(b) logging

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And a few bits and bobs

(1) The RSA released a new cultural learning toolkit this week:

THE CULTURAL LEARNING EVIDENCE CHAMPION’S HANDBOOK

Those of us who work with arts and cultural organisations will be interested in this latest initiative to improve evaluation of cultural events. But, disappointingly, university-based researchers don’t get much of a mention as being part of processes of evaluation a.ka. evidence production. Given that research is our bread and butter, and that many of us know how to generate solid evidence through a wide range of methods, this is a pity.

(2) The APPG report on music education was also recently released

 MUSIC EDUCATION, THE STATE OF THE NATION

(3) The old Arts Council report seems remarkably current this week

Assessing the European Union’s contribution to the arts, museums & creative industries in England 2007-2016

POST SCRIPT

The Commons Select Committee Report on Live Music

reported on March 19, 2019 recommending among other things that

In 2013 our predecessor Committee recommended in its report on ‘Supporting the creative economy’ that arts be included in the list of approved EBacc subjects, and the concerns we have heard during this inquiry suggest the need is no less pressing now. We repeat the call for arts subjects to be added to the EBacc to ensure all students benefit from a creative education at GCSE.

Music Commission

The Music Commission published its report this week. Pat chaired the research advisory committee of the Commission. School of Education PhDers Frances Howard from CRACL and Emily Winchip were also on the research advisory committee.

The summary report says:

  • There is a wide inconsistency of music provision in schools
  • The cost barriers to families represent a significant inequality of access to music education
  • There has been an inadequate response to how young people use technology in their experience of music
  • There is insufficient support beyond first access programmes for learners who wish to progress their music education
  • Schools need greater support in delivering a rich music curriculum that focuses on key musical skills
  • Resources and organisations are not working together effectively enough to support every learner to progress.

Of particular interest to us are the recommendations about initial teacher training

  • A re-evaluation of the focus and content of initial teacher training (ITT) for music to include more music training time allocated in PGCE courses
    and all music teacher training to have a focuson progression, including time for music in the proposed two-year PGCEs in England. Higher expectations of recruits to primary ITT, and more funding for specialist primary school music teachers

And a greater focus on partnerships between schools and higher education

  • The establishment of Research and Knowledge Exchange Centres for progression in music education, run in each country by existing academic and expert organisations and in England in partnership with Arts Council England, to generate research, promote best practice and innovation on the learning of music, funded by Research Councils, lottery funding, other charitable and philanthropic sources; working alongside and supporting the Music Champions to develop locally-available resources supporting progress in music.

 

‘Material play: children’s learning with new, found and recycled ‘stuff’

This post is co-written by Nina Odegard and Louisa Penfold about a recent symposium given at the Australian Association for Research in Education in Canberra, Australia. This post is published on all the participants’ blogs. 

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On November 27, 2017 Pat Thomson (University of Nottingham), Nina Odegard (University College of Oslo and Akershus) and myself (University of Nottingham) presented at the AARE conference on young children’s learning with materials through play. Julianne Moss from Deakin University was the session discussant. The symposium was put together as a result of our common research interest in material-led play in early childhood education.

The symposium was built upon the proposition that many educators and artists working with young children are committed to play-based practices and understand this as critical to individual and social learning. The session focused specifically on early years arts-orientated play through asking: when children are ‘doing art’ play what are they learning with the materials they choose? The presentations explored the idea that when children are playing with materials they are simultaneously:

  • learning about concepts such as line, pattern and form;
  • learning about the properties and potentials of materials such as how they can be pushed, pilled, stretched and transformed;
  • learning what materials are and do in the world;
  • being called and directed by the materials, forming possible selves with materials and forming new relations with the world
  • being given the possibilities to work with materials without having to name, define or categorize what they are doing

Why is this important? Academics and education practitioners are becoming increasingly interested in ways that humans can and need to be de-centred in order to take account of the importance the material, both organic and inorganic, worlds in which we live. This is essential in creating discourses and practices that offer hopeful action in an ecologically and ethically challenged world. This also comes at a time when policy makers around the world increasingly position play-based early childhood curriculum as trivial and not sufficiently focused on knowledge and skills. Consequentially, we identify an urgent need to push further with discussion on why materials matter in early childhood play-based arts programmes and projects. Our concern was to not only explore and explain the importance of play in early childhood and to promote the value of the arts, but also to broaden our explanations of what this is.

