Mapping the complexity of creative practice: using cognitive maps to follow creative ideas and collaborations

Comunian, Roberta and Alexiou, Katerina (2015). Mapping the complexity of creative practice: using cognitive maps to follow creative ideas and collaborations. In: Duxbury, Nancy; Garrett-Petts, W. .F and MacLennan, David eds. Cultural Mapping as Cultural Inquiry. Routledge Advances in Research Methods. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 276–302.



Inarguably, arts festivals are important cultural assets for communities, contributing to the expression, celebration, and creation of local culture. Most research on arts festivals tends to be on the evaluation of their "impact," focusing either on economic measurements or audience satisfaction (e.g., Williams and Bowdin, 2007). Less attention has been given to understanding the process of artistic creation and how the local context influences creative production. An understanding of the process and the factors that influence creative practice can help unearth and map intangible cultural assets. However, research on creativity and creative production tends to look at how individuals generate ideas, focusing on their particular skills, processes, and cognitive characteristics (for an overview of approaches to creativity, see Sternberg, 1999). Yet creative practitioners very rarely operate in isolation; they operate within a complex environment that influences their practice in a fundamental way (see, e.g., Amabile, 1996). Our understanding to the interactions among artists and with their environment and intended audience is much more limited.

This chapter aims to contribute to our understanding of creative practice, the development of cultural projects in arts festivals, and their impact by taking into consideration both the creative practitioners and the influences, networks, and contexts that interact with their work. Taking the Fuse Medway Festival (U.K.) as a case study, this chapter narrates the use of a mixed methods approach to cultural mapping, using cognitive maps and interviews to explore how we can culturally map the artistic creative process and unearth the factors and interactions that influence it. This work is crucially informed by complexity theory.

The chapter begins by introducing our theory-informed perspective on creative practice and creative work and by briefly outlining some core literature on festivals. We then present in more detail the case study, our methodology, the data collected, and the results achieved. The final conclusion reflects more generally on the value of complexity science, its contribution to understanding creative practice, and its implications for cultural mapping.

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