Thursday, August 30, 2007

Creative contradictions, constructive tensions...?

Graham is giving an (academic-ish) talk at the University of Exeter school of education on the 9th of October. Summary below:

Teaching (in) the arts through partnerships and collaboration: constructive tensions or impossible contradictions?

Arts education is currently bearing the burden of a frenetic policy rhetoric which emphasises ‘creative skills’ and collaborative work, even as other tentacles of policy squeeze educational institutions to sustain their positions in league tables, enable all students to succeed, and manage relationships with an ever-increasing number of stakeholders. There are numerous unresolved contradictions and tensions: between rhetorics of creativity and student ‘empowerment’ and a highly stratified, competitive assessment and accountability regime; between traditions of liberal arts education which may be at variance with more (post)modern discourses of creativity; and between a meritocratic, popularised vision of ‘talent’ and the socio-economic realities of learners’ lifecourses.

Professional artists and teachers of the arts (many of whom have professional histories as skilled practitioners of the arts in their own right), are being exhorted to collaborate, and in pragmatic and messy ways are attempting to navigate through this landscape. Such collaborations often start at the level of individual curriculum initiatives, but they are also being scaled up into complex, longer-term institutional partnerships between the formal education sector and professional and voluntary arts organisations, enabling students’ learning to spill over from the orderly containers of qualification systems into a broader ecology - of the creative industries, the cultural economy and arts institutions.

There are many opportunities for innovation and professional learning here. Equally, there are many pitfalls and risks: are professionals in schools, colleges and universities equipped to manage the contradictory demands made by performative audit cultures and networked learning communities? What sorts of professional learning experiences are needed if the idea of equitable creative collaboration is to become more rooted in the ‘knowledge pool’ of the education system? Is progress towards the adoption of ‘creativity’ as one of the touchstone concepts of educational and economic policy in England in danger of collapsing under the weight of its internal contradictions?

Drawing on my experience in leading and managing complex institutional partnerships at the University of East London and Newham Sixth Form College, together with more recent work in enabling professional reflection and development for teachers and artists through the TAPP (Teacher-Artist Partnership Programme) in London, I will tell three stories which might help illuminate some ways through the mass of contradictions and difficulties in this turbulent landscape of policy and practice.

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