For four years I was privileged to work on my PhD (graduated July 2020) and conduct fieldwork in the housing projects of Palmeira (known by its nickname of “Malvinas”) in the town of C├ómara de Lobos on the Portuguese island of Madeira. Staging creative interventions with the housing project residents, I demonstrated how art and design methodologies can contribute to greater agency for small, remote communities.

My dissertation’s primary theoretical contribution was in articulating the emergence of the anti-heroic turn: a shift away from over-crediting innovation and towards a recognition of care, maintenance, and repair as a force of social and cultural sustenance and the vital next step following innovation. To describe this work from my perspective as a curator of contemporary art and design, I developed the concept of curating-with, a type of curatorial work which emphasizes reciprocal learning and long-term connections between practitioners and a community. The relationships built by curating-with opens possibilities for addressing aspects of cultural heritage and local history which are concealed or under-explored.

For example, one way that local histories were examined was through a collaboration with filmmaker António Baía Reis, who explored the history of a generation of children from the area who were forced to beg to earn money for their families. He explored this history with a 360-degree short film which interrogated the status of a sculpture which was made to commemorate the children, but which was hidden from public view. The short was presented at a conference at the University of Madeira and resulted in newspaper, radio, and television press coverage. Baía Reis continues to engage with the community and campaigns to restore the sculpture to public space.

My fieldwork also led me to conduct an analysis of the digital inclusion efforts taking place in the bairro. This analysis resulted in a conference presentation and the publication of a peer-reviewed paper, It Looks Like You’re Writing A Letter: The new value systems embedded in digital inclusion programmes. This area of my research presents future possibilities for projects which could build on the issues posed by delivering digital inclusion programmes authored by corporate entities to vulnerable communities.

With Madeiran architect Soraia Cardoso, I also analysed the buildings themselves for their impact on life in the bairro and this investigation continues as independent post-doctoral research into the creation, maintenance, and documentation of architectures which are inadvertently or deliberately temporary in nature.

Local youth trying VR goggles for the first time. Photo: Michelle Kasprzak