Creative Primary School Partnership with Visual Artists

This book represents one of the outputs from the project Erasmus + CREARTE - Creative School Partnerships with Visual Artists.

Creative Primary School Partnership with Visual Artists

This book represents one of the outputs from the project Erasmus + CREARTE – Creative School Partnerships with Visual Artists. The project involved five European countries (Portugal, coordinating country, Spain, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Cyprus) and the international organisation INSEA. CREARTE has assumed itself as a project for experimenting pedagogies based on contemporary art practices in primary schools, and has been co-funded with support from the European Commission (2015-1-PT01-K A201-012989). It aspired to foster creative spaces in education that would spark young students’ active participation, willingness to experiment, cooperate, imagine, think and learn through contemporary art practices. CREARTE focused on offering in-service teachers’ training that would promote visual arts and the cooperation with visual artists to transform and enrich young children’s school life.

In each of the countries involved in the project, as the reader will be able to assess from each chapter, the interpretations diverged, not just as outcomes from varied theoretical positions and different postures towards contemporary art, but also because of each country’s history of the development of arts education. This element of divergence was regarded as one of the project’s major strengths, showing us multiple perspectives of approaching the arts within education, through each partner’s historical, cultural and political specificities. CREARTE thus encouraged diversity and flexibility in designing and delivering the art projects. The chapter by Teresa Eça, Hester Elzerman and Maja Maksimović —all of which participated in CREARTE’s internal assessment, representing INSEA makes clear this positioning, from all the information collected in interviews, in surveys, and in the analysis of CREARTE’s process of development. Teresa Eça brings out the internal discussion occurred in one of the transnational meetings that took place, which focused on the different understandings of contemporary art and its mobilization to the educational field:

After a long discussion about what are contemporary art practices and how those practices can be conducted with primary school students, it was agreed that the group should accept different concepts, acknowledging the diversity of theory and practice. It was agreed that each partner would use their own methodologies for teaching the arts in schools, the common guidelines would be respect for diversity in terms of concepts; strategies and teaching frameworks.

The authors seek out the different perspectives and places taken by each and every project’s participant (teachers, artists and researchers), noting, however, that the children’s voices could have been more enhanced during the gathering of information. Through the selection of some of the implemented artistic projects, they stress similarities and differences in the mobilization of artistic practices within the classroom, and analyze the pedagogical and didactical strategies, as well as their impact in the students, teachers, schools and local communities.

The addressed themes in each chapter are diverse. There are, however, recurring subjects which span them all: the place in education presently held by the arts, which are frequently relegated to a peripheral position relatively to the literacies, the mathematics, and the sciences; the training of teachers qualified to teach the arts in primary school; the importance of collaborative work between artists, teachers, and children, as a way to enhance and develop arts education; the way of planning and reflecting upon the various implemented projects within the schools; the artist’s presence in school, and the numerous forms that that presence can adopt. There is also a feeling that goes through some of the chapters: of working from the notion of risk, of the unknown and, in a way, of creating gaps that resist the naturalization, and the sameness, of everyday life. This means that one of the forces played in this book is that of arts education as a space of resistance before the several powers that not only cross the arts and its mobilization within the educational field, but also our own practices as teachers, researchers and artists.

Alison Griffiths, John Johnston and Aileen Kelly talk about the development of CREARTE in a London primary school. Their chapter is inextricable from a critical reading of the current political situation relatively to the investment in arts education within the United Kingdom. Not only has the number of hours dedicated to the arts decreased in the past few years, but also, regarding the teachers’ training, this funding reduction has stopped the Continuous Professional Development’s evolution. In their text they aim to map a framework to face this training of teachers, describing and analyzing CREARTE’s development in what it provided for the other directly involved participants. Choosing the artist for the development of the project ‘Give a man [sic] a fish and you feed him for a day — Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’, was one of the main concerns of the United Kingdom’s team. It was necessary to have

an artist who displayed a confidence to articulate the own practice as well as having a clear understanding of the context the teachers will be working with.

