Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spawning blogs

It seems that from the loins of generalpraxis a number of offshoot blogs are springing. For the sake of completeness, here's the current list, apart from this one:

Museum of the 70s - an eclectic collection of resources, links and occasional musings about culture, design and society in the 1970s

Museum of the 80s - much the same, but smaller for the 1980s

Repetition Machine - a liveblogging experiment in social news media started on Obama's election night and continuing sporadically

And a new one: Creative Crunch: exploring the impact of the recession on the so-called 'creative economy'

...and I'm finding socialmedian an interesting way of gathering and aggregating news stories that don't always find their way to the top of the big news agenda. It's still a bit geeky but that could change over time...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Repetition Machine

It's interesting how this election has turned into a huge swarming experiment in social media. As I watch the coverage unfold, partly to keep myself amused in the lulls, I"m going to aggregate the various sources and tools I'm using into a new blog called Repetition Machine.

This is partly because in the last three hours I've found myself watching five different US news networks, listening to 6 different radio stations, browsing 3 or 4 different newspaper websites, using, digg, facebook etc etc. Such is the hunger for information. Or maybe I'm just informationally dysfunctional or deranged. Maybe it's just a substitute for 'being there' whatever that means. Maybe it's because there's only me and the family here in this lonely old house in Scotland to share talking about the election with. Where is 'There' anyway? But this has been a hypermedia election and really is the greatest show on earth right now.

A kind of virtual newsroom. Earlier this week I posted a video clip of Gil Scott Heron's "The Revolution Will Not be Televised" to my facebook page. But thinking about it I"m not so sure. This is no revolution in the Marxist sense but it is a revolution in some ways, in how politics is conducted. It's just a shame that so much of what is said is virtually content free, and still panders to the usual suspect platitudes. What is "Change We Need" anyway? But Obama's campaign has touched on a powerful emotional need for a sense of connectedness and community that has been woefully absent through the Bush years. Anyway, for more rambling like this, head over to the Repetition Machine.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


The light has suddenly changed; we're getting long shadows and golden early evening sun slanting across the garden; the temperature has dropped; autumn has definitely arrived in this part of western Scotland. Our food growing efforts this year have been nothing short of pathetic - this is the remnants of the vegetable patch, which mainly has provided delicious meals for the slugs throughout the summer months.

Nonetheless the garden has given us a magnificent crop of blackberries. For next year I think I'm going for more passive cultivation - so potatoes, herbs, and fruit trees and bushes. Nothing else seems to work...

Saturday, September 06, 2008

After a hiatus

It's been a busy and tumultuous summer, and this blog has been very quiet. However, it's back. A roundup of some recent news from the generalpraxis stable:

Graham has a new job, as a Reader in the School of Media, Languages and Music at the University of the West of Scotland. That means that the freelance side of his work is likely to abate for quite a while but he'll keep updating this blog with useful snippets of information and occasional posts.

The report The Arts and Community Radio, which Graham did a lot of work on back in 2006 has now been published. You can download it here.

There's a new academic journal focussing on participatory and 'community' arts - which Graham is on the editorial board of - The Journal of Arts and Communities.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Creative Scotland?

This is an edited version of a talk I gave last week at a half day ‘thinktank’ exploring what vision the new body Creative Scotland (formed by a merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen) should have for ‘learning and skills.”

Building creative capacities

How is Creative Scotland going to make a distinctive contribution in a very crowded field of policy and practice? And what should its ‘vision’ be?

There is a tendency for people to talk about creativity as if it were one thing. In fact there are many different kinds of creativity and many different Scotlands. That’s a source of social strength and cultural richness, but although glib elisions of ‘learning, skills, creativity and Scotland’ alongside photographs of kids with video cameras, crowded auditoria and enthusiastic library users might conjure up images of national success, competitiveness and innovation, it will take a lot more than the rhetoric of a knowledge economy to produce a knowledgeable and talented society. Getting the headline narrative right is important but it will be no substitute for enabling people to make real changes.

We shouldn’t just assume that learning and skills can be boiled down to one thing either – in fact you can probably be trained in ‘basic skills’ without learning very much, or at least developing the capacity to learn for yourself. But perhaps creativity and knowledge are two sides of the same coin, and ‘skills’ all the different ways in which the coin can be flipped, and if Scotland is going to be a place which develops the skills of its whole population then creativity is going to be vitally important.

Knowledge isn’t raw information, it’s the capacity to interpret, process, analyse and create new ideas from existing materials. Skills aren’t just measurable competences that can be ticked off on learner profiles; to be genuinely skilled is to possess a kind of artistry which is the capacity to go beyond the routine and everyday, and mobilise tacit knowledge, intuition and a deep sense of purpose and possibility – in whatever field you happen to be working.

Of course Creative Scotland needs to promote the value of creative and cultural learning, but there are three important caveats:

1. Not all forms of culture are necessarily experienced by audiences or participants as 'creative'. A lot of cultural and educational institutions have a lot to learn about creativity, even though aspects of their work can teach us a lot about creativity too. Moreover, different communities find different value in different kinds of cultural activities – there can be no single arbiter of quality in a complex culturally diverse society.

2. Science, technology, management and accounting can all be creative too

3. The challenge is to articulate a vision that is inclusive and inspiring, but not vague

As a colleague from the US, Mat Schwartzman, who has a talent for one liners, puts it:

“creativity is a muscle”

which can be used in lots of different ways.

Creative and cultural policy?

