners.

  • At the core of McKay’s personal research project in the programme are community arts practice and the temporary creative community of festival.  Each strand involves collaborating with community partners, and is linked with much of McKay’s other work:

The impact of Radical Gardening, (a Book of the Year (Independent on Sunday), a gardening book of the year (Guardian)) is evident from discussions about it in both the gardener and activist blogospheres. Bloggers articulate the book’s achievement precisely in terms of its impact on their thinking, their activism, and how these are transformed:

  • Chicago Now / Chicago Garden website: Can a garden-related book change your life? This one has changed mine and how I see the garden and how I relate to it’
  • Mr Brown Thumb blog: ‘[The book] has opened my eyes and given me new insight into what a garden is and what it can mean … and how it can be approached.
  • Civil Eats website: it will surely be the definitive text … for years to come…. This transformed my sense of what gardens can be and, in fact, are.’
  • Treehugger blog: changed everything I thought I knew and understood about the role of gardening in society. Radical Gardening will fire you up, and you'll be marching out the door ready to occupy your garden’.