I was asked to speak to this year’s cohort of Clore Fellows. Ten minutes as an interlocutor (I had to look it up) on ‘leading cultural learning’. I thought I’d risk a new riff, moving far from my standard creative learning patter to reveal my inner confusion. I started with six stories, told in chronological order.
Story One: 1997
As a teacher, I had no real affinity with the arts. To my shame, I didn’t teach one dance lesson in five years, and the visual art I attempted was too rare and too shoddy. I did however play around with drama, especially for assemblies. I remember creating a lavish assembly for an OFSTED inspection. Oblivious to those men with clipboards at the back of the hall, my Year Five Class performed a rousing history of the Jarrow crusade, complete with a couple of historically misplaced Woodie Guthrie songs. OFSTED failed the assembly, as it did not include an act of collective worship.
Story Two: 2002
As a parent, I remember visiting Tate Britain with my two toddlers to see Michael Landy’s childhood home, rebuilt in painstaking detail in the centre of the main hall. It was a powerful experience, provoking emotions around identity, memory, and family. Whilst recovering from this art thunderbolt, I wondered what my children were making of this. Before I had the chance to find out, I had been dragged into a nearby room, and forced to make cardboard box homes with my kids. The Tate’s family learning programme had destroyed any chance of engagement with its art.
Story Three: 2009
On my Clore placement to the Theatre Royal Stratford East, I met one of their young Associate Directors. A few years before, as part of the youth theatre, he had, with friends, devised a dance piece based on the Pied Piper of Hamlyn. It had rapidly moved onto the theatre’s main stage, and two years on was now the Barbican’s Christmas show. He was now CEO of his own company, Blue Boy Entertainment.
Story Four: 2010
At a think tank seminar, the artistic director of a large venue talked about how education was now at the centre of his organisation. He claimed that his own programming decisions were now more informed by the education department’s views than by anybody else. I thought ‘you’re lying, and I don’t know why you’re lying.’
Story Five : 2011
In one of my final visits to a Creative Partnerships school, I visited a secondary school which had done some wonderful programmes over five years, most recently working with a visual artist on ‘museum of love’ to explore concepts of love in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. The creative agent at the school, who was managing the programme, talked about how she had tried to ban the word art and artist from discussions with pupils and teachers.
Story Six: 2011 again
Last month, I was talking to someone in the arts education world. I was telling her about some schools which were thinking of starting ‘look clubs’, after school clubs where pupils would visit museums, galleries, buildings and landscapes, with an emphasis on looking and contemplation, rather than drawing or doing. She scoffed at me: ‘that’s not very participatory!’
Conclusions to be drawn… in next blog.