In policy speak there tends to be elision of creativity and culture. The official line tends to stress the economic benefits of the creative economy – and have a strong rhetoric about capacity for innovation and supporting ‘excellence’ in cultural provision – but:

• creativity and cultural questions can be uncomfortable and challenging
• culture can give rise to knowledge that doesn’t fit easily into official versions of the knowledge economy,
• truly innovative and creative work challenges consensus - curators, commissioners and customers have to cross the lines between the familiar and the unfamiliar, the traditional and the avant-garde, all the time if you want work that is going to be challenging
• a lot of the reasons why people participate in art and culture aren’t primarily economic, but artists still have to eat...

If we agree that creative and cultural learning is important then Creative Scotland needs to be a champion of a country in which everyone can experience creative learning.

For me, creative learning is fundamentally about a sense of agency, of being able to make and remake, of being able to invent – in small or large ways. Not everyone will innovate (that is to say, embed their creativity systematically and change social or technological processes) but everyone is creative – and the notion of promoting creativity as a life skill is important – a skill not just for work (although that’s important too) but a muscle that can be exercised at all stages of life, in all situations. It’s welcome that this is clearly flagged in the public thinking around Creative Scotland to date.

Creative Scotland will need to address:

• training for arts and cultural, and media professions – building and advocating for the infrastructure in Scotland for this – and addressing issues of funding, pathways, and partnerships along with all the other agencies responsible for education and training

• professional development and professional learning for practitioners in the creative industries at all stages of their career, from entrance to exit

• learning about and valuing culture across all sectors/segments of learning

• lifelong learning and community learning, experiencing and learning through different media and the arts

• the contribution that artists, cultural institutions, and storytelling through media make to placemaking, well-being and quality of life.

• how culture creates a sense of distinctiveness and identity. It’s the quality of cultural expression that gives a place its distinctive characteristics – and this cultural expression appears in architecture, in design decisions about the built and social environment, in literature and storytelling, in fashion, media, cinema, radio, television, and everyday language. Culture is the conversation that a society has with itself on a daily basis. So learning and culture are totally intertwined.

I worry about Paisley, where I live, when the most visible monuments of its incredible cultural heritage, other than a lot of great 19th century architecture in fairly poor condition, are black and white photographs of Victorian mill workers on the walls of Morrisons supermarket. The everyday disconnect with the place’s incredible cultural heritage – and potential - is evident in the lack of ambition for the place, which often seems to be limited to more supermarkets, more retail sheds, more service centres, more motorways, more low grade jobs. That’s no recipe for a cultural or creative renaissance. Other towns and cities in Scotland with a similar history have fared rather better – perhaps a job for Creative Scotland is to champion the ways in which culture and creativity can contribute to place-making in its broadest sense.

And we know that although the arts, culture and media can make an important contribution to the economy, they are also there precisely because they speak about those things that can’t be accounted for or measured.

The arts are too important just to be left to the market.

Creativity and Scotland’s cultures

Creative and cultural learning isn’t just about more entertainment, beautification and aesthetic appreciation – bread, circuses, monuments, or classic texts - but also about engaging in dialogue and debate – isn’t that what effective learning is supposed to be about? Culture is a conversation – sometimes it’s a constructive dialogue, sometimes it’s loud, vocal, dissenting, difficult, sometimes obscure and hard to understand, sometimes direct and to the point.

Scotland has a fantastic heritage of critical dissent and activism which continues to be kept alive by new generations of artists through places like Citizens Theatre in the Gorbals, the Greater Easterhouse Arts Company, Craigmillar, and in communities in the Highlands and Islands that have sustained an incredibly rich cultural life on very limited resources.

Scotland has big questions to confront and I’d suggest that the arts, film and theatre do this rather better – you get more subtle and nuanced responses - than the politicians generally do.

There will be many Creative Scotlands - the commercial and the subsidised, the classical and the vernacular, the traditional and the popular – and lots of different types of work. In fact, especially in a small country, many workers move almost seamlessly between these worlds and perhaps its better not to get too hung up on the distinctions. On the other hand it’s important to understand some of the differences. Paying for the time of some musicians and some artists to undertake some artistic experiments in a cave and make an experimental film, like the one I worked on with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Durness last year, is a very different proposition to trying to produce a No 1. single or the next big movie made in Scotland.

But without the creative soil to grow the big moneymaking trees in, they will fall over and dry up for lack of nourishment from the grassroots (to over-extend an already over-used metaphor).

We need a vibrant commercial media/culture industry, we need a strong education/training sector and we also need not for profit organisations. We need to recognise the value of informal participation and the work of the voluntary and community sector, because culture and creativity is too important to be left to the marketplace. So a learning strategy needs to acknowledge all this and ensure it provides more than the minimum for all. This is a considerable challenge/balancing act because each of these sectors speaks different languages, has different antecedents, and different expectations. There’s a translating and negotiating job to be done. But value can be found in linking together the formal and the informal and developing conversations between different communities.

A second related issue, which it’s really important not to overlook, is what I call the informal creative economy – i.e. all the activity around and on the fringes of the officially recognised cultural sector. If we’re talking about the creative economy we need to pay attention to the shadow economy – the ways in which people find ways in – not just the official economy. That includes voluntary participation, informal clubs and associations, and the role of religious, ethnic and political affiliations in making meanings through cultural activity.

