The International Conference Mapping Culture: Communities, Sites and Stories will explore both conventional and alternative approaches to mapping cultures and communities in an international context.

Cultural Mapping - A general definition:

Cultural mapping involves a community identifying and documenting local cultural resources. Through this research cultural elements are recorded – the tangibles like galleries, craft industries, distinctive landmarks, local events and industries, as well as the intangibles like memories, personal histories, attitudes and values. After researching the elements that make a community unique, cultural mapping involves initiating a range of community activities or projects, to record, conserve and use these elements. …The most fundamental goal of cultural mapping is to help communities recognize, celebrate, and support cultural diversity for economic, social and regional development.

— Clark, Sutherland and Young

An emerging interdisciplinary field

Cultural mapping reflects the spatial turn taken in many related areas of research, including cultural and artistic studies, architecture and urban design, geography, sociology, cultural policy and planning. Traditional approaches to cultural mapping emphasize the centrality of community engagement, and the process of mapping often reveals many unexpected resources and builds new cross-community connections.

Internationally, cultural mapping has come to be closely associated with professional cultural planning practices, but its recent adoption within a variety of disciplinary areas means that ‘traditional’ approaches are being re-thought and expanded, with cultural mapping practices adopting new methodologies, perspectives and objectives as they evolve.

Presenters will discuss and illustrate innovative ways to encourage artistic intervention and public participation in cultural mapping. They will also address the challenges posed by such artistic practices and community involvement in various phases of the research process, from gathering and interpreting data to modes of presenting ‘findings’ to interest groups from different sectors – the local public as well as specialists in the arts, research, public administration and planning.

Two key dimensions of current research with implications for artistic, architectural and planning practices and agents are:

(a) the participatory and community engagement aspect, especially in the context of accessible mobile digital technologies
(b) mapping the intangibilities of a place (e.g., stories, histories, etc.) that provide a “sense of place” and identity to specific locales, and the ways in which those meanings and values may be grounded in embodied experiences.

These two aspects will be highlighted in the conference presentations and symposium workshops, bridging interests of both researchers and practitioners.

Symposium – Linking research and practice

Collaborative research with communities can help us better understand its role in their cultural and social development. But how to create or recreate such an experience?

The Symposium elements will address how multidisciplinary research perspectives can be applied to local development practice. Workshops will be used to explore the possible contributions of cultural mapping approaches to different communities at a local level, and the role for academia in this sensitive process.

  • What type of ‘cultural map’ is required, and what methodological tools have proven to be valuable?
  • How can we build truly collaborative processes for local development?
  • How can academic knowledge be effectively applied to solving issues at the community level, and how can community knowledge be useful for the academic world?
  • How much of this information is more than what we see, that is, ‘cultural mapping’ for the intangible or unseen?
  • How can this intangible dimension better enable us to understand and address the commonalities and diversities of a community? 

Within this context, the Symposium integrates the launch of the Artéria project, a collaboration between the Center for Social Studies and O Teatrão. This regional and international project will develop artistic and academic initiatives with an array of local agents (municipalities, universities, artistic agents, and artistic schools) to create a network of artistic, social and academic intervention in cities of the Centro region of Portugal – Coimbra, Montemor-o-Velho, Aveiro, Leiria, Guarda, Castelo Branco, Belmonte, Viseu, Nazaré and Tomar – and to build local artistic intervention projects in each of these cities. Artéria aims to create a regional dynamic with a concrete local social impact, proposing a new paradigm of cultural relations in the region with links to national and international levels. Within the Symposium, the launch will become concrete through a three-day workshop where cultural mapping projects will be designed by groups of local agents, to be implemented in these cities in the near future

Clark, Sutherland & Young (1995). Keynote speech, Cultural Mapping Symposium and Workshop, Australia

Photos above:
Coimbra (Baixa); Camera obscura (built by Donald Lawrence); Almedina Gate, Coimbra, during Coimbra 1111 site-specific theatre performance; artist Melinda Spooner, sound mapping in Jardim Botânico da Universidade de Coimbra. Photos: N. Duxbury.