A post from Frances Howard and Becky Coles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.