The simplest way to do this is to make time and space for people to do their own thing. When I think about my students working flat out in breaks between lessons in the studio to rehearse and record, I realise that those sort of informal learning places and spaces, because they are immersive and self-organised, are often more productive for musical learning than formal instruction. Room 13, which is developing offshoots all over the world, explores similar ideas using the visual arts and a radical commitment to learner autonomy, from Fort William. But because policy money usually has to be attached to measurement of outputs, for reasons of ‘value for taxpayers’ etc, there is often a squeeze on space for informal experiment. When public funding is attached to creativity, there will always be tension between ‘delivery’ (delivery of what?) and incubation (preparing for the unknown).

I suspect that the strategic potential of arts and media activity to support cultural cohesion and sustain community development, as well as the tourism, retail and media industries, are still not fully understood by government agencies and policymakers, who sometimes confuse the ends with the means. Culture does not exist to ‘deliver’ social policy objectives, but there is plenty of evidence that participation in cultural activity can lead to social gains. However, artists are artists precisely because they don’t want to tow the line and because they can offer a different perspective to established orthodoxies. Grit and challenge are important – part of a democratic culture.

A confident and vibrant society would be one in which there are creative opportunities – in which quality of life, health, and a sense of wellbeing, engagement, and citizenship are all present.


So, to conclude, here are four ideas for the dimensions of a possible vision to consider:

1. Infrastructure issues – the institutions and networks which provide the learning opportunities – how they work, how they are funded, how they are supported, how they can collaborate and build shared agendas. Because resources are scarce, collaboration tends to work better than competition but people in educational and cultural institutions need to learn how to make these work better...

2. Intelligence issues – helping practitioners and participants to access knowledge and skills – to advocate and publicise work, to access the learning resources that they need – given that a lot of artists and cultural practitioners have a pretty precarious existence it will be important that Creative Scotland is forward looking, strategic, helpful and a source of good information and intelligence...

3. Innovation issues – professional learning and development to make creativity sustainable, and systemic change in the cultural sector, in the education sector, in the public and private sector which embeds a vision of creative learning not just in the school curriculum but throughout all stages of life

4. Inclusion issues – how to maintain open and participatory institutions, remove barriers and obstacles to participation, enable dissent and difference and embed a sense of opportunity – I was really pleased to see the idea that formal/informal learning will be woven together in the new Curriculum for Excellence – that’s an essential ingredient of creative teaching and learning

To which perhaps we could add a fifth – internationalism – not just taking cultural products from Scotland and the UK to the global marketplace (although that’s important) but also to exchange learning – with europe, the US, the developing world, etc. and to understand that forging links and networks with like-minded people globally will be the way to build a sense of momentum and opportunity around this work.

In a difficult economic climate, advocacy and innovation will be crucial and it’s really important that we don’t just have retrenchment to the tried and tested given that public money will be tight – therein lies a failure of nerve and ultimately this will also lead to economic failure, as well as further social divisions.

Culture and creativity provide the tools to make sense of the world – to tell meaningful stories – to make sense of the present and to build and imagine possible futures.

So – let’s hope that Creative Scotland will be funding work which is catalytic, which moves the debate forward, which isn’t about duplication, and which builds capacity for that the all the different Scotlands can train, build and flex and their creative muscles in the years to come.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Because I’m the external examiner for the new degree in performing arts based at University College Folkestone, I got the opportunity to have a morning walk along the seafront on Friday. Folkestone has been the lucky recipient of considerable private investment in the shape of local philanthropist Roger de Haan’s Creative Foundation; there’s an ambitious and brave plan to reinvent the town as ‘Creative Folkestone’ with massive investment in built environment, in artists premises and in education and training, including a new Academy, a performing arts centre and a university centre. Certainly the Coastal Park and the range of new places on offer are impressive enough – it seems like nicer place to live and visit than it was when we were there in the mid 1990s and the town is blessed with a great microclimate and fantastic links to Europe and the rest of the South East. But severe inequalities, divisions and difficulties remain, probably exacerbated by Kent’s antiquated policy of selecting out affluent and middle class kids and putting them in grammar schools.

The next few years will be critical for Folkestone’s regeneration. Perhaps the creative stuff will give it an edge, but in spite of a forthcoming high speed rail link to London I suspect that in these difficult economic times the town’s resilience will be sorely tested. Property prices are plummeting, and what really caught my eye was the strange erasure and the remaining traces of Jimmy Godden’s Rotunda Amusement Park, which mysteriously burned down a few years ago, the site bought up by Roger de Haan and now the subject of yet another masterplan – photos here, together with a video of the rollercoaster from the days when it worked.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


The Scottish Arts Council has just published an evaluation of the first two years of Jackie's work at the greater Glasgow and Clyde health board. It makes interesting reading, particularly for those concerned with how to sustain innovation in large public sector organisations...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Events, happenings, consultations

A few events, publications and bits and pieces forthcoming:

With CapeUK we have launched a consultation on the resource pack for TAPP (Teacher Artist Partnership Programme), which provides template exercises, pedagogical models and literature for those involved in joint professional development programmes for teachers and artists. Get in touch if you would like a copy to be emailed to you. We are seeking responses and will publish the full version later in the year once we have got some feedback.

The 5th Arts and Medical Humanities conference, organised by the Association for Medical Humanities, is at Glasgow University between 8th and 9th of July. Jackie will be presenting a plenary session on architecture and design for new healthcare spaces in Glasgow.

Void International has been resurrected for a conference in Manchester between 19th and 21st June. The Void blog has more details.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Artists and teachers, again...

Here are the slides from the presentation on conversations, negotiations and misunderstandings between teachers and artists that I did at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education in January. I've opened an account on Slideshare and at some point I will get round to putting up some other, older presentations.