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Young children’s thinking with natural materials in art museums

Louisa’s presentation explored the invitations natural materials such as logs, leaves, sticks, stones and clay offer in young children’s play in art museums. Descriptive examples from data generated in an early year’s art studio session at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, was used to consider the encounters (Pacini-Ketchabaw et al., 2017) between children, artists, curators, artworks, materials and the museum space. Lenz-Taguchi’s notion of intra-active pedagogies (2010) – where one’s attention shifts from interpersonal relationships to the relations between humans and non-human entities – was drawn upon to consider children’s learning with and through artworks and materials in the art museum.

Descriptive examples of visual documentation including photography and video footage was discussed in relation to how the ‘stuff’ curated for the art studio provoked open-ended possibilities for children’s thinking and learning. The presentation concluded with the suggestion that through thinking with materials, new pedagogies are able to be constructed that allow artists, learning curators, children and their families to continuously produce and reconsider the relations between themselves, others, artworks, materials and the natural world.

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Imagine sustainable futures – children´s experimental encounters with matter

Nina’s paper focused on the concepts of aesthetics and aesthetic explorations, ethics and how these open possibilities for creative thinking, doing and being. Concepts of new materialism were discussed in relation to the potential they bring for expanded discourses and practices relating to recycling, sustainability and consumption.

The presentation drew upon data generated in a ReMida creative recycle centre in Norway. Results suggested that children were ‘rhizomatic thinkers’ (Dahlberg, 2016, p. 131) in their aesthetic explorations of recycled materials in which children’s learning shifted between disciplines to make use of the ‘vibrant matter’ (Bennet, 2010) and ‘how matter comes to matter’ (Barad, 2008). Nina also focused on pedagogical practice, were the children’s process itself is valued, and there is a lesser or no focus on the result (Dahlberg, 2016). This builds on previous research from the ReMida centre (Odegard, 2016) that argued that recycled materials can open up to the discovery of new ‘hidden’ pedagogical spaces, that produce meeting places for the emergence of new ideas (Odegard, 2012). The children´s exploration with vibrant matter like recycled materials seems to evoke creativity, curiosity, problem-solving and narrate stories. Through this, the paper argued for a paradigm shift away from the neoliberal way of measuring and categorizing learning and towards an emphasis on the collective and creative pedagogical processes.

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What can rope do with us? Agency/power and freedom/captivity in art play.

Pat’s paper, co-written with Anton Franks, discussed an ongoing ethnographic study conducted within the ‘World without walls’ programme run by Serpentine Galleries in London. The programme supports artists undertaking residencies in one early childhood centre in central London. The residencies focus on different kinds of art/play that draw upon the artist’s practice and selection of materials for the programme. The presentation discussed data generated from Albert Potrony’s residency in which the artist elected to use large material objects such as card, plastic, foam and rope.

Throughout the sessions, numerous children were drawn to/called by the rope (Bennett, 2010). Perhaps unexpectedly, the children wrapped/tied up their teachers and the learning curator with the rope. The data suggested an explicit exploration of the kinds of power-laden relationships that exist between adults and children in educational settings. Drawing on field notes, photographs and interviews, the paper presented an analysis of the materials on offer and their affordances. The presentation concluded considering the material differences made by, with and through the rope, and probe further the ways in which it co-produced caring and ethical experimentations with power, agency, captivity and freedom.

Following the presentations, attendees had an opportunity to play with an array of materials arranged in the symposium space. As a group we then asked and explored questions such as why were particular materials chosen and not others? What was possible with the materials and what wasn’t? What about the play experience can be put into words and what can’t? Did you feel a desire/need to name, categorize or define your installation? What senses were used, and what feelings were evoked through playing with the materials?

