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Using Arts-based methods to build cultural narratives of place [Research Paper]

Contributed by
Sara Grenni

A research paper outlining a case study using arts-based method in a participatory excercise

How can art-based methods support the creation of new cultural narratives for place-based branding and planning? What are the potential benefits and challenges of using this approach from the point of view of place governance?

These are the central questions explored in the paper: Linking spatial planning and place branding strategies through cultural narratives in places, published in December 2019 in the journal European Planning Studies, as part of the Special Issue: Spatial Planning and Place Branding: Rethinking Relations and Synergies.

Sara Grenni form Re.imaginary, together with co-authors Katrina Soini (Natural Resources Institute Finland) and Ina Horlings (University of Groningen) explore the role of narratives as a nexus between place branding and planning, and argue for a greater role of the arts (and specifically arts-based method) in co-creating narratives of place in a participatory way.

The paper outlines a methodological approach based on the principles of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) – and particularly its focus on positive emotions and the power of storytelling – as well as the key role of the arts and arts-based methods in creating spaces of possibility and exploration.

This proposed approach is illustrated through a case study in the form of the co-creation experience initiated by the authors in the small Finnish town of Mänttä. Here, over the course of 2018, a series of workshops were organised to engage residents in the construction of new narratives of possibilities for the future of the town, rooted in sense of place and values.

Throughout the workshops, residents in Mänttä engaged with a number of Re.imaginary methods, including: Silent Conversation, Predict Future Headlines, and Collage – all organised along the AI phases of Discovery, Dream, and Design.


Key lessons-learned from the experience include:

  • The appreciative approach of AI supports a collaborative atmosphere through the creation of positive feelings
  • Framing the discussion around the principles of AI allows for a re-appreciation of assets that are often overlooked or taken for granted
  • The use of arts-based methods enables participants to express their individually held place-based values and to re-negotiate them in a collaborative exercise

The paper is available open-access.

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