Art and Social Practice MA | Middlesex University London
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Art and Social Practice MA

Learn about the course below
October 2020
September 2020 (EU/INT induction)
1 year full-time
2 years part-time
£8,500 (UK/EU) *
£14,000 (INT) *
Course leader
Loraine Leeson

This unique course, the first of its kind in the UK, builds on this country’s significant history of community-based and socially engaged art initiatives addressing social and environmental issues. You will be encouraged to take creative practice beyond the institution to build on your own interests, networks and communities. Creative skills are developed in an effective and targeted way, and grounded in critical understanding and theory.

Why study MA Art and Social Practice at Middlesex University?

Middlesex University hosts some of the UK's most experienced and renowned practitioners with cross-disciplinary experience in the fields of community-based and socially engaged art practice.

The MA Art and Social Practice builds on Middlesex University's historical roots in the progressive Hornsey College of Art, at the forefront of encouraging artists to engage and participate with communities and institutions to positively impact the world around them. It will provide you with a productive environment for debate and critical enquiry across creative disciplines where ideas can be shared and collaborations fostered. Visits to external projects, organisations and events together with virtual interactions with peers from other universities will connect you with others immersed in parallel fields of study to extend your horizons, widen your knowledge and forge connections for the future.

This practice-based course is one of the few postgraduate programmes in the UK specifically designed for cultural practitioners who wish to make a difference by developing their work in an outward-facing way. You will leave the course well-equipped to pursue self-initiated projects and commissions or develop your work through the cultural and community sectors.

Course highlights

  • Experienced practitioner-led teaching.
  • Off-site project work based on your own interests, contacts and communities.
  • A programme of lectures, seminars and external visits to inform and enhance your practice.
  • Studio space for both full and part-time students.
  • State of the art facilities and workshops with contemporary and traditional equipment, archives and a full range of digital tools including software labs, 3D printing and media studios.
  • An active research context with staff specialism in social practice.
  • An university context that supports interdisciplinary working.
  • Access to London's thriving scene of social engagement, cultural activism and urban renewal.
  • International university partnerships offering opportunity for exchange and placements.
  • Collaborative events such as the Art and Social Practice virtual symposia and seminars with University of Highlands and Islands to share work in progress and ideas with peers across institutions.
  • As a student of this course you'll receive a free electronic textbook for every module.

Find out more

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What will you study on the MA Art and Social Practice?

This new course is divided into five modules taken over three semesters (if studied full-time). Each module is designed to be flexible, allowing you to bring your own interests to the assignments while extending the boundaries of your current artistic practice through experimentation, research, analysis and creative exploration.

What will you gain?

You will gain experience in conducting your work in the public domain, as well as instigating, negotiating and developing projects through engagement with the wider community. These transferable skills will be an asset to whatever form of outreach work you choose to take up as an artist or cultural professional following the course.

  • Modules

    • Developing Practice (30 credits)

      In this module you will explore appropriate contexts for conducting socially engaged art practice in a way that is effective and meaningful in relation to your wider interests and networks. This will allow you to establish a reflective and critical context for the development of advanced work in this field, informed by research and contextual knowledge.

    • Critical Debates (30 credits)

      In this module you will explore key critical and disciplinary debates in contemporary creative and cultural practice and theory at an advanced level. This will enable you to establish a comprehensive investigative approach to creative practice and methodologies, and one that explores the critical interrelationship between theory and practice.

    • Advanced Research (30 credits)

      In this module you will examine a diverse range of advanced approaches to art and design research, enabling you to produce an advanced, articulate and coherent body of work that reflects a personal vision and language that is appropriate to your chosen field. You will also examine, critically evaluate and develop the language(s) used to articulate research in art and design.

    • Practice through Engagement (30 credits)

      In this module you will develop a proposal for work within a community or collaborative context focusing on the needs of a particular group. You will develop the skills and knowledge required to create collaborative and participatory work in a wider social environment, resulting in a research-backed proposal for a practical project.

    • Major Project (60 credits)

      Using research methodologies, concepts and processes previously explored in the course you will realise a significant project in the public domain that is rooted in social engagement and aims for social change. This will be accompanied by a critical and reflective piece of writing that demonstrates your resolution and expertise.

You can find more information about this course in the programme specification. Optional modules are not offered on every course. If we have insufficient numbers of students interested in an optional module, or there are staffing changes which affect the teaching, it may not be offered. If an optional module will not run, we will advise you after the module selection period when numbers are confirmed, or at the earliest time that the programme team make the decision not to run the module, and help you choose an alternative module.

How is the MA Art and Social Practice taught?

This course is taught through tutorials, lectures, seminars and workshops delivered by academic and professional practitioners with a diverse range of skills and expertise. The focus is on engagement with outside agencies, however students are supported through all processes of development, negotiation and delivery of this work.

Seminars, discussions, visits to outreach projects and input by experienced project partners active in the cultural and community field help stimulate ideas, providing a wider context against which individual projects are developed. One-to-one tutorials help students to develop an individual programme of work built around their own interests, networks and communities, while extending existing artistic skills and competencies.

The MA Art and Social Practice does not have formal placements; rather, students negotiate with or build groups with whom they wish to work. As well as cultural institutions and SMEs it is also possible to work within a more formal organisation, such as a school or hospital.


Assessment is through the realisation of your major project outcome in an appropriate setting and coursework, including production of a journal, presentations and project documentation.