Overall, we hoped that the symposium shared thinking and opened up new discussions around early childhood education, play, the arts and materialism. We were inspired by the questions and discussion amongst the group throughout the presentation and hope to build upon this in the future.

 

 

 

 

References

 

Barad, K. (2008). Posthumanist performativity: toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. In S. Alaimo & S. J. Hekman (Eds.), Material feminisms (pp. 120-157). Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Bennet, J. (2010). Vibrant matter, a poltical ecology of things: Duke University Press.

Dahlberg, G. (2016). An ethico- aesthetic paradigm as an alternative discourse to the quality assurance discourse. 17(1), 124-133. doi:10.1177/1463949115627910

Lenz Taguchi, H. (2010). Going beyond the theory/practice divide in early childhood education: Introducing an intra-active pedagogy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Odegard, N. (2012). When matter comes to matter – Working pedagogically with junk materials. Education Inquiry, 3(3), 387-400.

Odegard, Nina, & Rossholt, Nina. (2016). In-between spaces. Tales from a Remida. In Ann Beate Reinertsen (Ed.), Becoming Earth. A Post Human Turn in Educational Discourse Collapsing Nature/Culture Divides. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Pacini-Ketchabaw, V; Kind, S; & Kocher, L. (2017). Encounters with materials in early childhood education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Sue Ellis and three domains of literacy

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Prof Sue Ellis, University of Strathclyde

MA CALL students and staff were really energised by a recent CRACL presentation by Sue Ellis. We were especially drawn to the three domains of literacy that Sue used to enable trainee teachers to try new ways of working with young readers. We all felt that the model was useful not only to help highlight the sorts of literacies that are most valued and neglected in schools, but also as a way of thinking about potentially more integrated approaches to teaching literacy. We also responded to the way that the research Sue drew on positioned teachers as having choice and agency rather than being victims of an overtly performative culture.

As Brittany Wright elaborates:

The term ‘intervention’ has become so ubiquitous within schools that it has taken on a mechanical, robotic connotation that can speak more of Cybermen than success. A child underachieves. The child is identified as requiring ‘intervention’. The child achieves. Woe betide any student (and their teacher, for that matter) who does not achieve in line with age-related expectations following the ‘procedure’. I’m being hyperbolic, but the point is that, for many teachers, the term ‘intervention’ is part of the language associated with the high-stakes accountability, performance of success, and target-focused culture of education in England.

In contrast, the fantastic session that Sue Ellis delivered at the School of Education on Tuesday 14th November put the pupil firmly at the heart of the intervention process. Ellis explained the usefulness and far-reaching applications of the University of Strathclyde’s three domains model of literacy, emphasising that consideration of the socio-cultural and personal/social identity domains of a learner does not necessitate the exclusion of cognitive concerns, but can actually be used in order to support the learner’s literacy. This comprehensive, all-encompassing approach is not only of paramount importance in supporting learners to make progress, but it also shows that kindness and academic progress are not mutually exclusive. 

Sue Ellis reminded me that, behind all of the newspaper headlines relating to low levels of student wellbeing, teacher stress levels, and general educational doom and gloom, there are inspiring practitioners who are making the difference for their learners with integrity, inquisitiveness, and, most importantly, kindness as their driving principles. Looking across a room filled with educators, working across a variety of fields, on a dark and wintry Tuesday evening reminded me of the strength of our education sector. Ellis reminded me of our heart. It has always been, and will remain, in the right place. 

