Colloquy 4



Education and the Arts: Policy, Research and Responsibilities

Radisson Hotel, Galway, 12th February, 2014

NCFA Colloquy #4 PODCAST from NCFA on Vimeo (Photographs by Robert Ellis)


This event marked the fourth and final colloquy in the series of National Campaign for the Arts conversations on arts policy and research in Ireland. The series of colloquies was devised by arts manager and consultant Dr. Tara Byrne as a response to the NCFA’s 2013 strategy on research and its identification of the need for the arts sector to be more informed about arts practices and engagement, and to better communicate the value of what it does. Following from the previous three events, considering the concepts of the public, evidence (and evidence-building) and cultural value, this session dealt with the topic of education in the arts, in both formal (curriculum) and informal (family/community) contexts. The decision to dedicate the final colloquy to education was intended to signal the central role of education in both the child’s (and future adult’s) introduction to arts experiences and practices, and the wider educational responsibilities of social, cultural and educational policies. This session was also intended to book-end the first colloquy which tackled the difficult theme of the public (who it represents and what its role is in arts policy). In addition to considering definitions and expectations around the public in policy, this first session took time to consider the creation of cultural capital within the public domain, or the deliberately constructed value-system or resource (capital) generated by the association with, knowledge and practice of the arts, that takes place in families and other social structures. Since education reinforces value systems more generally, there is a reflexive link between education and cultural capital.

The event kicked off with a presentation from Dr. Julian Sefton-Green, an education specialist with a keen interest in the creative industries and popular culture, who gave a critical overview of educational projects he has been involved with. Specifically, the key thrust of Julian’s presentation concerned the problems policymakers have had with the arts in contemporary educational discourses and the difficulties the arts has in staking a claim to be at the heart of contemporary visions of learning and knowledge. Work-around strategies and changing definitions (of for example around creativity) may help secure temporary legitimacy (for the arts) but unless and until schools and teachers can own a common vision for a common culture, it may be difficult to avoid shouting from the sidelines. Julian went on to talk about how the political discourse of creativity (calling to mind the economic and knowledge agendas in policy), which is at the centre of rationales to invest in the arts in education (giving them legitimacy to the state and the public), can inadvertently lead to the arts’ being hoisted by its own petard in the longer term. This is because research does not always sufficiently match the carefully constructed social and economic arguments made to support investment in the arts in education or in wider society in the first place and can produce ‘unconvincing’ data. Further, research does not always matter in terms of changing policy. Julian concluded his talk by commenting on how education can reinforce elitism in the arts by focussing on narrow definitions of the arts, how education needs to temper its increasing stratification and its contribution to cultural capital, how policies can be constructive in giving politicians a way into talking about the arts, and how rhetoric and discourse, or the language in which we speak and write about the arts and policy is not empty or meaningless, but matters in terms of how we understand those activities.

Following Julian’s presentation, Dr. Hannele Lehto, Director of the Division for Art Policy, Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland, spoke about the place of research in the Finnish Culture Ministry, with a focus on the key premise of cultural rights, enshrined in the document, Fair Culture (2007). This concerns the “realisation of cultural rights and the inclusion of everyone in cultural signification, irrespective of their age, gender, disability, or ethnic, religious and cultural background” (access to humankind’s and one’s own cultural tradition; physical, regional and cultural accessibility and availability; diversity of cultural supply and its matching with demand; participation in cultural supply and cultural self-expression and signification). Hannele also spoke about the different ‘ethics’ or ways of valuing or judging culture in terms of cultural policy that have been identified in Finland, comprising: the ‘virtue’ ethic (to describe what is often called the intrinsic value of culture, the independence of culture from political pressures, the autonomy of culture, the role of individual expression etc.); the ‘responsibility’ ethic (to describe the basis for cultural rights, or for culture to be accessible and inclusive to the public) and the ‘benefits’ ethic (to describe the various social and economic outcomes from culture). These different ethics form a way of discussing the values of culture and work as a basis for policy in Finland. Hannele also discussed how Finnish cultural policy aims to “promote creativity, plurality and inclusion” and how cultural policy is informed by “basic [human] rights” as well as by cultural rights (as above) and how the (Finnish) culture Ministry is working hard to make culture an identifiable national development indicator of success, alongside the economy, ecology and the environment and social and well-being issues. She also underlined the various research sources available in Finland making the generation of statistics and data on culture a key process and resource within the ministry.

