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MAKING ANOTHER ROADMAP FOR ARTS EDUCATION

March 1, 2016 3:00 , by Nora Landkammer - 0no comments yet | No one following this article yet.
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Barcelona, 31/05/2010

Participants:

  1. Montserrat Cortadelles (primary and secondary school teacher and artist)
  2. Gloria Cot (teacher at the Reus Arts and Design School, teacher trainer on the pre-service training MA for secondary school art teachers, University of Barcelona)
  3. Mariló Fernández (member of the cultural work and education cooperative LaFundició)
  4. Carla Padró (senior lecturer at the Fine Arts Faculty, University of Barcelona, Cultural Pedagogies Unit, Design Department)
  5. Ane Pauly (member of the cultural work and education cooperative LaFundició)
  6. Elvira Pujol (member of the research and cultural production collective Sitesize)
  7. Javier Rodrigo (cultural worker and researcher on arts education, co-coordinator of Transductores)
  8. Montse Romaní (cultural worker, researcher in cultural politics)
  9. Aida Sánchez de Serdio (lecturer at the Fine Arts Faculty, University of Barcelona, Cultural Pedagogies Unit, Design Department)
  10. Judit Vidiella (teacher trainer on the pre-service training MA for secondary school art teachers, University of Barcelona)

Unable to attend:

  1. Cristián Añó (member of the cultural work and educational collective Sinapsis)
  2. Lídia Dalmau (member of the cultural work and educational collective Sinapsis)
  3. Oriol Fontdevila (coordinator of the Youth Art Gallery of the Generalitat de Catalunya)
  4. José Moreno (teacher at Vallès high school in Sabadell, teacher trainer on the MA for secondary school teachers, University of Barcelona)
  5. Txuma Sánchez (coordinator of the Youth Art Gallery of the Generalitat de Catalunya)

* * *

In the course of a three-hour working dinner the participants engaged in a conversation in which we shared our points of view on the Road Map for Arts Education and our experience of the issues discussed in the report. What emerged was a diagnosis of the conditions and alternatives we see from our different perspectives and a discussion of key concepts or fields. In this text we have tried to organize the discussion in a structured way, although in reality the conversation flowed somewhat more randomly.

I –TAKING STOCK OF THE DOCUMENT

Our view of the Road Map for Arts Education (UNESCO, 2006) is in general terms severely critical. Although the text recognizes that linking the education and arts contexts more closely, or promoting research, etc. would be positive, the discursive and regulative framework from which these proposals emerge seems very problematic to us.

First of all, we think that the document is couched in a standardized and neutral language, and does not question the processes described. The text does not discuss what theoretical or methodological perspectives have been taken during the research process. As a result, undeniable, neutral or positive affirmations are made (for example on social cohesion, coexistence, personal and social development, etc.), while glossing over more problematic issues (for example, the fact that employability in the culture industry sector also usually involves precarization). At the same time, culture and art are always presented positively, and under what conditions this art or culture might open spaces of critical transformation or, on the other hand, reproduce existing relationships of domination, is not explored.

The document is generic and regulatory, and does not go into the organizational conditions of cooperation necessary to build an education program. Although we are aware of the high governmental level of UNESCO, the text does not descend to any other more specific level. We wonder then what this guide or Roadmap is expected to achieve if art education is not linked to the specific conditions prevailing in each country. From this perspective the Roadmap is in the end a document enshrining a neutral and universalistic consensus that can hardly do more than establish some very basic and ambiguous guidelines.

Paradoxically the standardization of the guidelines is founded on the alibi of cultural diversity. Social tolerance and celebration of diversity are flagged within a notion of cultural diversity as (almost) an exoticism that assumes that the mere exhibition of difference has as an automatic consequence reconciliation with it (which is tantamount to its neutralization). This is a question not only of contextual homogenization but also of conceptual homogenization, when key terms like creativity, critic, art, etc are deployed without being defined. It seems to be taken for granted that everybody shares the same definitions.