Chaofan Sun added:

As far as I am concerned, the most impressive part of Sue’s lecture, apart from pupils’ interesting writing, is her ‘3 Domain’ Model. It really makes sense to me, because actually we take literacy as autonomous skill for granted. On the official level, in National Chinese Curriculum Standards for Primary School, there are 3 dimensional targets, which are Knowledge & Skills, Process & Step, Emotional attitude & values in the teaching of every text. Then when it comes to the practical level, in strict accordance with this framework, during the everyday designing and teaching process, teachers unconsciously attach great importance to cognitive knowledge and skills. Maybe that is because in China, study was/is the only way to achieve social mobility, and the further you go to the academic ivory tower the farther you will be from the real-life world.

Also Sue’s model makes sense to my study on this course. Apart from Goffman’s theory, nearly all of the content is brand new to me. I am literally immersed in and inspired by the  topic of creativity and ways of working. Because of the strict division of the Chinese academic system, some of the creative activities are scarcely referred at the majority of kinderkartens.

Seminars are so important for introducing new work and new ways of drawing on existing research. We’d like to thank Sue for giving us so much to think about and if you would like to access the slides Sue used in her talk you can download them here. 

 

Post written by Becky Parry.

CAMEo conference report

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Becky Coles recently attended the annual CAMEo conference. She reports….
CAMEo is an interdisciplinary research institute, set up in 2016 at the University of Leicester, to explore the dynamic relations between culture, media and economy. I went to their conference to get inspiration while writing up the longitudinal research I’ve been doing, with Pat Thomson, following young people involved in Tate’s ‘Circuit’ programme as they find places for themselves in the arts. Education was a prominent topic of conference discussion in many ways. There was a particular call to ‘re-think talent’.
Dave O’Brien and colleagues presented their growing body of work about class and inequality in the arts and creative industries. They have clearly established that the industries are not the force for social mobility they are sometimes said to be. Their analysis of large scale survey data shows that, overall, workers come from privileged backgrounds – not quite so much as doctors and lawyers but more than scientists and teachers. They also beginning to demonstrate statistically that work in the arts and creative industries has become more exclusive in recent times.
At the conference roundtable, Mark Banks and Kate Oakley started with this finding and turned to themes of pedagogy and assessment. Banks spoke about how mechanisms for selection in the arts could be particularly opaque. They are less formally prescribed, he argued, because of a belief in the importance of innate, unique, individual talent. This leads, he said, citing the work of Pierre Bourdieu, to the increased significance of classed ‘deportment’, ‘homophilic communication’ and ‘the whole capital of experience’ in selection processes. But ‘talent’ is social as well as individual and it is this social dimension of talent that needs more emphasis. Oakley described how the issue of ‘diversity’ is generally framed in terms of the importance of individual talent. A lack of social mobility results in talent being ‘wasted’. But we need to recast the idea of talent altogether, she said, pluralise it, perhaps make it ‘common’ in the language Angela McRobbie used in her plenary talk the following day.
Education had also been the topic of the first plenary session that had explored the disappearance of the art school as independent institution. Matthew Cornford and John Beck presented photographs they had taken of art school buildings across the country – almost always closed, sold off, torn down. They were not nostalgic, they said. But it is difficult not to be nostalgic for the local institutions that, no longer needed by the industrialists for whom they were once built, became, for a period, ‘outposts of the avant garde’ and while producing few great artists allowed moderately qualified local young people to experiment with making art.
Cornford and Beck also photograph the expensive ‘destination’ art galleries showing ‘international’ art (disparagingly termed ‘culture sheds’) that have replaced art schools as the most visible arts institutions of regional towns. It’s not hard to see a link between the different purposes of these two kinds of institution, a contemporary focus on ‘talent’, and increasing inequality of assess to the arts and cultural industries.

visiting scholar Sonia Ghalian

Sonia Ghalian shares her experience as a Charles Wallace British Council Visiting Scholar at CRACL, School of Education, Nottingham University July 2July 30, 2017

Sonia Ghalian at CMC

Being in a completely different scenario than yours, gives you an opportunity to reflect on your context with much more clarity. This is what the experience of spending one month in England has given me. My PhD thesis deals with the subject of ‘Children’s films in India’ and attempts to explore the nuances of representing children and childhood in the cinematic medium, within the larger continuum of Indian cinema. I aspire for my research to place the category of children’s film in India in conversation with global cinema for children and also make a case for incorporating media and film education alongside other pedagogical practices in education.

