UK & Ireland Circus Research Network

Arantza Barrutia-Wood of the National Fairground Archive, Professor Ron Beadle, and Petrea Owens of Albert & Friends

Part of the circus tradition is the strong sense of community that grows in and around the art. Yesterday saw the launch of an extension to these communities with the founding of a Circus Research Network for the UK and Ireland, which will allow those engaged in Circus Studies – academics, practitioners, hobbyists or professionals – to forge links with each other and share research findings, methodologies, resources and opportunities.

This is the first UK footprint of a Global Institute for Circus Studies, as dreamt up by attendees of the Effective Circus conference in Tampere last year (and, though many of those involved with this launch are actively involved with Social Circus projects, it should be clear that the CRN is intended to be a communications hub for any form of circus studies, be it historical, artistic, physiological, psychological, street, contemporary, traditional, critical etc).

Digital copies of posters held in the Fenwick Collection at Tyne&Wear archives

Remaining unattached to any one organisation or physical location to preserve a free-flowing democracy of engagement, the CRN’s launch was held at Newcastle’s Circus Central, and supported by the University of Northumbria’s ‘Communities of Practice’ fund.

The day’s agenda allowed us to establish ideas about what the CRN should be, introduce the areas of research we’ve previously been involved with, discuss ideas for future research projects, and clarify communications and development strategies for the network. Already we’re looking into the prospect of a conference in 2015 and setting up an initial mailing list which, for the time being, will be administrated by Ron Beadle, who is a Professor at the University of Northumbria and a 7th generation member of a traditional circus family on his mother’s side.

Central Circus poster
Circus Central poster

Talk around the room was about access to funding opportunities, the importance of empirical evidence to support the knowledge and experience of practitioners, the impact of in-group and out-group identities, and heritage projects to collate, digitise and provide access to archives and collections (such as the Contemporary Street Art Archive currently in development, and the extensive Fenwick Collection at Tyne&Wear Archives that formed part of Family La Bonche’s recent ‘Young Roots’ project, ). Among other things.

From feeling quite isolated as someone with an academic interest in circus, I now feel overwhelmed by the breadth of research that exists already in the UK, but previously had no outlet for exposure and access. As Arantza Barrutia-Wood remarked on her arrival at the National Fairground Archives from the museum sector, ‘it felt like becoming part of a secret society’, but work towards integration and sharing is expanding the circus family in a new and important direction. The fortifying and accepting nature of many circus communities means there’s space for the writers, thinkers and analysts too!

Dr Stephen Cadwell, who came to Galway Community Circus from a background in Philosophy of Art, comments on his blog, ‘this appears to be a central philosophy among ALL circus folk; the idea that if you can do something you should and the circus will find a place for it. If you can juggle, you’ll become a juggler. If you can’t juggle but you can sing, they’ll have you singing while a juggler juggles. If you can’t do either but are good with your hands they’ll get you designing and making props, costumes and sets for the shows. If you can’t do any of the above they’ll get you writing a newsletter.’

Well, we can set up a web of connections between those working on circus-related research projects and call it the Circus Research Network, so that’s what we’ve done. Come and join the family.

Circus research is in its infancy, and we need to make sure we create an enriched environment for it to grow. Please do take the time to help in this global initiative. So many have so much to gain by our efforts. Volunteers should not be exploited and we should be realistic about our progress. We will do our best to have an intelligent and consistent progression as we grow.

Effective Circus Research Growth statement


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