In the artist’s words, one of the chapter’s authors, this was especially about working

with no defined outcome and trusting the process to reach a conclusion. It is important that teachers learn from art —that is that lessons can be open ended, students can find things out for themselves, find new avenues which helps their individual voice to come to the fore.

Nicoleta Avgousti and Fotini Larkou describe the work carried out in Cyprus and the way in which the children’s personal histories were the starting point for all the mobilizing of the artistic practices within the classroom. The projects developed towards the approximation of children to the artists and their practices, always from a set of questions that put personal narratives at the center:

  1. How did students interpret their personal stories and experiences verbally and visually? How do the students’ artworks express their thoughts and feelings about their experiences?
  2. What is the role of contemporary art as a strategy to help students express their personal stories and experiences?
  3. Did the artist’s engagement in the project inspire and bring new ideas and strategies in the process of teaching/learning?

From the start, the collaboration between artists, students and teachers was regarded towards the “demystification of contemporary art”, be it through a direct contact with the artists, or, mainly, with their work processes and artwork production. This proximity was viewed as the possibility of one making art, thinking about art and teaching art in school.

To think about the artist’s presence in school is also the goal in the chapter of two artists who developed projects in primary schools, in Portugal. Inês Azevedo and Joana Mateus acknowledge the school, because of the time spent there, and inscribe themselves in it with well-defined intents. They have opted for an intervening posture with which they define their action in the possibility of provoking changes in the children and in the school community. Seeing themselves in a place of mediation, and not as mediators, they have considered collaborative work as that place where the processes of creation and production of knowledge could occur. The choice they made has determined that the curricular ingredients would be those that would feed artistic projects as well. However, it wasn’t about a gesture of resignation before a set of true knowledges uttered, for example, by the sciences, but an attempt on cracking the curricular alchemy itself. As they argue,

We’ve considered that our ground and our matter should be the same as the teachers and students’ and that we had to contribute stopping the curricula and the textbooks’ aseptic aesthetic.

If the aseptic character they talk about refers to the curricular space that encloses itself in the face of a contamination of disorder-inducing agents, so does the text “(Im)possibilities and challenges of the arts in primary education. Can the art educator be a virus?” reflect upon that possibility of ripping the school apparatus’s order. It’s not about an easy change, as it states, but a(n) (im)possibility, as school structures itself in a set of naturalized practices that inhabit us as well. This chapter seeks to position CREARTE within the Portuguese context, in the face of recent developments that put the arts under the eye of tests and assessment. Catarina Martins, Valentina Pereira and Ilda Sousa suggest glancing at an artist educator as a virus:

We contemplate a disobedient art educator entering a school as some entity going into an organism, starting to challenge its capacities. As a disobedient agent it enervates power and order, but it is also a movement against itself in which the art educator questions not only the normalized representations of pedagogy and schooling, but also those that come from the art world. What interests us in this idea, is to make room for an educational event through the ‘artistic’, that is not predicted.

The unknown is the place in which to be moved in Karin Hasselberg and Cecilia Wendt’s work, the project developed in Sweden, also reported on by Katarina Back. The concept utforska, which could mean ‘to explore’, ‘to delve’ or ‘to dig’ in English, represented the intertwining between art and education, and the way in which artists, teachers and students inscribed themselves in that gesture. Karin explains that

instead of working with a specific medium, such as painting, or photography, our artistic practices are based in certain inquiries. It is the act of utforskande of these inquiries, that our work is entangled with, thus part of the medium. (…) We never know what the next step will be. Nor do we know where we will end up.