When the document discusses education, it refers only to institutionalized formal or informal education (schools, museums, etc.). It does not take into account radical pedagogies, non-formal spaces, or spaces outside the academy and its conditions. Similarly, the document does not mention other interdisciplinary or non-artistic groups.

As we said before, the Roadmap is a consensual document (which is also a specific feature of this type of international organization), and it does not contemplate or give any guidelines for situations of conflict, and consequently, it cannot take into account the complexity that collaborative education processes involve. The main idea should not be to present art education as a solution to all educational problems, but instead to question the education system globally -that is, to explore critically the unspoken power relationships of artists with school contexts; to consider processes of precarization in the academy and labour fields in a context of global crisis; etc.

Finally, the so-called “good practice” cases are presented so superficially as to render them useless, not only because they are not contextualized, but also because neither negotiation processes nor operating conditions are specified in the text.

II – CENTRAL THEMES OF THE DEBATE

After this quite negative assessment of the Roadmap, the group went on to discuss a series of other issues that we will try to organise here in line with their main concepts. The debate around these topics is above all a diagnosis, since the participants felt the need to share the conditions in which they carry out their work -quite different from the ones the Roadmap takes for granted.

  • Education

Our discussion of education focused on the tensions between structure and micro-intervention, radical critique and strategic adjustment. It also raised the question of how we can educate critically when children and young people are infantilized and subjected to control by society and the education system, and have no power over their own education. On this topic some of the participants saw more possibilities than others. All of us work in different ways that range from aiming to change the structure of the system to moving tactically within it. Thus, we discussed the possibility of transforming government institutions through the partial action of teachers, groups and students. The group debated the role that some experimental schools in our context have in comparison to the more and more conventional and regulated state schools.

We perceive a generational gap between the progressive teachers of the 70’s and 80’s and the new generation of teachers. These days a civil-service mentality has spread among teachers, and this is being reinforced by the bureaucratization of educational tasks and the disciplinarisation and limitation of teacher’s knowledge. Research and other training activities carried out by primary and secondary teachers seldom receive formal or institutional recognition. Furthermore the idea that teachers should know more than students is still the basic assumption, even though we know that this is less and less the case. Teachers do not know what to do in situations of horizontality. On the other hand we recognize that there are exceptions of this general situation and that many teachers are aware of the need for change in education.

Regarding teacher training, participants who taught on the pre-service MA for secondary school art teachers brought up the conditions in which the first edition of this Master has been carried out . In general terms, it was an improvised affair, without coherence in the program, the calendar, the coordination between teachers, etc. Contradictions emerged between the discourses of the teaching staff that eventually created confusion and affected negatively the quality of the training. A particular characteristic of this year’s course was the significant number of Architecture graduates taking the MA, due to the crisis in the construction sector in Spain (in previous years Art graduates were in greater numbers). There is a common perception that this year’s students had a rather traditional concept of art and education, and expected to be taught easily applicable teaching recipes. Furthermore, the teachers who supervised in-school internships did not offer transformative models.

Within the school context there is substantial fragmentation and standardization of the repertoire of knowledge that students are required to learn. As an inheritance of the modern tradition, school is seen as separate from actual social practices, and as a consequence becomes simulative and reproductive. When educational projects are linked to the wider social environment they become meaningful for students but, in turn, there is always the risk that these projects will fall into an instrumentalisation of knowledge and creativity for the cultural industries.

In opposition to this idea of an education that turns its back on social reality we argued that the classroom and the school are realities in their own right, as they constitute a relational and political space. Therefore a transformation of our own practices in everyday life is necessary, but often these practices run counter to students’ own expectations, as they have been disciplined throughout their school years to accept a unidirectional educational style as valid, and to adopt a passive attitude. It is not easy then to promote the autonomy and the initiative necessary to take advantage of the cracks and fissures in the system. Paradoxically, these students will later have to deal with the flexibilization, deregulation and autonomy (including actual self-employment) that the current art field and cultural industries demand. Thus we should ask ourselves how this tension is mediated and what kind of problems emerge from the contradiction.

