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CUS Grant Writing Fellowship Experience

– by Lieke Prins

The Covid pandemic touched everyone’s life worldwide in different shapes and forms, in my case it influenced my research focus and proposal. The grant writing scholarship of the Center for Urban Studies gave me the opportunity and time to evaluate my theme and rewrite my research proposal in line with the acceleration of digitalization processes during the pandemic.

My initial research theme concerned street art practices and the dynamics of creating street art in public space in Medellín and Amsterdam. However, the realities of painting in public space are subject to change, due to – among other things – the increased interest in street art worldwide. The street art culture that once belonged to the marginalized segregated peripheries of the city where artists challenge societal structures through symbols and express social imaginaries, is now culturally co-opted by the city center, national museums, and commercial parties where the murals are not only a means for expression but also a beautification tool. This increased popularity provoked processes of institutionalization, commercialization, medialization, and legalization (and control).

Another major shift that occurred in the last decades is the digitalization of street art. The urban public spaces are now extended with digital public spaces allowing new interactions with an international audience. Moving images of the creation of street art and photos of murals are disconnected from the contextual environment and travel through global digital spaces where artists connect, interact, and influence each other with their aesthetics and social imaginaries. This last shift accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic: artists started to paint inside their house instead of in the streets and shared the results on social media; live streams, blogs and podcasts were made giving words to the social imaginaries instead of visual creative expressions; and online collaborations were established with artists from different countries and backgrounds.

The three months of the Grant Writing Scholarship of Center for Urban Studies allowed me to I observe these changes closely and discuss them with my supervisors Dr. Ir. Christien Klaufus and Dr. Arij Ouweneel. I was able to study this trend of the digitalization of street art I decided to change the focus of my research proposal and write in the digital public space next to the urban physical public space in my research plan. Asking the following research question: ‘How do the intertwined physical/digital art practices challenge existing forms of, and theories about art-as-activism and art-as-culture?’

With this new proposal I applied for a fully funded Ph.D. position at the Amsterdam School for Regional, Transnational and European Studies. I received positive feedback and my proposal was said to be original and creative, yet, unfortunately, I was not granted the funded position. However, the writing process during these three months of grant writing to further develop my research, my own plan of execution and to define my project in more detail and depth. Aside of applying for a fully funded Ph.D. position I wrote proposals for travel grants for my fieldwork in Medellín, Colombia. Whereas this fieldwork period was delayed due to Covid and therefore many of the travel grants applications were postponed as well, I prepared them and handed them in this year.

One of the travel scholarships I applied for is the Amsterdam University Fund. Luckily, I was awarded with the fund, which is an import financial support for my fieldwork period. Furthermore, I applied for the travel grant of the Van Eesteren-Fluck Lohuizen Foundation to cover my travel expenses to the research sight and will also apply to the Catherine van Tussenbroek Fonds to hopefully be granted the financial support that I need to cover my fieldwork expenses.  

Now, a year later than planned, I will travel to Colombia for my fieldwork and finally collect the data I need for my PhD project. I am grateful for opportunities and the time the grant writing scholarship of Center for Urban Studies provided and for the support of my supervisors during the writing of my research plan.