Two time capsules were the outcome of the work:

both time capsules carry the message that they should be opened by the ‘third-graders’ at Kirsebergsskolan in 50 years from now. Present third graders are planning to attend

The idea of future is, perhaps, inseparable from each of the developed projects, be it as the artistic projects’ focus, like in Sweden’s case, or, for example, as a way to relate to the world and to integrate it, such as in Spain’s project. Maria Isabel Montoro, Ana Tirado, Karen Brow and Yolanda Espinosa describe a learning process in which the school is not contemplated as a ghetto where, every morning, childhood is placed, but as a space in “which we live and understand the world”. In a space of shared responsibility, arts education is understood as a field of action and of reflection in a community of practice. The attention to the world, to the being in the world and to the way in which we relate to the world around us, is one of the most remarkable aspects of the projects developed in Spain. Contemporary artistic practices were understood as a stance capable of generating action, much more than by the possible technical contents that they would inevitably mobilize:

It is for this reason that in artistic education, as content, contemporary practices substitute artistic techniques in a traditional concept and other means that today no longer have an objective. And most importantly, the way in which traditional techniques have participated in education used to be conceptually incorporated, and at the most procedural, performative or installation practices are incorporated into the structure of thought to become action

In another chapter called “The Artographic Experience in the Implementation of Artists in Primary Education”, by means of a visual essay, the reader will have access to captured fragments of the projects developed by the team of Jaén.

Mariana Delgado, another artist who developed a residency in Portugal, reflects upon the developed work, raising the doubts, the blocks and the impasses that intersected it. The school’s order and the imaginaries about the arts and about education tended to prevail. The shock brought up by the rise of themes (such as ‘violence’) and a way of verbalizing them outside the school’s grammars, imposed itself as the reality whose strength could mobilize the project that Mariana ended up developing with the children. In that place, she aimed at installing a workshop of story generating makings:

I didn’t seek out to scrutinise the truthfulness of the episodes the children narrated because the truth and the lie in art are fundamental to operationalise experience. Imagination, memory and fiction are structures which allow the subjects to act and to position themselves in the re-interpretation of the reality that surrounds them, also providing the construction of meaning(s) within the artistic experience.

This gesture involved conflicts, challenges and disobediences, failures and successes.

Here, I’ve learnt with the children that disobedience is not an option, it’s an urgency of discovering. It is urgent to disobey so as to provoke and to be provoked, to disturb and to be disturbed. It’s urgent to disobey so as to think and to think ourselves. And we disobey searching for a place, even if unstable and temporary, in order to keep breathing in the asphyxia of school. The complexities of the discovery, and their unprecedented paths, belong to life and there’s not (nearly) a place for them in school.

Artist Margarida Dias also worked in a Portuguese school. Her starting point was the idea of ‘death’, a theme which, despite having been a target of a great deal of attention for various fields within science and the arts for the last years, remains veiled to childhood. Through illustrated books and a process of discovery, where the artist sought to inhabit the same unknown she proposed to the children, the exploration of death was occurring:

The feeling of not knowing how the students, the teachers and the artist would react and what could happen was present across all the sessions. Although the sessions were thought in a way that we thought would avoid non-controlled situations, the fact is that unpredictability always followed the work. The adults (teachers-artist) had the control over the choice of the books, but could never predict the response of the students to the situations. With the role of an artist, I never had in mind to teach anything, but to offer opportunities for exchanging experiences and ‘opportunities for thinking’.

In her chapter, she seeks to cross a work process’s description with a critical thought about her place as an artist in the classroom. The questioning came and, even though her presence was seen as a ‘specialist’s’, she tried to go around that feeling, benefiting a work of collaboration and of deconstruction of the figure of the artist as an exceptional subject, even taking to the school one of the illustrators from the books that the group worked with.

In its whole, the texts here presented are revealing of the already pointed out different viewpoints, but precisely because of that, they are the clear expression of how contingent and arbitrary the ‘good practices’ here generated would always be. The local specificities and the time of arts education in each country are today very different, although there’s a common struggle: that of not making the artistic disappear from education.

Catarina S. Martins

Como citar:

Martins, C. S. (Eds.) (2017). Creative Primary School Partnership with Visual Artists. Project Erasmus+ CREARTE. i2ADS/FBAUP.