The Cave

A short piece that Graham wrote, plus a film about the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra residency in Durness is now up on the BBC SSO website. However the aspect ratio of the film on the BBC site isn't quite right, so here's a link to an alternative version on the generalpraxis myspace page for those that might want to watch it in its original state.

The Cave

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Artists, teachers, learning and pedagogy

Here's a fairly lengthy piece I've just finished for the forthcoming manual that we've been developing from the Teacher-Artist Partnership Programme(TAPP) and work done with David Jenkins as part of the research into the language and discourse of TAPP. It's still something of a work-in-progress but I thought I'd publish it here in the hope of garnering some responses.

The pedagogy of artist-teacher partnerships: research perspectives

Pedagogic partnerships between teachers and artists are useful because they tend to bring to the surface issues which may be taken for granted or hidden in learning settings. They can have a catalytic impact because they enable hidden or unconsidered assumptions about the use of time and space, the organisation of learning, or even established relationships with individual learners to be questioned and challenged. Partnerships can provide a sense of authenticity and engagement because they shift learning into the ‘border zone’ between the worlds of education, culture and communities, opening up a wider set of contexts and reference points for learning than a single teacher or school can provide alone.

However in order for their potential to be unlocked TAPP believes that there is a need to develop a critical and reflective approach to collaboration which displays a sensitivity to potential inequalities and differences of perspective between the partners. Alongside this critical attitude a strong commitment to ambitious and artistically challenging practice needs to be fostered.

1. Artist-educators and arts education

The notion of the artist-educator or teacher-artist has a considerable history. In The Creative College I categorised this field as driven by four dimensions:

a) Artist-teachers
Firstly, art and design education (and some traditions in the performing arts) has championed the ‘artist-teacher’. In the model of artist-teacher, the skill and craft of the arts practitioner is blended with pedagogical knowledge in order to develop forms of teaching which mobilise notions of artistic ‘authenticity’ and integrity. This develops forms of cultural apprenticeship between learner and teacher. Under hierarchical arrangements learners are apprenticed to the ‘master artist’ and learn through exposure to his or her craft and skills, but learning process can also take a more dialogical form, involving ‘collaboration’ and facilitation’ in which the teacher does not seek to direct outcomes but to enable creativity. In most learning, a combination of instruction and collaboration is usually found, but with different emphases in different settings. This is commonly cited in the principle of practitioner-teacher found in conservatoires and art colleges. It is also found in some versions of early years education and, more recently, entrepreneurially focussed vocational education and training in which education is aligned with preparation for the workplace.

b) Teaching as artistry
Secondly, a rich vein of research from Dewey to Stenhouse to Schon has championed the idea of teaching itself as a type of artistry, which involves making rich, complex judgements about teaching - a form of empowered, active professionalism in which the creative decisions taken in everyday teaching settings mobilise tacit knowledge and subtle communication skills with learners.
Can I be both teacher and artist?
While the artist was in a position to completely immerse herself in the process of play with the children once a relationship of trust had been established. I had other incidental duties to manage that impinged upon my ability to become completely absorbed." Tapp participant

c) The arts as resources for learning
Thirdly the work of art itself is a huge resource for learning. Works of art are made, encountered and ‘performed’ in a huge range of social settings, and the interaction between the art ‘object’ – whether a play, painting, piece of music or piece of media - and its social and cultural contexts provides educators with a massive array of questions, issues, philosophical and aesthetic materials that they can invite learners to explore.

Partnership based pedagogies seek to increase learner engagement by involving students in the processes of cultural production and participation, drawing on the social world of cultural institutions. They promote active engagement, which includes observation and acquiring cultural knowledge through being in an audience or culturally focussed visits. They are perhaps less likely to take notions of cultural value as ‘givens’ and are more inclined to open up the processes of cultural production to debate and re-interpretation. This is because they are intended to encourage a process of negotiation between the cultural assumptions of the school and those of the collaborating partner, as well as a self-critical attitude on the part of educators in which their own cultural assumptions, histories and preferences are deconstructed and examined.

From a TAPP perspective, participant-centred arts learning is based on encouraging involvement in the processes of making and doing in the arts – projects which foreground student engagement and inventiveness rather than exercising tight teacher control over the precise form and content of what learners produce. Paradoxically, developing such projects successfully requires a high degree of control and skill from the facilitator, but conceived of in a different sense from traditional teacher-centred instruction in which learner autonomy is limited to the teacher’s view of what is the ‘correct’ outcome. Pedagogical frameworks which are enabling and open require careful attention to structure, resources, and group dynamics. In this version of arts education, observation and analysis are an important part of planning and ‘aesthetic appreciation’ is developed through an involvement in making new work as well as experiencing the work of others. In becoming familiar with a range of cultural texts, products and processes, and making cultural products themselves, learners can develop more sophisticated forms of engagement which feed back into a richer cultural environment for learning.

d) Learning through making art

Fourthly the learning process of making art - particularly processes based in professional studio practice or rehearsal for performance - are used as an educational model. These processes often involve group collaboration but it is important to remember that they can also be highly solitary and individual. Sometimes the justification for students being involved these processes is couched in terms of the generic or transferable ‘soft’ skills that they develop, such as collaboration, communication or team working. Art-making is intimately bound up with identity and self-awareness; this enables teachers and learners to make space in the pressurised social world of the school for self-expression, and can validate many different forms of cultural experience and affiliation.

