Does YSP Make You Happy?
Investigating Situated Narratives of Wellbeing at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis investigates the question ‘Does Yorkshire Sculpture Park make people happy?’ through a methodological approach which draws on critical epistemologies of situated lived experience, phenomenological approaches to landscape and aesthetic experience, participatory research paradigms and narrative inquiry. Using Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) as a case study, this collaborative PhD project finds that the aesthetic and social encounters facilitated in its environment provide potential ways to wellbeing that have been underexplored in current literature on wellbeing in cultural organisations. The thesis proposes that wellbeing in an organisation needs to be considered from the ground up, rooted in the lived experiences of the communities that it serves.

The research uncovers four distinct wellbeing narratives. Firstly, the organisational story of respite, creative learning and access to art experiences embedded within the founding mission of the YSP. Secondly, the biographical narratives of the visitors in which life events, family memories and new experiences are embedded within its landscape. Thirdly, the experiential, temporal narratives of experiencing sculpture in the landscape through the journeys around the park. Finally, the intersubjective sculpture stories collectively produced within the project.

Through the collection and collation of these different narratives, it places the wellbeing experience in its biographical, temporal, spatial and social contexts in order to illuminate its specificity and contingency. It argues that the potential for wellbeing experiences to occur at YSP is contingent on particular environmental conditions, here proposed as two sets of axes between openness and safety and continuity and change. Furthermore, it suggests that it is the specific sociality constructed within the aesthetic encounter through which these experiences are made meaningful. In doing so, it offers an original contribution to knowledge for the study of the situated experiences of wellbeing within the aesthetic encounter, including its impact upon research and planning for wellbeing programming within an art gallery context and understandings of wellbeing in the cultural sector.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRowan Bailey (Main Supervisor)

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