Category Archives: Community arts

You are on your own kid.

I was excited to see the British Journal of Sociology of Education publish a review symposium of Youth Rising? The Politics of Youth in the Global Economy by Mayssoun Sukarieh and Stuart Tannock nearly two years after it was first published. Three scholars have reviewed the book in the latest issue: Laura Harvey, Steve Roberts, and Jo-Anne Dillabough.

As someone relatively new to youth studies scholarship, I suspected when I read it a few months ago that Youth Rising? could be an important contribution to the field. The analysis is penetrating and historical evidence convincing, and the scope and aims of the book are timely and spot on.

I am not going to review the book here, but I do want to provide some brief commentary on the basic premise of the book and why I think it is important, particularly for youth and youth workers in this age of youth empowerment and positive youth development.

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New Urban Arts participatory timeline project

Hey New Urban Arts peoples!!! Contribute to an online timeline that documents New Urban Arts? If you know of a big event, a little event, a or somewhere-in-between event that helps understand New Urban Arts, contribute it to the timeline! The event might be a massive event or a tiny conversation or the making of an artwork or… ?

We can add up to 100 events to the timeline before the timeline starts to freak out.

Before you share the event, make sure you have permission to share it. In other words, don’t share a private story that somebody else might not want shared online!

To make a contribution, email your event to tyler.denmead (at) gmail (dot) com. Or if you want, you can add it to the timeline yourself by entering the information into this spreadsheet.

Please provide a start date, an end date, a headline, a brief description, and a link to a media source located online. Media can include maps, photographs, tweets, audio recordings, videos… You name it!

Here is a tip for educators on making timelines from Dipity:

For educators, the benefit of timeline builders is the ability to work with students on developing their decision-making skills. Students constructing timelines have to decide which events to add and which to omit, what text should be displayed, which images to embed, and most importantly why the particular starting and endpoints were chosen on historical merit. In many ways, tools like Dipity provide teachers with an insight into student decision-making processes and open up dialogue about what historical work entails.

After the timeline is “done”, we’ll figure out a way to migrate it over to for more public consumption!


How arts education is justified and why it should change

Numerous rationales for why arts education matters exist and arts educators have long justified its importance through the prism of popular educational agendas of their time.  Emphases have been placed on: self-expression and identity formation; emotional well-being and happiness; multiculturalism and tolerance; the development of multiple literacies; development of perceptual skills, motor skills and cognition; moral imagination and citizenship; and developing creative workforces for unknown economic futures.  This list is not exhaustive and many of these emphases have been repeated. The creative workforce argument was used to justify arts education in Britain in the 1830s when the Brits feared their failure to compete with the creative ingenuity of French textile designers.  That argument was resumed before the creative destruction of the Great Recession and lingers awkwardly today.

Piggybacking on educational agendas of the moment to justify arts education is not useful for a couple of reasons.   We see in the creative workforce argument how they fail to last.   And, when the case is made that arts education prepares people for anything, including economic life, the argument reinforces sensible reasons why arts education does not.  That common sense may be reductive and short-sighted, but it’s unavoidable: If people are to become more literate, they need to read more words.  If people are to become employable, they need to learn a trade that pays.  Make art?  Naahh…

Another reason this strategy of hitching the importance of arts education to the educational agenda of the moment is self-defeating is that it flattens the complexity, density, and variation of what arts educators do in the field and why.  And this reason troubles me most.  The field’s strength lies in its maelstrom, and the maelstrom may be why people are drawn to the field.  We know that “artists” seek out complexity and ambiguity to push them to engage with the unfamiliar—to make new marks, words, sounds, tastes, and movements.  We shouldn’t be surprised when “artist teachers”, or whatever you want to call them, are interested in the same.

So I am not saying that art should be taught for its own sake.  I’m saying the arts are taught and learned for multiple sakes.   I think the implications of this argument for arts education in and beyond schools are more important than ever.

Valuing this complexity and variation is important at a moment when educators are being told how, what, and why to teach in ways that some consider to be overhanded and reductive. From this point of view, schools prepare children to read, write, and calculate for a life of adult work. Tests prove when scalable strategies for acquiring those practices succeed.  Teachers are technicians who deliver those strategies.  I suspect that many of us started community arts organizations throughout the country in the 1990s because we found school systems impenetrable.  In these systems, the variation and complexity which is generative for artistic pedagogies could not take root.  These systems are more interested in bureaucratic regulation, surveillance, and measurement than cultivating diverse pedagogies and pedagogues.

The unintended side effect of creating these community arts organizations is that their founding supports the neoliberal drive that dismantles equitable access for all to education through privatization.  It is a challenge leaders of community arts organizations must face as they consider the future of their maturing field.

To respond to this challenge, it is important to consider that the future of excellence in arts education, and education more broadly, relies on arts educators—all educators—becoming progenitors of their pedagogies, as Carlina Rinaldi reminds us. Educators have to wrestle with what to teach, how, and why with their students and participants. It relies on coping with uncertainty and ambiguity. It depends upon participating in a community of educators committed to that cause, practically theorizing with one another and extending their understanding through their research and the research of others. It depends on documenting and making sense of the pedagogies that emerge to identify problems and to generate insights. From there, educators and their participants will develop their rationales for why the arts matter, or anything matters, and how fields of practice should be taught and learned in contextually sensitive ways.

Is this approach feasible in today’s educational climate?  Maybe not. But after returning to and settling into my new/old home in Rhode Island, my hunch is that these may be the commitments of those teaching at The Learning Community charter school in Central Falls and in the community arts sector in Providence.  How do we expand those commitments?

New article to be published on artists’ pedagogies of material and time

Richard Hickman and I will have an article published in an upcoming edition of the International Journal of Education and the Arts (IJEA).  The article is titled, “Viscerality and slowliness: An anatomy of artists’ pedagogies of material and time.”  This paper describes 8 UK-based community artists’ use of materials when providing public workshops for parents and toddlers in outdoor settings.  We focus on how the artists selected materials for a variety of qualities that they named: simplicity, immediacy, richness, slippage, ephemerality, and slowliness.   We discuss how the artists provided participants a limited palette of materials, each one in abundance, to support participants’ open-ended, immersive, and embodied experimentation.    IJEA provides open access to scholarly dialogue so practitioners will have access to the article!  Stay tuned for publication date.  In the meantime, if you want to read one of my favourite IJEA articles about music-making from the great John Finney, go here.