Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Culture (Darlene Clover and Laurie McGauley)

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jun 22, 2006

From the Canadian Council on Learning conference on Adult Education in Fredericton.

See also the formal report

Darlene Clover

Let start out with the framework that culture matters. It matters to the federal government, because some nations won a landmark agreement to prevent culture from being subsumed under trade agreements. You don't have the right to air and water - these are commodities.

Culture is everything - beliefs, rituals, language, art. Countries without culture are more easily dominated. Language and culture are power. Culture plays a role around economics, social health, and in particular hope.

We needed to narrow it down, and we narrowed it down to the arts. It was more manageable, our strength, and as a natural link. Educators are increasingly seeing the arts as essential to intellectual, social and cultural life.

The purpose of the study was to highlight practices, deepen understanding of theoretical discussions, identify gaps.

We set Canada as a parameter, looked at journals, other studies and reports, government and non-government, convened a focus group (on the lower mainland (BC)), some email and telephone interviews, and developed a series of case studies.

Nothing is every one way or the other - we don't think it's just this or just that. That said, there are two major concepts of arts in adult ed:
- adult arts education and training - the learn about and are exposed to the arts, eg., opera and theatre, or learn to pain to draw, understanding and awareness, and aims to maintain the strength of cultural institutions, training artists in their craft (or industry, depending on who you are), help people see themselves as the artist
- and then there's the rag-tag group that sees art as a tool for socio-cultural change in a community, the arts become a catalyst that brings communities together, use to build community, celebrate cultural identity, address social issues, and promote learning. Etc.; there is an emphasis on the social responsibility of the artist as educator.

The first of these receives much more government interest and support. The first type of arts education is the main one; there are organizations all across the country. We want to say that we are not advocating that artists not be trained. But the focus of our study was not that.

The second group receives far less, with some noticeable exceptions (BC Council for the arts). Interestingly, most of the studies on adult education focused on the latter group, and the majority of community organizations are working in this framework.

Mission statements of many cultural organizations state that no funding is given to community-political work. But it will take a while to change the world reproducing a Monet.

Quebec: the emphasis is on formal arts training. That includes the academic studies. We did find community educators, but they feel even less supported than in other parts of the country. If culture is power, we wondered, is this the way to address Francophone identity? We would guess that this has something to do with it.

Speaking of imperialism, First Nations art learning focuses on the art. A lot of the artists and educators argue that that;s very limited, and it again is not making change, it's more a commodification of the idea of selling art (yet recognizing that that as well is very important). It's a very complex issue as well.

There was little emphasis on the adult artist, with a focus on kids. What is happening is that arts eduction is being abandoned in schools, forcing these organizations to pick up the slack. But this should be done by the state.

Most of the academic programs are fine arts, with a few on arts-based adult education. In the colleges, not so much.

A growing number of community organizations are turning to the arts - Rock Solid Foundation, for example. Also, in the National Gallery, there is a program linking the arts and human rights - they have made some incredibly powerful pieces.

There is a difference between a community-based artist, and an artist in community. One speaks to the community and creates a piece of art, while the other works with the community to collectively create some art.

Community based programs are pressured to focus on children and to seek funding - good way to keep it non-political.

Recommendations: study the impact of arts funding cuts in schools. Also, study community arts organizations to see what they mean by education. Also, look at aboriginal-based arts in the academy. Give greater support for knowledge mobilization studies. Organize a conference for the arts adult education community. Study the role of the arts in developing a pluralistic society. Explore the role of community-based artists as adult educator. And develop a study in Quebec on community arts based learning and the issue of professionalism.

Laurie McGauley

When I first read this review I felt it was speaking to my experience and the work I have been doing. So in that sense, it's a success if it's supposed to represent the state of the arts.

My background: started as an activist, and soon got into popular education, and noticed a lot of similarities in popular education and art. The whole idea of coding your experience, to analyze it and understand it, with the objective of changing it. I got into popular theatre. Took Frierian theory (pedagogy of the oppressed) and created 'theatre of the oppressed'. Why theatre? Theatre is cheap, all you need is your body. And oppression reaches right into the body. So it was a natural. In the 80s there was a lot of popular theatre, but of course the neo-liberal cuts hit and all of that is gone.

Darlene and her team are trying to make the point that they are not opposed to the art institutions and the art academies. But the thing about art is, since 1789, since Schiller, he said beauty is the path to freedom, it is through the aesthetics that we understand what freedom is. Throughout the review there are references to Habermas, 3 ways of understanding the world: scientific, practical, and aesthetics. Aesthetics is a completely different way of knowing the world, it's not just a rational way of knowing the world. So this knowledge is sometimes much deeper and much more transformative.

Some people say all art is subversive. Because it awakens longings in us, longings for beauty, perfection, utopia. We look at also the affirmative status of culture, affirmation of the status quo. That is what has happened to institutional art, it has been claimed by the establishment and held up to create ideas we can never achieve. We are bringing art to use art, to give us a voice, to get our voice our there, to get our experiences out there.