Regarding the Roadmap’s discourse on schools, we identified a tendency towards increased government centralisation of basic skills training and unified objectives/ aims for each level of education. This trend is partly determined by the importance given to standardized international evidence/data such as the PISA report. These skills -including creativity and innovation- are intended to serve business interests. Thus, a synergy between the media, the companies, and programs of corporate social responsibility and culture is produced. Models of business excellence and competitiveness have spread into society in general through public educational and cultural politics. The education system is oriented to producing on the one hand a specialized cultural proletariat, with a high level of employability but also highly precarized; and on the other hand, an audience for the culture and knowledge industries.

In the university this orientation is noticeable for example in the closure of unprofitable areas and departments such as philosophy or basic research. In our context, the notion of knowledge transfer between universities and the wider society is narrowed down to meaning transference only to the business sector. However, at the university level teachers are required to have a certain flexibility to carry out institutionally acknowledged research activities, whereas primary and secondary school teachers find it much more difficult to achieve this privilege.

  • Art and education

The Roadmap defines art in a dual but unproblematic way: on one hand as linked to the emotional, to fantasy, creativity, and expression; and on another hand as a resource for the cultural industries. The group debated whether art has specific qualities (i.e. it allows us to see the world in a different and more critical way, etc.), or works in exactly the same way as in any other field. We also discussed art education as a means to learn other things (in line with the learning through art approach), or as the development of some specific knowledge (aesthetic, production, etc.).

Regarding the conditions in which the participants have to carry out their projects, we discussed the role of the CoNCA (National Council for Culture and the Arts, the Catalan Arts Council) and the difficulty some of us have when trying to channel its funds towards educational or transversal projects. The CoNCA has recently changed its policy towards funding projects for education in aesthetic taste, or those which are clearly identifiable according to the traditional division of arts disciplines (theatre, visual arts, etc.).

Another program that has just started is “Artist-in-Residence” in schools. Perhaps in the 80′s the presence of artists in schools involved a radical critique and “spilled over” the boundaries of the institution, whereas within the new approach there is no critique at all, but instead a neutralized formalization of creativity. There have even been cases in which artists were  stays. Projects of¾and not very significant¾brought over from the UK for short  this type reproduce a certain colonialism and superficiality as they ignore the specific knowledge of local groups and artists.

We also highlighted the fact that there are very few hybrid teacher figures that do not distinguish between their role as educator and as artist. In most cases, educators and artists separate these two dimensions of their practice. In particular many teachers see themselves as artists “from 3pm”, and teaching is considered a frustrating activity and a mere economic option.

In arts education, it seems as if there were a will to block critical thought and reflection through the fragmentation of the curriculum. This happens, although in differing ways and degrees, both in vocational art schools and in fine arts faculties.

Finally when it was mentioned that the Roadmap does not include independent or informal groups, all the participants agreed that we do not want a road map that prescribes a specific way of doing things. Sometimes it is better to be ignored by administrative authorities so that they cannot put you on their map or their radar. The blind spots in the map are really welcomed, because they are a way of avoiding the capitalization of flexible and autonomous processes that are structured in informal networks.

  • Critique

The group discussed how the term “critique” is defined in the Roadmap text and reduced to imply simply “criteria” or “discernment” (qualities that also belong to the “informed consumer”). As educators we relate to “critique” in a complex way. We are aware that we end up training the students in favour of the productive effectiveness of the art system, whereas to educate from a critical perspective involves also the creation of a “problem”, meaning that then individuals do not adapt so easily to the productive system. As teachers we educate always in the ambiguity of adapting the students to needs of the system, and not only as radical critics. The question then is how students can learn to act in a conscious and reflexive way, not only following an adaptive principle to the existing conditions, but a tactical and transformative one instead. The same happens to ourselves as cultural workers: we have constantly to ask ourselves whether we decide to be manipulated in a strategic way, or would rather create a crisis in the contexts in which we work.

