Thursday, February 24, 2011

On Translation (part one...)

A number of conversations have been converging over the last month or two, partly because I've been working with Diarmuid McAuliffe at UWS' MEd Artist Teacher programme.  My colleague Katarzyna Kosmala and I contributed a short interactive exercise to a symposium on Pedagogy and Play at Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art a couple of weekends ago, and I'm writing this back in Chicago where I'll be joining a 'Town Hall' meeting on 'teaching artists' at Columbia College this evening. We'll be conducting a live experiment in synchronised communication with colleagues in Scotland (UWS) and Minneapolis/St Paul (the Perpich Center for Arts Education). 

We had a 'warm-up' conversation for tonight's meeting last Friday, which was fruitful: a few key ideas surfaced, one of which was the role of artist-educators in crossing boundaries, translating between institutional and artistic cultures,  and enabling a more critical kind of pedagogy through arts processes, and the second which was about the roles and responsibilities of leadership in these kind of experimental arts projects.  I've written extensively about these kinds of things before, in The Creative College and also in the Teacher-Artist Partnership resource pack, and there's a blog post from a couple of years ago that summarizes some of the issues here. Giroux's Border Crossings still remains a key text: other more recent works have a tendency to marginalize the cultural politics of this sort of work, although Shakuntala Banaji and Andrew Burn's useful report on Rhetorics of Creativity for the Tory-vandalized Creative Partnerships programme in England foregrounds the cultural politics more than most. 

All of this has been making me reflect on my formative educational experiences in developing this kind of partnership-based critical pedagogy at Newham Sixth Form College - there's a nice video here that reflects some of the energy and dynamism of the place. NewVIc has managed to go further and faster than many other schools and colleges in integrating arts education partnership - but in the context of being a comprehensive intake post-16 institution with specialised arts education programmes. 

Since leaving there, I've been working on these kinds of issues and questions in a whole range of settings. Most recently, my attention has been very focussed on the University of the West of Scotland, where we are rapidly developing a School of Creative and Cultural Industries that embeds partnerships and collaborations at all levels, and coming up against the same problems of translation, explanation, and boundary crossing that educational innovators struggle with in institutions, large and small. Part of the issue has been to begin to build a coherent educational narrative that a diversity of practitioner-academics, with a deep commitment to university-industry partnerships, can sign up to. Another problem has been to secure the resources to enable the partnerships to work. A third has been the complexity of 'managing change' in a  bureaucratic and somewhat opaque institution. Fourthly, there is a need to engage people in more reflective practice, which is very difficult in a pressurized environment where it is a struggle to find the time and space to look after students properly. 

All of this is very much a work-in-progress, and not helped by the geopolitical situation: scarcity and anxiety are everywhere. Working in an institution which, broadly, still sees higher education as a publicly-funded service, we are having to cope with cuts to funding and maintain 'quality' of provision in the face of massive resource pressures. This leads to a kind of retrenchment: people may dig themselves in and fight their corner for resources but there's also a need to maintain a 'big picture' vision of hope and optimism in the face of difficulty. Plus 'entrepreneurialism' is needed to continuously seek out and attract cash to support this kind of work. 

More later, but all this is making me reflect further on the incredible ethical responsibility that leadership under these circumstances demands. Most of our current crop of political 'leaders' have no concept of this: just look at the spectacle of David Cameron hawking British-made weapons round the Middle East even as protestors circle the citadels of the plutocrats. Everywhere you turn,  this is a complex and confusing situation - but anchoring actions in some basic principles of care, of compassion and of critical engagement might be a good start. I'll write some more about this, together with some reflections on urban change, the role of universities,  and the corporate land-grab that seems to be happening as the public sector gets kicked around, in the next post.