The International Conference on the Arts in Society (The Arts Conference) and The Arts Collection create a forum for discussion and visual critique, and a place for the publication of innovative theories and practices in the arts.

International arts festivals and biennales have increasingly taken a central role on the world stage as gathering points for creative exchange. This is evidenced each year by the growing number of participants – both artists and audiences – in such pinnacle events as the Venice Biennale, the Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to smaller burgeoning biennials, such as Sao Paulo, Kwang-Ju, and the proliferation of ‘fringe’ and artist-driven events, such as the London Biennale and the San Francisco/Oakland ‘Bayennale’. Within this matrix of international arts expositions, forums for discussion have begun to spring up in the form of symposia, platforms, conversations with artists, and event-specific panels. The Arts Conference and Journal acknowledge these trends as indicative of a need for critical discussion on issues in the arts, and specifically as they are situated in everyday life, culture, economics and politics. Linked to critical discourse, creative acts of engagement are called for that respond to the needs of our times – the needs to combat censorship in all of its insidious forms. In short, what is called for is no less than ‘free speech zones’, which have become ever more pressing in present-day contexts of globalisation, and its social, economic and political artefacts of cultural homogenisation, commodification, and militarisation.

The Arts Conference and the Arts Journal aim to create a space for open dialogue and exchange in all aspects of the arts, and in conjunction with arts festivals (performing, visual, literary), where interdisciplinary discussions can emerge from a variety of format presentations – from more traditional academic papers, to workshops, garden conversations, staged readings, performances, cafe and pub settings – all in the context of an international meeting ground. As a conference that is fundamentally concerned with issues that relate art theory to art practices, the conference will consider all aspects of Arts of Engagement.

Conference discussions and texts published in the journal will range from the expansive and philosophical to finely grained analysis based on deep familiarity and understanding of a particular area of knowledge or arts practice. They bring into dialogue artists, theorists, policymakers, arts educators, and their overlapping roles.

The conference and journal aim not only to be reflective, but also to be active - moving works from the studio to public discourse, moving from the public stage to the policy chambers - as well as providing a form of reflexive consciousness for thinking about the role of the arts in society. The conference thereby creates an opportunity for forging a design agenda for the arts.

A design agenda directly asks the question, What is to be done? How can artists, thinkers and teachers seize this historical moment to create an agenda for the arts which positions them powerfully in relation to the often competing and intersecting agendas of economy, science and technology?

The conference will examine key areas of exploration within its thematic breadth: changing and contested sites, artistic media and new genres, artists and other participants in the arts.

In our newly emerging twenty-first century, longstanding sites of production, consumption and display - such as the theatre, the museum, the gallery, and the publishing house - are being contested by new forces of media, popular culture, and commerce. These various forms of contestation and re-arrangement have given rise to new forms and venues, from the street to the Internet. To what extent have these old forms and new forms merged, replaced or challenged one another? In what ways do the various sites of reception and display affect sites of production – from the artist’s studio to the community hall? Is there such a thing as interdisciplinarity? And how do artistic media work with and interpret these cultural flows and institutionalised spaces?

We live in an increasingly visual culture, where all forms of media intersect with the “crisis of information” that overloads everyday life. These media include the visual arts, the textual arts, the aural and musical arts, the gestural and performative arts, and the spatial arts. These categories roughly correspond to standard classifications of artforms as music, theatre, literature, poetry, dance, painting, sculpture, photography, film and television, and architecture. Such are the disciplines and artforms of our historical experience. While these disciplines undergo various processes of transformation and at times destabilisation, they are sometimes displaced by new means of production and their related meanings (the raw materials and methodologies of representation), reproduction of forms and meanings (first mechanical and then electronic), and distributions of meaning (the methods of reaching audiences and interacting with them). To what extent do we need to develop new research approaches alongside creative tools to redefine these rearrangements of classical disciplines?

Who are the participants in today’s globalised art world? Has the art world fragmented into a scattered hegemony of “art worlds”? Who are the players, the gatekeepers, and to what extent do our mainstream institutions reinforce or reflect the hierarchies of art world structures and opportunities for artists? How do the arts reach out to the children of Nintendo, who insist on being actors and co-designers of their own narratives? What, then, is an act of engagement?

How do artists and cultural workers reconcile their visionary projects with the mundane pursuits of marketing and profit as measures of success? What are the structural constraints that create and perpetuate the motif of the “starving artist”? How do shifting contexts – such as moving from a community festival to a world festival event – create and redefine audiences and audience participation? What is the responsibility of the artist to explore these and other issues? What, finally, is the role of art in society?

More than ever, these are open questions. As a space to engage these questions and others, and to broaden a participatory base, the Arts Conference and Journal provide a setting to make linkages across disciplinary, geographic and cultural boundaries.