Conversations with cultural curators
: Bid team and community leader views of PR-led participatory placemaking for UK City of Culture 2021

  • Jenny Gibson

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


How were communities invited to participate in bidding for UK City of Culture 2021, via PR-led participatory placemaking? And how do three categories of key personnel involved – bid leaders, PR representatives and community leaders – understand, evaluate and make sense of the opportunities they created, within the tight confines of this very neoliberal competition? Taking a relational constructivist approach, I conducted 20 semi-structured interviews across five locations, paying particular attention to presentation of professional self. Reported happenings were theorised using the academic concepts of critical PR (L’Etang & Pieczka, 2006; Fawkes, 2014), participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006; Gauntlett, 2018) and placemaking (Musterd & Kovacs, 2013). I argue that the organisational “cultural curator” PR role (Tombleson & Wolf, 2017) facilitated the potential for autonomous space (Fuchs & Mosco, 2016) or commons (Arvidsson, 2020) to emerge, generating social capital (Field, 2016) leading to topophilia (Tuan, 1990) or love of place – and a bottom-up pushback against neoliberalism, perhaps involving some redistribution of power. I assert that a low barrier to inclusion and artistic expression (Jenkins et al, 2006) made this possible, yet it had the opposite effect for some residents with pre-existing cultural capital. This is the first such work to examine UKCoC through critical PR and participatory culture theories. I present the activities under scrutiny as positive examples of applied critical PR and participatory culture in placemaking, focusing on the portal of transmedia engagement. In summary, I demonstrate that the PR role provided the potential for power-redistributing social / cultural capital and an enhanced love of place to emerge, as a bottom-up effect of the top-down and time-limited undertaking of bidding for UKCoC status. It is this exciting happening, albeit brief and pocketed, that further underlines the need to draw more and stronger links between critical PR and participatory culture.
Date of Award8 Jun 2022
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMatt Hills (Main Supervisor) & Catherine Johnson (Co-Supervisor)

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