What's happening though in the work that we do is that because we approached it as activity, to create social change, there was counter-culture movement going on, and we were providing the voice for that movement. We didn't need to go there are justify and explain. But that's changed, there are no strong social movements going on any more. So what's happened is we've gone to community-based. It's smaller, it's safer for the funders. The work is starting to shift. But now we are beginning to find a basis of support in the art institutions - but not without resistance. For example - 'art as a tool' drives them crazy, it should be 'art for arts sake'. These need to be negotiated. I find that wht I end up doing is justifying what I am doing as art - but that's not why I got into this.

But I want to emphasize - the funding is shaping the actual work. There is the pressure because funding has been cut in schools. But it's also safer to work with children. Children expressing themselves ith art - that's ok. But adults?

There's a lot of good work going on but it's in the process of being institutionalized, which is good, but we have to be careful.

The focus on funding is very clear, there's very little of it. But I ant to highlight the Bronfman fund - three years of funding, $30K per year, and you were expected to engage the community. It has been chopped, though, and there is very little funding for this kind of work; it's going into the 'arts field'.

Still - we've managed to carve out this little bit of space, but we're not going to let it go.

Example: project we did on water quality in Sudbury with teens. They decided what they wanted to know, who to bring in (aboriginal elder, activists, scientist). They decided, what do we want this mural to represent, what do we want it to say. Then we're drawing and painting like crazy, always discussing, always consensus. That's the kind of work that we do.

Maybe add to this some examples of municipal cultural policies - it's being driven by this idea of creative cities. But it depends on economic indicators proving the economic benefit of the art. It's expected to perform economically, and that's the only language that we're using right now.

Also I want to refer to the study on the effects of study on well-being - the study shows that if you sing by yourself for a couple of hours a week, it's bad for your health. This shows why it's so difficult to quantify. We do have to find a way to gt to that - an idea for further study is the whole idea of aesthetics itself, the aesthetic way of knowing. We don't need to prove the effects in that way, but it is a way of looking at adult education.

Q & A

Comment: the institutionalization of arts-based education - that's what you said?

Laurie: the institutionalization of the grass roots based arts, yes.

Comment: what will that look like.

Laurie: organizations that don't typically use art are beginning to. Eg., health institutions integrating art. Integrating art into more mainstream institutions. And institutionalizing the organizations that exist - that's what I meant by relying on funding, and funding shaping the way you work. I don't focus on youth, but there's pots of funding there. Endangered youth. Life skills.

Comment: it's more of piecemeal.

Darlene: there's also a curving, a curving of intent. The ministry, eg., said 'could you just not do that part of it because it might upset somebody'. So you start to shape your work so it doesn't upset anyone, say, around the issue of sexual exploitation.

Comment: did you find there was a distinction between between performing arts and 'creative' arts - because in the performing arts, if you do something offensive it goes away, but in visual arts it's more permanent.

Darlene: I didn't see it - but you can get around that permanence by whitewashing it. But it's more - performance is easier, you don't need pops. Vs. quilting, where you need material, which makes it more costly. But in the study itself there wasn't a distinction, but adult education preferred theatre.

Lauire: you learn how to negotiate this stuff. When we did our first mural the city was horrified - the kids picked that wall, a city wall. We brought in a contingent of youth to meet with the bureaucrats. And I respect public art - it's there, people have to see it. I'm not afraid to offend, but I don't want something ugly. Once we get the design up, we bring the community in. It's part of that negotiation that has to happen.

Darlene: it's like, if you look at the adult ed literature that says, if you like art, then use it. But if it's public - there was this play, for example - it really does matter that the art be art. It is too easily dismissed if it is not. Eg. quilts. We took subversive quilts in this traditional quilt show. Amongst this very pretty stuff. They would look at it, they would touch it, they'd feel it. Once they recognized it as quality quilting, they would start to look at the message of it. I didn't understand how important it was that the quality be there before I saw them move up toward it.

Comment: Quebec distinct in culture - their school system has incorporated different art issues in classes.

Darlene: they are complaining there is no arts in schools. We are saying in B.C., are you crazy?

Comment: can you distinguish between art as a subject, and using art in a cross-curricular fashion to teach other subject areas. Because while funding for art as a subject is reduced, there is increased emphasis on using art to teach other subjects. Does this reflect in adult education?

Darlene: it's a good point - I think there's the will to want to do that, but I teach masters and doctoral students, but they're not interested. They say it's not there. I'm surprised you're saying it is there.

Comment (continued): it is. Arts across the curriculum, in part because they're not allowed to teach art.

Darlene: that's goof to hear.

Comment: quilting. They're very curious about other kinds of quilting. They don't necessarily like it; they consider it other-minded.

Darlene: we had more people at our show than anyone else.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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