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Reflect: Education

The education session was opened by moderator Lars Ebert (ELIA) who raised the question of how we validate what children learn and the important addition of non-formal learning. Looking at the ambition for a European area of cultural education by 2025, he stressed the capacity of education (from pre-primary to higher) as the means of gaining access to culture, the opportunity to teach cultural literacy, and how we raise accountable citizens.


Anthony Heidweiler (Operamakers Foundation) sees art education as a way of helping young people to talk. Art education helped Anthony survive in the world personally: growing up with a stutter, he wanted a job where he did not have to talk, and so he sang instead. Regarding his profession as social work, he started running workshops in 2001 and inspires people to come together through singing.


Five years ago, he changed his vision. The emphasis had always been on studying European composers, but faced with a cosmopolitan audience of young people, he questioned the wisdom of teaching them that the standard of choral music is set by European art. He wanted to present the world of art to them differently and in a cosmopolitan manner. From this vantage point, he posits that we can find new visions. It encourages critical thinking and questioning: what is a choir piece?


The challenge is finding enough and the right people to work with. Anthony is an artistic associate of the Dutch National Opera, working with 400 students from arts high schools, and has focussed on the curriculum presented in the conservatoires. Anthony’s mission is to change the curricula while respecting what tradition offers, but at the same time valuing the challenge of other offers. It is more than a nice idea to Anthony; he regards it as our responsibility to communicate the strengths of the art world.


Raluca Iacob (Cubic Metre) is in origin a cultural policy professional, however, her experience has been that decision-making in Romania is often not based on consultation with experts. As a result, she shifted into the independent sector, where she translates cultural policy ideas into a different kind of framework.


In her work, she has mapped examples of integration of culture in schools in Europe and developed a best practice model. Financial struggles are a concern found everywhere: in the culture and education sectors and throughout society. Raluca sees that there is little money available for productions and projects. For example, even the larger art museums struggle to finance materials for use in schools.


She observes that the relationships between schools and the arts sector are frequently very temporary. Furthermore, the partnerships that she has witnessed tend to be between individuals rather than organisations, which she does not find sustainable. Her view of the school system is that it is seriously underfunded, with the result that receiving an education does not necessarily make students employable nor lead to good work opportunities. She regards culture as being sabotaged at a policy level, with ministers changing every six months who have little experience of the cultural sector. She sees a need for discourse about what it means for culture to be publicly funded.


In her work, she has looked at culture not as something that crosses through multiple sectors, but as a self-standing sector of cultural education: a shared sector with a shared impact. She has partnered up with a number of big organisations in aid of this, and also worked with the Minister of Education, to go into schools and explain why culture is important.


She considers that there is a balance to be struck in carrying out this work between freedom of expression and the required level of responsibility when present in a school setting. There is therefore a lot of training to be done on both the parts of artists and teachers. She wants to see skilled people working in schools, but the difficulty arises frequently that people do not agree that they need training to deal with each other in this situation.


She concluded by emphasising that it is more efficient to talk about shared impact and outcomes of culture plus education together, not as separate sectors interacting with each other.


Tommaso Salaroli (Scomodo) believes that education for young people should be provided by young people, and that this is extremely important for the democratic development of our countries. He has worked on the development of a student cultural magazine, a culture project that became a platform able to give life to other cultural projects in different ways, of which there have been over 500 led by young people aged 15-25.


The magazine distributes 7500 copies each month, flying off the shelves in two days each time. It is distributed over Italy and further afield in Europe as well, containing art by the best Italian illustrators, articles written by the Scomodo team, with a cultural platform to follow. The magazine focuses on art, music, theatre, the written word, and experimental things, e.g. experimental music of the future.


The magazine (which is free) is funded by Scomodo Nights, which have welcomed over 30,000 people all around the city of Rome. These events are an opportunity for both socialising and culture. Growing up in beautiful Rome, Tommaso and his friends focussed on what their generation needed to do in order to instigate social changes, rather than just suffering them.