After an interval and some group discussions, these presentations were followed by a short presentation by Dr. Marian Fitzgibbon, who talked about the broader context of arts policy in Ireland, whimsically but accurately invoking the TV series Breaking Bad as a metaphor for the various compromises and deals done within pragmatic arts policies and amongst the sector. Marian emphasised the short-term nature of politics and the need for the quick hit versus the longer term needs and thinking of arts policy, the kinds of information to which politicians are most likely to respond, and questioned whether the Arts Department in Ireland is ’fit for purpose’, as well as asking what that purpose might be.

The following is an indicative list of responses to the questions:

What do we mean by education in the arts and whose responsibility is it?:

  • education in the arts can mean technical ability
  • education and the arts can mean arts in education, arts education and voluntary/informal education
  • governments, parents, everyone is responsible for arts education and the arts in education- we need to consider the “wider constituency of the child”
  • all government departments within government are responsible
  • although it is everyone’s responsibility (education in the arts) – there are different responsibilities within that
  • (however) where does responsibility specifically sit when there are numerous organisations and authorities involved?
  • education is also provided through arts venues, arts officers, libraries etc.
  • mainstream schooling is well catered for, but creativity in the community is not
  • we need to foster community schooling
  • there is a need to emphasise the arts in an educational context not education in an arts context
  • volunteerism needs to be better accommodated within arts education
  • we need to support meaningful engagement with the arts in schools
  • there needs to be recognition of the teacher/artist partnership and mutual respect between artists and educators- a separation of roles
  • the arts education context is not (sufficiently?) measured
  • there is a lack of critical thinking on arts education at second level
  • there is a move away from empowerment to impact in evaluating education and the arts– this is part of a neoliberal approach to education
  • there is a language of complication in the arts and a need for institutional access to this language
  • economic and quantitative rationales are dead-end
  • there is a good opportunity to change things with the new curriculum now in place
  • artists are already working in education
  • we need to consider how the arts are taught – practice versus appreciation/understanding
  • we need to use the TILDA report or learn from it
  • we need a mandate for better education in the arts
  • the arts ministry here is not policy-focussed
  • the quality of and access to education in the arts is too dependent on the individual interest of teachers
  • there is an opportunity with the new Junior Cert to change things
  • the problem of elitism in the arts still exists
  • If you don’t have people demanding arts education (from their arts centres, etc.) then it won’t happen
  • how do you cultivate this mandate? could artists work in a crèche?
  • create arts environments that are welcoming, inviting, that don’t exclude.

B) What research will help us to find out more about the impact (or contribution) of arts education on arts practices (including audiences) – this question understands arts education to refer to both school/college education (formal) and education in the wider societal or community sense (informal):

  • what is the quality of arts education here? research needed in schools as to what’s actually happening in schools
  • there is a need for longitudinal research outside exam results
  • there is a need for focus on qualitative impacts on individuals over time
  • it would be useful to document parent’s first experiences of the arts
  • audiences: why are people not going to arts events?
  • what kind of creative marketing do we need?
  • how do we best use the gap in the curriculum driven by the move away from religion – could we introduce something like philosophy or abstract thought in schools?
  • there is a need to map the complexity of arts practices in festivals and communities
  • there is a need to map the link better between the arts and health
  • there is a need to bring together existing literature in this area- there is research already – let’s find it and use it commission a literature review- avoid the duplication of efforts
  • the Charter Group register repository of relevant research – we need to know what has been done- need a portal of information
  • the current ‘soft’ research that’s available – is this effective?
  • there is a difference between research and evaluation- we don’t have enough of the former
  • there is a need for non-advocacy based research
  • there is a focus on the entrepreneurship model of creativity (too much?)
  • education and the arts is not goal driven (not sure if this comment was the need for arts in education to be goal driven or that it is too goal driven)
  • there is a need to complicate the research
  • how do we get research done? via PhDs, via the Irish Research Council
  • are we asking the right question at the right time here?
  • the word impact is borrowed from UK – do we want to use it?
  • should arts education be mandatory?
  • what are young people doing creatively outside of education.. we need to know more about this to understand interests and key drivers
  • can we ascertain the career routes within the arts and education?
  • we need intersectoral conversations
  • we need to capture the changes that take place in artists’ work as a result of their work in schools
  • how much are children learning from artists work ?
  • what if the impact is not sufficient?- Perhaps impact research is not the best research for this moment in Ireland.
  • we need to simplify the message - coordinate the focus and messages.
  • the NCFA is trying to get an evidential base … but is this the best way for the NCFA to identify itself right now?
  • 1994 Arts Education Report –this was the last major piece of arts research that had any great effect on the arts and education research

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