"The positives in art education work are evident and well documented, and I value the work I do in schools highly. However there are aspects of working as an artist in secondary schools which do not sit right...
The constant call for collaboration in an area which is often about a fairly solitary, highly personal exploration
• The emphasis of verbal communication in a subject which is often about an individual language that has nothing to do with words
• The focus on Artists as some sort of uniquely, innately skilled creative problem solvers who will be able to redress an inherent lack in the system
• The desire to promote equal partnerships in a system where artists and teachers can never be equal
• A blurring of expectation between the definitions: ‘artist’ and ‘art educator’
• An over-simplification of what an artist is, packaging them to fulfil a ‘required’ service
• Time, as a contributing factor to all above is not valued enough" Tapp participant

Because arts education is increasingly annexed to a wider agenda of ‘creativity’ which includes but is not limited to the arts and cultural education, there are often considerable elisions and ambiguities between these four positions. The TAPP research points to the notion of ‘creative professionalism’ as a possible reconciling identity for those working in this fast-moving field, in which it is common for practitioners to adopt multiple roles and identities according to the different contexts in which they operate.

2. Artists in schools

Emily Pringle’s 2002 report We did stir things up: the role of artists in sites for learning provides some ways into discussion of the issues. She explores the many different roles that artists may play in working in educational settings. Frequently artists are labelled as ‘catalysts’ or ‘change agents’ but the evidence from the TAPP research is that either just playing the role of agent provocateur or being invoked as a ‘catalyst’ in the face of the resilient (and resistant?) systems of schools and colleges is unlikely to be successful unless this work is undertaken within a framework of dialogue and conversation. Teachers and school leaders need to be willing to engage with some of the challenges of embedding this approach into the pressured world of the school. This is why TAPP places such great emphasis on shared reflection and dialogue in order for both teachers and artists to be enabled to arrive at a mutual understanding of the problems and issues involved in the work of ‘partnership’.

There can be a tendency for large scale programmes to suggest that ‘creativity’ is something to be supplied by the outside agent. This is a particular risk when using the term ‘creative agent’ to describe the work of visiting professionals, as if what a school or a teacher needs is a kind of ‘injection’ of creativity. A ‘shot in the arm’ of creativity might be useful to stimulate a process, but in the longer term the key issue is to put the capacity and expertise into the educational system to make serious systemic change. So long-term professional development is critical. In the TAPP programme, we drew attention to the considerable heritage of this work in forty years of participatory arts practice and in innovation at the boundaries between schools and communities. We also emphasised the ways in which professional development processes can feed back into learning, pedagogic change and development in schools and cultural organisations.

The engagement between schools and artists could be regarded as an encounter between different kinds of cultural practices, each with their own conventions, codes and approaches. If this engagement is approached in the spirit of a conversation rather than an intervention from outside, we suggest that it is likely to be more successful. A second dimension is that the artistry and creative professionalism of teachers needs also be recognised and supported. A conversational and dialogical framework for professional development is intended to achieve this.

3. Artists in ‘dialogue’?

The notion of ‘artist in residence’ can sometimes carry the sense of a ‘retreat’, but in education the artist in residence is usually seen as a type of public engagement or provocation. There is a considerable history, but very fragmented documentation of artists entering into dialogue with other sectors, in industry, in healthcare, in communities and in education. Artists play many different roles in the modern economy of cultural production, beyond producing cultural products for commercial markets. In fact their skills and experience are in increasing demand as part of a shift towards a more networked and knowledge based society, Some artists, informed by developments in the performing and participatory arts and ‘dialogical aesthetics’, lean more towards using their creative and cultural skills as a social service, rather than as simply the capacity to make physical (or digital) objects or artefacts to be bought and sold in a marketplace. Teachers of the arts, as Henry Giroux points out are also ‘cultural workers’ who put their artistic expertise at the service of others. Many artists (and some teachers) have ‘portfolio’ careers which span the worlds of commerce, community, education, research and social media, with much contemporary arts practice difficult to compartmentalize in a fast-moving informational economy.

A common agenda in residencies that artists are invited to act as either a kind of ‘grit in the oyster’ in order to stimulate or provoke change, or that they are commissioned to ‘aestheticise’ the working environment by producing artistic interventions in the form of public artworks or participatory projects. This is a heavy burden for artists to carry – and not all artists may be comfortable with this role, in spite of its economic benefits - but the underlying thesis, common in conversations about business innovation, and in interdisciplinary practice, is that engagement from different perspectives leads to new insights, feed innovation, and help professionals to redesign and re-imagine their practices. The evidence from TAPP’s ‘Mediated Conversations’ research is that some of the most effective innovation takes place when artists and teachers focus on pedagogic change at the level of the class or in small groups of students, with focussed areas of enquiry, a clear shared understanding of what is being attempted, and an emphasis on testing and refining pedagogy.

4. Artist as ‘role model’

In a ‘liberal’ version of arts education, it is the aesthetic and craft skill of the artist, allied to their deep historical or cultural knowledge of the artform, that students learn to appreciate, emulate and reinvent for themselves. In a more ‘economic’ version of this discourse, artists are cast as a ‘model’ cultural worker - modelling collaborative practices of the workplace, the ‘project team’ in the creative industries, or demonstrating and sharing their ‘creative process’ with groups through acting as a workshop leader, facilitator or choreographer. There are various justifications advanced for this, some cast in the language of vocational or business education; essentially giving learners experience of the professional practice and milieu of the artist. A further, socially oriented model of arts education is that artists with particular ethnic backgrounds or other attributes deemed to be educationally desirable are cast as ‘role models’ for young people or representatives of particular cultural forms.