They found that there was a lack of available information in Italy, so they developed the magazine. They thought there was a lack of social initiatives, so they developed those as well. Scomodo Nights presents a well-organised cultural offer with something for everyone, held in what Tommaso calls ‘abandoned monsters’ (the derelict buildings that form the venues).


There are a lot of abandoned places in Rome and places where the funding ran out during the building process. By setting the events in these places, they hope to draw attention to the wasting of public money, and at the same time encourage young people to do something with these buildings. With no funding from anyone (not even advertising), the income for their ideas is generated from these events.


Tommaso’s mission is simply this: to change the world.


Wendy Sadler (Science Made Simple) led with a balloon experiment, wherein everyone in the audience was asked to blow up a balloon and sit on it, gently transferring all their weight to it. The result was a warm feeling where the body was in contact with the balloon. She explained that the balloon experiment was developed with a science researcher in order to address the issue of scientists having forgotten how to communicate with people. Wendy’s work is the bridge between science and schools. The balloon experiment was designed to explain research about polar bear fur, which is hollow and has air trapped inside. Still air is a great insulator for heat, hence the warmth effect in the balloon experiment.


Wendy develops street theatre and performance around ordinary objects to explain science. She finds that poorly communicated science is not interesting. The result of this is that when we look at what people think is interesting, what people want to become and what people feel they can become, there is a gap between their belief in their ability to develop the necessary skills and the aspiration to be a scientist.


People do not see any role models in science, so Wendy aims to introduce them. As science communicators, they sit in the middle to facilitate the conversation. This has included exercises in the field of biotechnology, looking at the structure of cicada wings that stops bacteria clinging on. Shark skin has a similar attribute, and so they developed a performance activity involving Lego to illustrate the effect.


As part of Horizon 2020, this project runs in three countries in three different ways: street art in the UK, clowning in France, and stand up comedy in Spain. In the UK, they have run a science performance theatre show with no words. Starting from the idea that science relies too much on words, the project asked what would happen if they were taken away? Wendy’s concept was to empower people to ask questions instead.


Through a combination of drama, jeopardy, humour and slapstick aimed at arts audiences, they developed the performance with sponsorship from the Institute of Physics, who hated it because it did not teach anything. However, Wendy and her team wanted the audience to ask the questions, and the show was made for that reason.


Between Science and the Arts, there is in fact a lot of common ground, but there is also a lot that we can learn from each other. Moreover, the gap between young people and sciences is quite sizable, and through projects like these, we can help close that gap.




Lars stressed how much more difficult it is to communicate that the arts are essential than, for example, maths.


A question was asked about whether cultural education could be a solution to financial precarity.


Raluca responded that part of the solution was to advocate for the inclusion of culture in schools. However, she sees that precarity exists for both teachers and artists, and even if these players lobbied themselves to the municipalities, then she still does not believe that there is much hope. A new fiscal reform has just added an extra 30% tax on freelancers, and teachers earn only €350 a month. Corporate social responsibility and such concepts exist in policy, but those in charge of such programmes are not sensitive to the way cultural and educational sectors work; they are image-driven and work for their own personal political gains. She wishes it were more enlightened.


Wendy commented that engineering companies are desperate for people and that the World Economic Forum has raised creativity into the top three skills for young people. These are the skills that we need to help them build.


Anthony stated that cultural organisations in Holland are busy with seeking funding. In his own case, he has made an arrangement with a Chinese restaurant chain, which has been sponsoring his cultural project for four years and is proud to be shown on his posters. He believes it is very important to involve people like this into the arts world.


Tommaso considered that the issue is not limited to the education system, but centres around positivity. He believes that a positive group of people will vote for someone with positivity. Governments should invest in culture as they invest in the future, which is something that everyone should support. It should not be concerned with massive profit-making, and it is better for people to spend €5 at an unauthorised event for a beer, than €10 elsewhere. There is no need in that context to argue with the government for a bit more money all the time. Instead, when you go to Scomodo nights, it is rather a new way of life through culture.


Lars advanced the point on skills though teaching in the alternative educational realm, and asked Anthony about empowering people to access culture through his activities and his earlier statement that he was a social worker.