The assessment criteria consider your ability to:

  • Develop, realise, document and communicate your practical project
  • Plan, realise, document and effectively communicate process-based work relating to the needs of groups and individuals external to the institution
  • Critically reflect upon socially engaged art practice in differing contexts
  • Understand the ways in which socially engaged art operates within the wider social and cultural sphere.
  1. UK & EU
  2. International
  3. How to apply
  1. UK & EU
  2. International

These include project work with groups and communities at sites of your own choosing, attendance at events, plus visits and trips to broaden your understanding of art in the social domain.

How will the MA Art and Social Practice support your career?

You will be well prepared for an independent career as a socially engaged artist realising your work through fundraising, commissioning and the instigation of new SMEs and/or charities.

The MA Art and Social Practice will also prepare you for employed work in the outreach departments of cultural institutions, or for taking a creative role within community or development organisations.

Dr Loraine Leeson
Programme Leader MA Art and Social Practice

Dr Leeson is known for her collaborative and participatory work in East London, including the 1980s Docklands Community Poster Project. Her work with young people has been recognised by a Media Trust Inspiring Voices award and Olympic Inspire Mark. The Catch public artwork was voted a London 2012 Landmark, while Active Energy received RegenSW’s Arts and Green Energy award 2016. Her book Art:Process:Change – Inside a Socially Situated Practice was published in 2017.

Alberto Duman
Lecturer in Fine Art Social Practice

Alberto Duman’s interdisciplinary work is located at the intersection between art and urban spatial practice across diverse media and collaborative partnerships, with particular concerns to social context and the role of art in the cultural production of urban space. In September 2018, a co-edited anthology titled Regeneration Songs: Sounds of Investment and Loss from East London, initiated by his art project Music for Masterplanning will be published by Repeater Books.

Simon Read
Associate Professor, Fine Art

Simon Read is an artist concerned with environmental change. Working with coastal communities to help foster understanding of coastal and estuarine issues including the loss of intertidal habitat, he is actively engaged in projects to manage tidal flow through threatened saltmarsh sites, frequently collaborating on projects in partnership with government agencies. His academic research echoes his practice including most recently Hydrocitizenship for AHRC, completed 2017 and CoastWEB for NERC ongoing until 2019.

Dr Tansy Spinks
Programme Leader MA Fine Art

Tansy Spinks is an artist involved in creating sound works, using improvisation with non-conventional sound making devices. She has a PhD (LCC, UAL), MA in Photography (RCA) BA Fine Art (Leeds Polytechnic) and LGSM (violin). Her practice-based PhD explored live, site specific, associative sound performance, with supervisor David Toop. Her photographic work is in The Museum of Fine Art, Houston and the National Media Museum, Bradford, now at the V&A. She has exhibited nationally and internationally. She has taught and been an External Examiner at many Art Schools nationally and is currently Senior Lecturer in Fine Art, running the MA Fine Art at Middlesex University.

Dr Alexandra Kokoli
Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture - Fine Arts

Dr Kokoli's interests are situated within feminist art history, theory and practice, particularly the relationship between feminism and psychoanalysis, gender politics of popular visual culture and contemporary feminist movements. She is author of The Feminist Uncanny in Theory and Art Practice (Bloomsbury, 2016) and editor of Feminism Reframed (Cambridge Scholars, 2008) and The Provisional Texture of Reality: Selected Talks and Texts by Susan Hiller (1977-2007)(JRP Ringier, 2008).

Emma Dick
Lecturer in Visual Culture - Fashion

Emma Dick is leader of the theory and research modules, Lecturer in the Visual Culture, History and Theory of Fashion and a member of the Diasporic & Transcultural Practices Research Cluster. Emma is currently working on development projects empowering women in Central Asia by linking textile artisans to global markets.

  • Wendy Charlton

    Art and Social Practice MA student

    I have received excellent support and sharing of knowledge from the tutors on this course. I now feel I have established my practice and made a fundamental body of work which I am ready to take forward with confidence. Technician support and access to workshops, equipment and studio space has been invaluable. I have also enjoyed the contact with other students, sharing of ideas and practices. Based on the experience I have had here, I would highly recommend this course to anyone wanting to shift their work/career/practice in any discipline towards making social change.

  • Jenny Dunn

    Art and Social Practice MA graduate

    Jenny graduated with a distinction and went on to an eight month funded traineeship at the University of Nicosia. Here she collaborated with others to develop the project Distributed Agri * Culture. She is now looking to develop this project in partnership with organisations in Spain to help develop ecological resistance in the face of climate emergency.

    I began studying as a part-time student with a background in interior design and architecture. I was keen to develop my skills in a way that would help me connect with the other residents on my estate and build a cohesion of community. I first worked with them on a proposal for a community garden. This led to the design of a mobile ‘community centre’ which could move between the green spaces on the estate. This mobile ‘cart’, which I designed and constructed in collaboration with a carpenter from the estate, served as a physical store for gardening supplies, drawing materials, making tea as well as portable benches and table for gatherings. I have since presented this work at UnConference; Free Libre Technologies, Arts and Commons and the London Festival of Architecture.

    The MA Art and Social Practice gave me not only the knowledge and skills to understand the ethics, aesthetics and practicalities of engagement and collaboration, but also the opportunity to try this out in the real world which I think a lot of courses don't offer. Without this I think it would be hard to get a true understanding of the theory and how to face the challenges of this work. With this experience I have been equipped with the expertise and confidence to continue developing my own projects and contribute to work in this important field.

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