There are particular risks attached to all three of these representations, which at worst can be tokenistic, but at best can be transformative.

5. Artists and curriculum ‘outcomes’

One of the most commonplace assumptions is that artists are employed to assist in the delivery of ‘curriculum goals’ – and that including a wider range of professionals – and thus artistic engagement - in students’ learning will raise standards of achievement, an approach championed in different ways by the ‘arts integration’ movement in the US and by Creative Partnerships in the UK. While there is some evidence that this may often be the case, measuring the success of an artist’s work in the classroom in terms of whether learners achieve predefined ‘learning outcomes’ may neutralise the potential of the pedagogic partnership, unless there is a commitment to exploring slightly more broadly what the terms of engagement are. For this reason we strongly advocate for sufficient time to be allocated to planning, preparation and evaluation so that a clarity about the status of the artist’s work in relation to curricular frameworks can be achieved. Paradoxically, the most spectacular shifts in outcomes are often achieved when the most attention is paid to refining the processes through which the artist and teacher collaborate. This requires time for planning, reflection and debate.

The challenge I have faced, in seeking to create a more dialogical relationship with students, has been in promoting critical listening and questioning amongst themselves; they view me as the ‘subject who is supposed to know’ (Lacan 1981: 232). In an attempt to assert a change in my authority from teacher to artistic collaborator, participant and learner within the pedagogical environment, I had previously worked with a Theatre-in-Education practitioner to develop a workshop (influenced by the work of Heathcote and Boal) in which I was in role as an artist. The intention had been to for me to model risk taking in the creative process by presenting a depiction in which the action and therefore the meaning-making potential would be directed by the students’ responses so that they become what Boal terms ‘Spect-Actors Tapp participant

6. Complex histories

Since the mid-1970s there have been many accounts written of artistic interventions into schools. However there is no systematic account of this work available, although a fairly extensive bibliography is available as part of the ‘Mediated Conversations’ research report and in research surveys undertaken in the US (Fiske, 2002, Seidel, 2002). Some of these accounts are those that foreground the ethical dimensions of this practice and which root the approach in traditions of community based learning, socially engaged practice and participatory approaches to making art, in which the work of the artist is as much about enabling other people to act creatively alongside self-expression and communication of their individual artistic ‘vision’. But there are many fine lines between inspiring others to create, producing innovative new work, reinterpreting the past, and encouraging knowledge and appreciation of different cultural forms. Not all artists, intensely protective of their individual practice, on which their livelihood depends, will be content to have their work or their role recast in officially sanctioned programmes of cultural learning. But it is precisely in exploiting the tensions, cracks and contradictions of the contested cultural, social and aesthetic field that ‘productive pedagogies’ – special cultural and creative learning experiences - can be activated.

7. The cultural politics of pedagogic partnerships

Each type of institutional setting in which artist-educators are found – e.g. the museum, the gallery, the university, the theatre, the school, the neighbourhood arts centre - has a complex cultural politics centred on the symbolic capital that it attracts and represents: i.e. how it is valued and represented, and by whom. For example some artforms and artform training institutions attract considerably more public resources, support and attention than others. Contrast the working lives of those regularly employed in a generously funded ‘temple of culture’ such as a major conservatoire or museum with the experience of an early-career artist working from a shed or a bedroom; or the different working lives of a classically trained actor, musician or dancer and a volunteer tutor in a neighbourhood arts centre (although many artists work in and across the divides between popular and high culture). Artist-educators work in and between many different kinds of institutions and spaces in a highly mobile informational economy; the so-called creative economy can be experienced by its front-line workers as one of considerable insecurity, precarity and exclusion. The proliferation of participatory spaces, media platforms and arts-educational projects provides opportunities, but also highlights divisions and differences in status and resources between individuals and artistic sectors.

This infuses the work of practitioners, and a school curriculum grappling with this rhetoric of a ‘creative age’, with questions of cultural value. A complex politics comes into play when certain groups - or cultural practices – are described by those in power as socially or culturally ‘excluded’. Artist-educators, working with limited resources, are often expected to mediate differences across what may seem to be intractable cultural boundaries and divides involving issues of race, class and gender.

8. Mediated conversations, occupational mythologies and professional identities

TAPP’s Mediated Conversations research project focussed quite narrowly on the linguistic forms and descriptions used by practitioners working together in partnership. Even the terms ‘teacher’ and ‘artist’ are far from unproblematic. They describe roles with complex social histories and mobilise powerful mythologies and stereotypes, which when used in everyday conversation can easily lead to muddles and misunderstandings. Teachers and artists are perceived differently by learners and this can lead to useful forms of pedagogic encounter.

Most participants , whether they primarily defined themselves as ‘teachers’, ‘artists’ or ‘ arts educators’ in TAPP and Eastfeast had complex career histories with multiple affiliations across both the education sector and the field of culture. Partnership based pedagogies seek to recognise, value and mobilise these in forms of curriculum and project design which allow for a richer encounter between learners and different kinds of ‘teacher’ than the common model of one teacher/one classroom/thirty children all of the same age. Many other combinations are possible, but in order for these to become embedded in everyday working lives of schools, a radical shift in the way in which pedagogy is conceived of is needed – which regards schools as nodes in a much wider learning network encompassing cultural institutions, neighbourhood and community resources, and which fosters the skills in educators to build projects across these divides.