The Charles Wallace Scholarship provided me with an opportunity to reflect on both my professional context as an academic as well as on my personal context. Being a visiting scholar at the University of Nottingham, enabled me to present my work and research to a larger and wider audience both in formal presentation / conference settings as well in the form of many conversations and cups of tea shared. I plan to undertake a thematic analysis of contemporary children’s films selected from the last two decades, exploring the socio-political construction of children and childhood in India. This was something I could discuss with my mentor, Becky Parry, and the wider CRACL team.

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CMC Playground

Becky also introduced me to a wide network of people working in children media education and industry. I attended the international, annual Children’s Media Conference and the CMC Playground held in Sheffield from 4-6 July, 2017 as a delegate, listening to various panels focusing on media culture for children, its challenges and scope in contemporary times. CMC is a one of a kind event for everyone involved in developing, producing and distributing content to kids on all platforms with over 1200 participants this year. Touching on many themes across the children’s industry some of the panels got me thinking about children’s media culture in India and highlighted that we have some similar concerns and challenges. The question of gender in particular has been a central concern to me both at a personal level as well at a professional level. A key issue that emerged at the conference was the way in which gender roles are being formalised and naturalised in the media industry today, be it children’s toy and material culture or the representation of gender roles in children’s media. Another aspect that I reflected on was the lack of conversation between industry and the academic world. When the industry is recognising the need for a change in terms of how it is providing content and material culture for children, there surely has to be a dialogue between the parents, schools and researchers who are working on these subjects.

BFIIndiaonFilm.jpgVisits to London were fruitful in terms of getting in touch with other academic professionals from my field. I am so thrilled to have found Dr Shakuntala Banaji’s recent work on children and media in India and had the opportunity to discuss with her the need for interdisciplinary studies with regards to both Media Studies and Childhood Studies. Watching the program, India on Film at the British Film Institute, London, celebrating the diversity of the Indian film industry gave me some more food for thought on how much Indian cinema has travelled overseas and the role it can play in bringing very pertinent challenges in children’s lives relating to class, caste and gender to the fore.

Presentation at the seminar conducted by the Centre for Research in Arts, Creativity and Literacy (CRACL), gave me a chance to explain my project to a new audience, where I actually had to go through my whole journey as a researcher on this subject. This stint helped me gain confidence about my work and much clarity of thought on the structure and way in which I should reengage with writing my thesis.

On a personal level, this visit to England gave me a chance to interact with and meet people from very diverse backgrounds and different countries across the world. Other visiting academics that I met at my office were from Mexico, Germany, Canada, Japan and China. Now they all are very good friends. With them, I traveled around Nottingham whenever we got time and immersed ourselves at the scenic countryside that is characteristic of places like the Peak District and the legendary Sherwood Forest. The exposure on whole has led to a more expansive understanding of my subject and how to place it in context to the contemporary media culture for children.

 

 

presenting at Ethnoarts

A post from Frances Howard and Becky Coles.

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When attending conferences – the Journal of Youth Studies conference, the BERA conference, the Oxford Ethnography conference, for example – a usual starting point is to trawl through the programme looking for the ‘Arts’ presentations. A second reading looks out for research projects with creative and engaging methods, whilst putting a ring around both. Usually there are not many. Seeing them fills a quarter of the time at best.

However, at the ETHNOARTS conference – University of Porto, 22-23 June 2017 – every presentation could have been highlighted. Ethnographic Explorations of the Arts and Education was the full conference title and it’s programme included presentations of ethnographic research into theatre, urban art, dance, music, museum education and community engagement. It also included methodological presentations such as those that blended ethnography and learning, visual ethnography and ethnography using mobile technologies.

