Communicating the Unsayable: Learning at the Intersection of Language and the Arts

The AHRC network Learning at the Intersection of Language and the Arts (LILA) are organising a series of events in 2020 to bring together a variety of participants to consider the relationship between language and the creative arts – visual arts, drama and performance, dance, music, poetry, film, and more - for learning. They are looking for contributions to their network events.

In formal educational contexts, and often in informal settings too, language is the chief medium for expressing, recognising and evaluating learning. Yet the arts are increasingly employed in public services such as health and wellbeing, migrant support, children’s services and programmes, and in engagement contexts as researchers and cultural organisations seek to communicate with wider publics.

The LILA network therefore responds to a need to more fully understand the relationship between language and the arts for learning in these informal contexts. It aims to generate insights into the communication of what is otherwise unsayable: the narration of unconscious knowledge, things people do not know how to talk about, do not have language for, or are prevented from speaking about.

LILA builds upon an emerging body of research into language use and language and literacy learning in which multiple creative arts practices have been part of the context, methodology, or outputs. However, the ways in which learning takes place through the coproduction of language- and arts-based practice remains under-explored. The network therefore aims to address this gap by bringing together researchers across disciplines,
artists, and community and cultural organisations in order to share projects and insights.

Through four one-day events we will consider the following questions:

1. What do different participants, audiences, research actors and organisations learn at the intersection of language and the arts, and how do they learn it?

2. How can this learning contribute to enhanced relationships, wellbeing, and social justice for individuals, communities, and organisations?

Our four project partners will each host an event based around a broad theme to guide proposed contributions:

Event 1 (Thursday 6 February 2020, 9.30am-4pm): Making. The Drawing Room at the Art Library, Leeds Central Library is a space for members of the public to learn the fundamentals of visual art, inspired by the library resources. This event will explore the question: How is material translated between different linguistic and artistic/aesthetic forms in processes of artistic making?

Event 2 (Friday 3 April 2020, 9.30am-4pm): Wellbeing. The Pudsey Wellbeing Charity provides a community hub for arts-based social and leisure activities to support the wellbeing of the people of Pudsey, West Yorkshire. This event will explore the question: How do the arts contribute to learning and wellbeing, and how can this be evidenced in ways which account for, and also move beyond, language?

Event 3 (TBC): Belonging. The Museu de Lleida, Catalonia houses a large collection of historical and heritage objects from the region. This event will explore the question: How can the arts and cultural institutions enable increasingly linguistically and ethnically diverse communities to feel part of local/regional history?

Event 4 (TBC): Engaging. The British Museum, London has been running a programme to engage ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) learners with the collections. This event will explore the question: How can cultural institutions use their collections to engage with communities where language may be a barrier?

We invite three further contributions for each of the first two events, and expressions of interest for the third and fourth, with a view to circulating a further call when these dates are finalised. Contributions should be 20-25 minutes long and can take any form: talks, presentations, performances, exhibitions, recordings, stories, makings, happenings, provocations. Please send a proposal of up to 250 words explaining your contribution, how it meets the theme of the event and how it will address the network questions, by Friday 29th November 2019. Proposals and queries should be addressed to Lou Harvey,

Registration and financial support

All events are free and lunch and refreshments will be provided. Travel bursaries are available for two early-career researchers and two freelance artist delegates to attend each of the network events in the UK, and for three early-career researchers and three freelance artists to attend the event in Catalonia, based on a maximum of £75 per person. Please contact Lou Harvey, (for UK events) or Cristina Aliagas Marín, (for the Catalonia event) by Friday 15th November 2019 if you would like to apply.

Registration link will be circulated soon.


Dr Lou Harvey, University of Leeds
Dr Emilee Moore, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Dr Cristina Aliagas Marín, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona


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