The territories occupied by teachers and artists seeking to collaborate are far from being a ‘level playing field’. They are shaped by complex power gradients which often take the conversational form of mythologies, muddles and misunderstandings, which may contain partial truths but rarely reflect the whole picture. A few examples of such mythologies and muddles that emerge from our analysis of the ‘generative metaphors’ underpinning some of these conversations might be as follows:

salaried educators and freelance artists face totally different economic realities and everyday priorities
• artists and cultural organisations embody cultural authenticity while the culture of schools is controlling and highly regulated
• the creative freedom of the individual artist is in tension with the ethical commitment of the teacher to the wellbeing of children;
• ’risk’ is to be avoided in schools and embraced in the arts;
• the systematic and regulated nature of daily timetabled life in the school is a world away from the ‘creative laboratory’ of the artist’s studio;
• the outcome-driven assessment systems of the school may appear to ignore questions of quality and value, central to the arts, that are not easily reduced to grades and ‘levels’.

These root metaphors and occupational mythologies in the discourses of teachers and artists need to be interrogated and unpacked. Our research shows that this is one of the areas of attention for creative professionalism. At times of stress, there is sometimes a tendency for practitioners to fall back on unproblematised definitions such as these, drawn from reference orientations.

A key task for like-minded CPD programmes is therefore to develop in professionals the cast of mind which can hold some of the concepts in the notion of artist-teacher in tension, whilst stlll being able to act constructively and courageously in the complex contact zone between formal education and the cultural sector. It could be argued that this is precisely kind of critical ‘high wire act’, ultimately a characteristic of creativity and critical intelligence, that CPD programmes designed to promote partnership based pedagogy should be seeking to develop.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Vernacular playground

A day out at the Finlaystone estate yesterday yielded the following set of pictures - great, idiosyncratic vernacular play space design.

Expanding the learning soundscape

Graham is giving this talk at a CRASSH one day conference, Sound and the City, in Cambridge on Friday 22nd February. Hopefully a little micro-site will follow the talk, with links to some of the projects and ideas discussed.

Expanding the learning soundscape: notes from some interventions in urban arts education

To what extent is the embodied experience of the sonic open to exploration and reinvention within formal educational settings? Arguably the tools are cheap and ubiquitous, and in popularised forms they are persistent in the everyday lives of young people - from customising ringtones, making iPod playlists to beatcrunching and sonic cut-ups using readily available technologies. But music education often seems locked into a fairly closed view of its limits; the place of sound and its meanings is rarely discussed, and 'school music' is almost a sub-genre of its own, often displaying more conservatism than the fields of professional music-making. Tracking down an alternative story to the easy norms of 'music education', I will share some experiments in sound which were developed between artists, students and communities in East London in the first half of this decade. These are perhaps best understood when located in experimental traditions of arts education, participatory arts and sonic experimentation; and gain some of their expressive power from times of turbulent social and economic change, diverse multiethnnic communities, collaboration with theatre, dance and the visual arts and the gradual uptake of digital technologies in the music classroom. The projects surveyed also depend on subtle interactions between teachers and artists, working in collaboration with learners and communities. They foreground collaborative pedagogies, conversational learning, and exploratory approaches, playing attention to issues of place, space and the auditory, and so pointing towards a much broader conception of the 'music curriculum' than most syllabi and formal examinations allow for.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Did You Know 2.0

Slightly cheesy and US-centric (even though it's about globalisation and learning) but an interesting piece of film nonetheless...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

For all the tea in England

Kerry McLeod's film, with fragments of music by Graham, is now available for viewing on the BBC Film Network.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The McMaster Report

I am more than a little concerned about this report.

On a glance through (and I confess I need to read it more thoroughly, but this is a quick response) I think it is full of platitudes and to my mind empty, ungrounded rhetoric about artistic 'risk taking' and 'innovation'. I certainly have real issues with how 'excellence' is being used in such an unproblematised way. Its definitions are so poor that it's as if the last 100 years of cultural theory hadn't happened. Questions of cultural value and artistic 'quality' are much more complex than it is prepared to admit. Its attacks on a 'target-based' funding regime are an unfounded caricature of the current circumstances.

Some immediate thoughts:

There is plenty of stuff about 'valuing diversity' but there seems to be a desire to remove the use of cultural indicators altogether - i.e. we just don't worry about the fact that only so few managers/leaders in the cultural industries are women, or from ethnic minority backgrounds, etc? That it's disproportionately difficult for people starting out with little cash or few connections to make a living as artists, musicians or cultural businesses? Perhaps we worry a little about the fact that our most powerful cultural and educational institutions (and funding agencies....) are overwhelmingly populated by white kids from affluent middle class backgrounds, and that its much more difficult for kids from poorer backgrounds to break into the arts, but we're not prepared to require those organisations to change to become more inclusive and be tough with them when they don't? We worry about who 'our audience' is, but we don't want to collect statistics or data about their demographic profile in case it tells us uncomfortable truths that we don't want to hear, or be prepared to act on it? We might be concerned that some national cultural institutions are still too Eurocentric, that some local ones are too parochial (or vice versa), that not enough money is being spent directly on supporting artists to make new work, or on professional development, but we're not prepared to set some openly debated and clearly justified strategic priorities to reallocate funding, and have evaluation frameworks in place to see if these political decisions are working?

Knowing that the work is somehow giving off an aura of 'excellence' will explain it all away. I'm not impressed. This is no basis for a national cultural policy in a complex, globalised world.

I've never been a defender of audit cultures or policy based on narrow target-setting but I do believe that capturing data is important so that change can be tracked over time and that the impact of changes in policy and funding regimes can be understood...

McMaster offers a very liberal-individual view of what culture is (which seems to be 'whatever arts organisations and artists do for audiences") rather than a more dynamic or participatory vision of a culture in which everyone has a stake and in which everyone can take part.