The keynote speech, Critical Arts-based Research: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Due, was given by Carl Bagley and considered together contemporary arts based research with undocumented students in the US and the work of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943). It stimulated discussion about ‘ethnoarts’ as a hybrid space between ethnography and art practice and as a space that must be politicised and activist. ‘Ethnoarts can resonate with audiences beyond the Academy’, Bagley argued.

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Frances and Becky present

Pat Thomson, alongside Alice Walton from Tate, gave a presentation about the Teacher’s Summer School programme titled Learning with the Art Museum: Experiments in talking/writing ethnography. We considered how teachers access artist experience as we moulded the playdough given out. This was followed by a presentation about the Serpentine Gallery’s ‘Changing Play?’ work to reconsider play and early years education.

We presented a paper on informal film-making education which explored the effects of austerity. We argued that filmmaking education survives in ever lesser funding streams by being innovative and flexible and drawing on the resources of young people’s ‘bedroom’ practices and artists’ workplaces. In doing so it enacts an ‘enterprising’ way of being and imports ‘enterprising’ ways of thinking and doing from these other domains.

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Pat and Alice (centre) 

These were only a few of the arts and ethnographic presentations given at the ETHNOARTS conference. If you are interested in reading more, watch out for the special issue of the Ethnography & Education Journal Ethnographic Explorations of the Arts and Education, which will be published in 2018.

Refugees welcome? How UK and Sweden compare on education for young migrants

This article by Jo McIntyre, appeared in The Conversation, June 1, 2017.

In the UK, the world’s fifth richest economy, vulnerable children are being denied education. Asylum seekers and refugee children are struggling to access education – and unable to attend school or college. This contravenes rights to equal educational access in accordance with international human rights law.

I’m currently working on research projects about child refugees, one of which compares experiences of children in the UK with those arriving in Sweden – and I am concerned that the UK education system is not currently fit for purpose or able to provide adequate schooling for every child.

The fact of the matter is that refugee children should be resettled in the UK. It is quite simply the right thing to do for obvious humanitarian reasons. As Ghandi observed:

The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.

Lessons should be learned from countries such as Sweden, where more inclusive practices are already in place. It should also be considered how education policies and practices are working against schools and teachers who want to welcome refugees but who are unable to.

Hassan’s story

Take Hassan, he’s 15 and Iranian, and I met him at an arts workshop for recently arrived child refugees in the UK. Hassan had been in the UK for four months and did not yet have a school place.

His age is the first barrier when it comes to an education. This is because Hassan should be in year 11 – GCSE year – which means a school could be reluctant to take him because he is unlikely to have sufficient preparation time for exams.

Teachers are also under massive amounts of pressure to deliver outcomes to boost their school’s progress scores and performance in league tables. And new arrivals such as Hassan – regardless of their prior attainment and experience – are unlikely to be able to adjust to the English school culture and absorb the content and skills required to pass high stakes examinations in the remaining months of year 11.

Are refugees really welcome? 

The second barrier is language. When we met, Hassan had a friend translating. And until he has a school place, Hassan will be reliant on the support of volunteer groups for English language lessons.

There is another practical barrier, too – Hassan had a letter from his local authority (which he carries with him) saying there are three potential schools for him. But none are near Hassan’s home, and two of the schools are two bus rides away.

Navigating the system

If Hassan isn’t successful in finding a school place in 40 days, his case will appear before what’s known as a Fair Access Panel. This will allocate a place to Hassan and there will be a further period of time when the school can appeal this decision.

Should he find a place, the school, undoubtedly worried about balancing budgets and managing limited resources, will decide which class to put him in, which subjects, and which sets. He might also attend an intervention programme to develop his English and help him access the curriculum, but such places are limited.

Language training for refugees. Shutterstock

More likely, Hassan will be placed in a mainstream classroom and given in-house language support – which will mean withdrawal from some lessons. He will probably also be placed in lower sets because his English will mask his real ability.

These decisions will have short, and maybe, longer term implications for Hassan’s prospects and for the friendship groups he develops.