After discussing the absorption and neutralization of the concept of critique in the Roadmap, we also went into how arts institutions are integrating issues of independent cultural production and radical pedagogy into their discourses. The separation between institution and independent groups is becoming meaningless because they integrate very efficiently between each other (as happened in the 80′s, when museums gave space to radical discussions of topics such as AIDS, feminism, etc). Within this frame, the appeal to pedagogy becomes a form of accountability understood in different ways: as public access in quantitative terms, but also on a discursive level oriented towards obtaining symbolic prestige (for instance the collaboration between museums and squatted houses, or what are now called second generation social centres, and free universities).

  • Creativity

The group also discussed the contemporary instrumentalization of creativity now that new and ever more viral ways of institutionalization capitalize even the most intimate dimensions of the subject. There were differing opinions on this issue: the discussion focused on whether it is possible to distinguish between a spontaneous and genuine creativity and the institutions that subsequently capitalize it. Further, we discussed the role of institutions in the mediation of monolithic and unidirectional interpretations of artistic practice. On the other hand, the contemporary institutions are not just the gallery, the museum, the public administration, and the market, but instead they are all distributed in a relational network that cannot be neatly divided between the institutional and the non-institutional realms. We have constantly to negotiate how we move in and out of the institution, in the fields of both art and education.

  • Precariousness

One of the topics the Roadmap leaves untouched is cultural institutions’ precarization of artists and cultural workers’ labour. In their turn these institutions are starting to develop programs and projects based on institutional critique. This type of project involves an outsourcing of critical thought services, most of them based on the same precariousness they supposedly question. What kind of collaboration is produced when autonomous artists and intellectuals participate in a process of this kind? Why are these working conditions not questioned within the institution? In any case there seems to be a mutual attraction between the two sides. What do they see in each other? Legitimisation is one of the issues at stake: On the one hand, arts institutions obtain low-cost cutting-edge value; on the other hand, artists and intellectuals obtain public resources and legitimation. Precarization is synergic with the belief that an artist is independent and ethical only when he/she does not get paid for his/her work. Additionally universities contribute to the precarization of intellectual work by creating think-tanks of young researchers who confer them with prestige, but who have to live on poorly paid grants, have temporary contracts, or are paid by the hour, etc. Given this situation we wonder under what conditions we can do research in the arts field – that very research, by the way, that the Roadmap claims to promote.

III – PROPOSALS FOR FUTURE WORK IN THE LOCAL CONTEXT

Since we did not want to propose more guidelines of a regulatory character in the style of the Roadmap, we limited ourselves to identifying a range of possibilities that would be necessary for future action in our context.

We feel there is a lack of historical memory in the sector. We feel, as it were, orphans who have to start from scratch every time. This is why the participants suggested the need for research into local memory and the history of critical cultural practices. This does not mean a self-centered and celebratory approach, but instead would be a starting point for an articulate conversation with other people and experiences, in which we would also have to confront contradictions and inconsistencies.

An example of this kind of work is precisely the project that LaFundició is carrying out in Manresa. It focuses on the city’s memory of education, on the occasion of the creation of the City History Museum. In this project, historians, teachers, artists, etc collaborate in a participatory piece of research. Its most significant aspect has been the conflict of language between historians and artists, as well as the political approach of the municipality. Partly these conflicts revolve around the tension between product and process, as LaFundició emphasizes processes of negotiation over flashy or politically profitable outcomes. These processes are neither fast nor immediate, and in our view it is necessary to value them and to write about them (just what the Roadmap does not do in its case studies).

In addition to this we discussed the need for research on the current state of educational practice, and for the creation of groups for debate and innovation in which universities and schools could take part.

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