'Peer review' is interesting as a counterbalance to questions of how to assess 'quality' but simply ignores the issue of whether central government and local communities should agree some priorities or a direction for public support for cultural offerings; it might defend the 'arm's length' principle but the big question it ignores is the appointment and public accountability of those who will undertake the 'peer review'. In spite of the problems of 'instrumentalism' of the last 10 years, at least an emphasis on access and inclusion has shaken up the sector a lot and got a lot more people involved.

Developing access and inclusion isn't primarily about 'free admission for a week', and 'more touring', it's about a democratisation of cultural production. That's not to say that opera houses, museums and concert halls shouldn't exist, it's to say that a whole spectrum of artistic activity has a place in a contemporary culture, and that historic cultural institutions need to reinvent themselves faced with a postmodern, networked, globalised world, and be prepared to defend their public value if they want public funding. Of course, to survive, the traditional - and popular - arts need to be valued, funded and taken seriously, but not put on a pedestal, immune from criticism, and seen as somehow part of an aesthetically autonomous zone untainted by social change, commerce, culture or politics. The same goes for artists, most of whom know this all too well as they struggle to make a living in these turbulent times.

Note the talk of 'education' not learning, 'audiences', not participants. Talented artists and expert curators know what culture is, and it's good for us, but we don't get to make it unless we are admitted to the the special creative class called professional artists. If we find their work difficult, then never mind, we just need to be educated to appreciate it. If we find it difficult to break into the artistic circle, it's not because of any structural, institutional problems with our excellent cultural system, it's probably just because we're not 'talented' (or 'excellent') enough. Take that bitter medicine, British public! Why? Because the arts are good for you, and those of us in the cultural know are blessed enough to know it. That's no formula for a renaissance, it's a recipe for disaster. So what about web2.0, about co-production, about social media, about new performance forms, about a potential shift towards an enabling and participatory public sphere characterised by digital flows, networks, hybridity, mobility, radical decentralisation, and tailored individual experiences, with all the opportunities and challenges that such a shift represents? Never mind all that, it's simple! Excellence will do the trick as a justification for funding culture.

The report as a whole has very little to say about communities, cities, people, places, festivals, neighbourhoods, schools etc.. all the CONTEXTS in which arts organisations operate: the places and spaces of the everyday cultural practices that underpin the making and partaking of art. It's these everyday rituals, small gestures, specific differences and special perspectives that mark the importance of the arts in people's lives. Rather it appears to be about the concert hall, the theatre, the gallery as 'temples of culture'. Very, very disappointing. Where is arts for health, for wellbeing, for learning, for provocation, as part of the formation and reinvention of identity and community? Some of the most 'excellent' and innovative work of the last ten years has been in these areas, where organisations have reinvented their role in communities and opened themselves up to collaboration, and radical independent practitioners have challenged the dull platitudes of the bourgeois art marketplace. This is the area - characterised by participation, partnerships and provocation - in which the UK is something of a world leader.

Interestingly it marks a sharp shift away from cultural economy/creative industries about which it has nothing, at all, to say - it prefers to deal with the 'intrinsic power of the arts' which is a rhetoric that has been endlessly critiqued over the last half century. I suspect that DCMS will have an uphill struggle if it tries to work with this script against the Treasury. The report's very narrow conception of 'innovation' seems entirely to be in the domain of artistic autonomy and have nothing to do with society at all - it certainly jars with the script that other bits of the Government have developed about creative business and social innovation; and it doesn't have a lot to say about the wider value of innovations in the cultural domain for quality of life more widely. Surely the arts are important because they enable conversations between communities, and, sometimes unsettling encounters - they help us to make sense of the world, express ideas, make places distinctive, enhance our living environments, tell stories about ourselves, learn about others, give pleasure and sometimes anxiety, express hopes and fears about the future, and find ways of communicating by analogy, metaphor and poetics.

The tone of the report contrasts sharply with all the broadly progressive work that DCMS has developed over the last 10 years, embedding arts in regeneration, in learning, working in local authorities, in communities; beginning to acknowledge a cultural dimension to policy decisions about health, schooling, education, communities, etc. and developing contested, but at least reasonably transparent frameworks for cultural planning. And then there is the explosive growth of the 'experience economy' to consider in which tourism, media and culture have formed such a significant part of placemaking strategies. Acknowledging the role of artists as catalysts, connectors, sometimes radical disruptors is indeed important but there is little on offer here that will make much difference to the profoundly marginalised status of much innovative work in the arts...or to those seeking to get a foot in the door. "More mentoring" is a pretty dubious response.

I suspect that what we will now get is a big debate about what 'excellence' is - which might be interesting, but more likely will just get us trapped in the high art/popular culture divide once again.

Surely 'assessing quality' is both about judgement AND measurement. Not one or the other. And there are many different sorts of criteria through which one might ascertain 'quality'. Not just a conveniently vague singularity called 'excellence'. Isn't there more than a whiff of a suggestion in there that culture is what 'cultured people' provide for the less cultured? ["Once the initial barrier of engagement is overcome, audiences must be given the opportunity to deepen their experience and be introduced to more complex work]. So, once people have 'engaged' they can 'move on' to 'more complex' (read:'high'?) forms? Hmmmmm.

There certainly seems to be a failure of 'cultural leadership' going on here. Poke the foundational ideas just gently and the whole edifice comes crumbling, who's going to decide what is 'excellent' and what is not? On what basis exactly?