The Swedish way

But until Hassan gets a school place, he is stuck. He reached the UK but is unable to begin making a new life because he cannot access the support the education system should be able to offer him. And if this is still the case after the age of 16, his experiences are likely to be worse because places in post 16 provision are often even more limited.

But had Hassan landed in Sweden, he and his family would access two hours daily of Swedish language tuition – as part of their residence permit. In school, Hassan would also receive two hours teaching per week in his home language.

This reflects research which shows that when it comes to language learning, a bilingual environment is most successful. This means a child’s first language is continued to enable them to learn a second or third language more quickly.

In Sweden, Hassan’s local school would also commit to enrol him as quickly as possible. Often within a fortnight of arriving in the country.

Not just another brick in the wall. Shutterstock

Like Sweden, schools in the UK should also be inclusive spaces that offer education for all rather than just for league tables. This is important because young refugees are likely to complete their education in their new country – becoming full members of their “post-settlement” society.

So instead of restricting access to education, the UK should instead recognise the potential of these children and welcome them in its schools as they begin their new lives.

Art is popcorn for the brain

Becky Parry reports on a research visit.

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In March I was successful in my application to undertake a research visit to Finland. This was part of an EU funded Cost Action: THE DIGITAL LITERACY AND MULTIMODAL PRACTICES OF YOUNG CHILDREN (DIGILITEY) and included visiting colleagues in the University of Helsinki and Tampere. In this post I share my reflections about an exhibition I visited at the Helsinki Art Museum.

The Helsinki Art Museum is part of a broader complex which includes a cinema and various shops and fast food outlets. One of the shop fronts in the complex is an exhibition space in which manikins were positioned with buckets on their heads. This work by Jouko Korkeasaari: Mystical Rapture certainly caught the eye of the passer by, drawing them in from the cold and snowy streets.

Perhaps due to their extreme weather the Fins are very geared up for the layers of coats, scarves gloves etc and provide plentiful and free cloakrooms and lockers. As tourists we paid (teachers are free) and had a quick look at the Tove Jansson gallery before heading up to the Modernism exhibition

On the way in we found ourselves drawn to these post-it note style invitations to visitors to participate in a range of activities.

For me these simple suggestions are importantly different to the achingly dull worksheet often found in museums and galleries. Although they offer clear instructions, the outcomes are open ended. If you have a go you might become part of an art work or be inspired to devise a new movie.

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The Modernism exhibition Modern Life! – Finnish Modernism and the International Dimension was designed by Marcel Schmalgemeijer and included an array of artefacts from everyday objects to brand new buildings, photography, engines and glassware. My personal favourites were a series of chairs and dresses beautifully lit so that I couldn’t resist trying to capture them and the interesting shadows they created on my camera phone. As I did so a murmur gathered momentum and I wondered if I had done something wrong, but it turned out that there was a live musical performance beginning in the gallery – one of three musician’s creative responses to the exhibition was being performed live. It felt rather amazing to just encounter this unexpectedly and I enjoyed wondering around gazing, peering and pointing whilst the performance filled the gallery spaces.

I compared the exhibition to a recent one I had attended in the UK which has been bugging me ever since. It seemed to me to be too focused on one artist and too focused on what the work said about art, rather than what the art said about the world. This exhibition presented social history, geography, politics and economics alongside architecture, art and design. It was accessible and beautiful and I had the urge to try and capture it, albeit on a mobile. It was something I wanted to share and talk about.

