Dr Karen Patel
Former AHRC-funded doctoral student, Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship (CEEF) fellow and current RCUK/UKRI Innovation Fellows award holder, Karen Patel sat down to talk to us about her career to date and how she has used the skills and knowledge gained during her doctoral studies and CEEF fellowship to progress in academia.
In 2014, Dr Karen Patel began her AHRC-funded doctoral studies at Birmingham City University as part of the Midlands Three Cities Doctoral Training Partnership (M3C DTP). Six years on, she is now an RCUK/UKRI Innovation Fellows award holder. Karen’s monograph, The Politics of Expertise in Cultural Labour: Arts, Work and Inequalities, which was published in 2020, explores the potential reasons for inequalities in the cultural sector which centre not only on protected characteristics such as class, gender and race, but increasingly the digital divide; a theme which has long been at the heart of Karen’s research.
Karen did not go straight to University after leaving school because, as she explains, “being from a working-class background in Dudley I did not think university would be a place for me”. However, after being inspired to return to academia, Karen developed an interest in creative industries and cultural policy research. Being awarded funding from AHRC through M3C’s doctoral programme was a “major turning point” for Karen: “It facilitated my shift from industry to academia, and the funding I have gained from the AHRC since has enabled me to build an academic career. Without the support from the AHRC and Birmingham City University, I think it would have been almost impossible for me to do that”.
After graduating in 2018, Karen undertook a Creative Economy Engagement Fellowship (CEEF) in collaboration with Crafts Council UK, awarded by AHRC through the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF). The CEEF scheme supported post-doctoral researchers to engage with businesses in the creative and digital economy and other organisations involved with the commercial endeavours of the Creative Economy. Karen was drawn to this fellowship because it presented an opportunity to further develop ideas from her PhD research, work with an industry partner and potentially make a direct impact on the creative economy.
Working with Crafts Council UK, Karen’s fellowship explored how social media could support greater diversity in craft practice. Through social media workshops and interviews with female makers from black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, the project provided insights into the individual experiences of diverse makers, the challenges they face using social media and the potential opportunities of social media for their practice and to gain visibility in the craft sector. It also provided a voice for women BAME makers in academic literature and in the craft sector, adding a diversity of voices to existing scholarship which has tended to focus on middle class white women.
A significant outcome of Karen’s fellowship was the knowledge exchange workshops she facilitated with makers, which aimed to explore and address the specific challenges facing women makers of colour in online spaces. In these workshops Karen worked with a total of 19 makers to explore best practice and develop the skills they need to build an online presence, sell their work, network with others and form potentially beneficial online spaces of support and knowledge exchange. From the workshops she produced a set of resources for makers looking to develop their social media presence, including a PDF of social media ‘top tips’ and interviews with makers.
Karen’s CEEF fellowship formed the basis for a successful RCUK/UKRI Innovation Fellow application (again through NPIF). Karen’s fellowship, which she described as the “highlight of my career so far”, helped facilitate her transition from doctoral student to academic. She notes that the fellowship was invaluable in teaching her how to collaborate with an industry partner and allowing her to develop a lasting relationship with Crafts Council UK.
Karen’s Innovation Fellow project primarily focuses on racial and class inequalities in the UK craft sector, in collaboration with Crafts Council. Outputs include the podcast series, “Maker Stories”, which features interviews with inspirational women of colour working in craft and a working paper published on the Crafts Council website which includes anecdotal evidence from interviewees highlighting experiences of racism and microaggressions throughout their craft journey, from education to dealing with suppliers.