Anthony commented that many artists are scientists technically: they sing perfectly but they don’t provoke feelings in their audiences. He believes that they need a sense of urgency. He wants to say when he is at these art schools that he is a social worker, because an artist is a social worker. Education makes you a better artist. He proposed that expression is learnt through education, not on the stage, with the result that the next day it can be brought to the stage.


A question from the floor was raised relating to the cutting of funding in contemporary arts and the cultural sector by neo-nationalists. They regarded the rise in nationalism in governments as being in opposition to anything that does not serve tourism and governments simply telling the sector to get their own funding. They asked whether we were giving into this view, and if we are being reactive rather than proactive.


Anthony took the view that it is always better to think in the longer term. When we try to move quickly into action, it is a high that does not last. Trees that grow slowly have deep roots. When they want to change something in the School of Arts, there is a kind of durability to it. Anthony finds that when we hear about actions, such as beautiful participation projects, they are gone after three years. He concludes that creating a European cultural education is something that is more likely to be achieved by 2035 than 2025, so it is essential to have a long-term view of these things.


Lars commented that the sessions being run at the conference are not so much about talking and learning from each other, but garnering collective intelligence and getting our standpoint together, so that we are able to go forth and lobby effectively. What we are lobbying for becomes clearer with each session.


Raluca presented two possible avenues to pursue. Firstly, confronting the neoliberal approach, by giving our own arguments, although she does not personally think this method is likely to work. Secondly, we can be subversive and hijack the discourse. Raluca’s NGO is using discourse to enter the Romanian school system, using artistic practices to communicate values that they believe in.


Raluca stated that various strategies exist, including the creative partnerships model from the UK, which involves using art methods to teach other subjects (which has good potential for hijacking) and a German model that focuses on extracurricular competences in the arts for students (although this does not work through schools). She sees schools as an access point to many people and an opportunity to influence growing minds. They provide an environment that we should focus on, where education is the goal and where future adults come from.


From the floor, the comment was made that culture people can also be pretty boring and too rational, just like scientists. As a result, they saw the need to learn from scientists, including how to play with emotions. The rational argument is often lost, so we need an emotional approach. Directing the question to Tommaso, they asked how he managed to get so many people to go along with his ideas and how he managed to raise these emotions.


Tommaso responded that when asking themselves how they could rouse the involvement of a generation, they simply considered what emotions moved them. They are of the same generation, so it works. They designed mailings in that manner by considering what they would click on, and every Facebook post has 10,000 views.

He added in response to an earlier point that the people taking money away from culture are not monsters; they are humans who have been elected. In democratic countries, therefore, we need to change who it is that votes, making people conscious actors in their own lives. In this way, everyone can work on something that they like to, what interests them.


A comment from the floor related that this is always the same discussion: we need more money. If we can’t ask for it, then we need to take it.


A further comment from the floor expressed a similar sense of déjà vu and that nothing has changed since Thatcher. Education needs to be about joining in but education systems in Europe have always believed in beating in information, not bringing things out. We should have a party instead! Politicians change regularly, what we actually need is to get people involved, to get them excited and to get people to join in.


Lars agreed that we do not want any more déjà vu; we want new ideas! He asked in conclusion for each speaker to give one sentence about how they think we should take action and make a little difference by the time we come back in a year’s time.


Raluca reaffirmed that we should start talking about education and culture together, culture and development, culture and health, and develop and use methodologies that can work in that framework, finding intermediary overlapping sectors, making them sectors in themselves.


Wendy encouraged everyone to work more with young people directly: find out what engages them, find out what works for them. She also emphasised that we should always start with the audience not the source of funding.


Anthony’s action revolved around the need to change the curricula of art schools. He expressed the thought that a lot of the teachers needed to change, that a new and different profile should be created, one that drew on the showing of authenticity, not on showing off virtuosity, and to help them to develop this profile in a 21st century musician.


Tommaso closed on the statement: “Love what you do and let others love what they do.”

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