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On reflection I wonder about the museum’s use of the phrase ‘art is popcorn for the brain’ – signs in English declaring this were hung all over the café, shop and entrance. I understand the link to the cinema, to accessibility and enjoyment but pop corn is such an ephemeral thing and I am not sure the analogy works entirely. Pop corn is light, fluffy and pleasurable and this exhibition could certainly not be dismissed as that. The exhibition seemed to me to be designed with a determination not to assume that the audience knew about Modernism already and was rich with contextual, explanatory  material which presented a narrative but avoided cliché (and wasn’t only speaking to the art critics that might appear on specialised radio programmes). It was concerned with giving the audience exhibits they could imaginatively engage with because they included the everyday and they included everything from rugs to aeroplane propellers. I returned to a frequently asked question I have about what art museums are for. This set the scene for my visit, providing an opportunity to think about what education, especially for the very young, is for. I was reminded of the work of Elliott Eisner and his suggestion that:

The arts celebrate multiple PERSPECTIVES. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to SEE and INTERPRET the world.[1]

This is something that young people from the CRACL’s centre’s  TALE project have been telling us for the last year they most value about doing art. Art museums then, are not just about art, artists or art critics they are about the everyday and should inspire us to read and redesign the world critically and creatively.

[1] The NEAE has a great summary of Eisner’s ten lessons the arts teach here: https://www.arteducators.org/advocacy/articles/116-10-lessons-the-arts-teach

Circuit longitudinal research – some emerging results

Becky Coles and Pat Thomson report some emerging research results.

What did Circuit mean to the young people who engaged with it most deeply? We set out to answer this question by following twenty-one young people from Circuit’s ‘core’ or ‘peer’ groups in four galleries. We asked about their everyday lives and their experiences of work, education the gallery and art practice, through five ‘waves’ of interviews over two years.

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One of the exhibitions some of our participants were involved in at First Site.

As might be expected, our participants came from relatively well educated and well-off backgrounds: seventeen had a parent who was doing at least skilled manual work, administrative work or running a family business and seven of these had a parent doing highly paid work; thirteen had a parent with a degree and four had a parent with an Art degree; seventeen participants were themselves studying or had studied an arts subject at college or university. Yet there was considerable variation in how privileged these young people were.

It is generally agreed among those who research employment in the cultural and creative industries that getting jobs is hard, so it is not surprising that six of the young people in our study had been unsuccessful in getting the work they aspired to on graduating from University. For those who had families they could live with, this was less of a problem than for those who did not and who became reliant on gruelling regimes of badly paid work and insecure housing.

A majority (16) participants wanted careers in the creative and cultural industries and nine wanted them specifically in the art world. But while three were doing vocationally oriented degrees and six were planning how to negotiate career paths while still in education, others had been blocked from doing so by a lack of financial resources or a lack of awareness or knowledge. An equal number – six – were not following a plan but working their way up into paid positions, starting with voluntary work. Achieving financial security in the future was a significant concern for some participants (six), all of whom came from less well-off backgrounds or lacked a family they could live with. While four expected professional work in the arts to provide security, two hesitated to fully commit to the precarious and competitive work structures of the art world.

Participants who did not aspire to careers in the arts or creative industries either felt no need to plan because of the family support they could rely on – two, for example, felt free to become totally absorbed in their art degree for its own sake – or they saw professional roles as incompatible with their independent art practice or entrepreneurial ambition. Two quit education, favouring the informal support structures of the art world and creative industries. While twelve participants had their own ongoing art practice, two also said they could not call themselves artists because they did not make a living from their work. Although four had used their art practice in paid work at the gallery, no participants expected to make a living from making art.

It was a pleasure and a thrill for participants to do something for other people and to feel part of large and powerful institution. Circuit made up for the lack of professional work available to them. Eight found Circuit a comfortable place to socialise, particularly when they were going through difficult social experiences elsewhere. All but one however, had also felt obliged to do some Circuit voluntary work they didn’t enjoy or weren’t sure about because they felt committed or indebted to Circuit.

Circuit also helped our participants find out about career pathways, learn workplace skills and integrate into art-world sub-cultures. Seven had made decisions about their education based at least in part on discussions with people at the gallery. Circuit also helped participants work their way into jobs. Five went on to get professionally paid work in a gallery on the basis of their work with Circuit. Two, however, had tried to do this and failed. And six others had found regular non-professional paid work at the gallery, or occasional work as they were needed, which provided them with income and a continued connection with the art world.

 We are following up the participants in a few months to see what they are doing ‘post Circuit’.