Sir Ken Robinson: when Herbert meets Ken, what an afterlife that will be.

Sir Ken Robinson’s recent death has prompted much reflection and sadness across the world from artists, teachers, thinkers and politicians alike.  He’s been a hugely influential figure for so many of us who have been cultivating the arts and cultural education estate over the last 50 years, and it’s impossible to overturn any stone in the garden, rearrange the shrubbery or repave the patio without noticing the impact and influence that Ken, now one of the Great Gardeners in the sky, would have had on that contribution to our educational horticulture.

Many of us owe a huge debt to him for the wisdom, generosity of spirit and sheer good humour he has showed us whilst tending the estate.

My own testimony to him goes back to when I was studying for my PhD at the University of Hull, when I met him at a teachers conference in Stockport in August 2006 to talk about his history in art education: where he started, what he continued and where it was heading.

Whilst he had a long history of advocating for arts education, it was perhaps his work as Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) with its publication of All Our Futures Creativity, Culture and Education in 1999 and the subsequent development and implementation of the Creative Partnerships programme in 2002, when many of us felt the full magnetic force of what a Ken Robinson vision of what a creative education could look like.

Whilst you can trace a direct genealogical lineage from his book, Learning Through Drama with Maggie Tate in 1977, to  the Gulbenkian Foundation’s The Arts in Schools report in 1982, no-one could have reasonably foreseen the marked change of trajectory that Ken would go on to take between 1982 and 1999 with the publication of All Our Futures.

 His strategy was to re-configure artists in schools projects into a more ambitious programme of creativity and cultural development in which creativity was disconnected from an arts education agenda and placed within the wider context of creativity, teaching and learning. This may sound oddly familiar to those of us who are following the recent Durham Commission’s work into Creativity and Education and their visions for quietly rearranging Ken’s horticultural revolutionary idealism, but I’ll let that pass for the moment.

From initially arguing in 1982 that a repositioning of arts education in schools was essential to contributing to  a holistic, humanistic education, Ken found himself arguing in 1997 for a programme which, in reducing the significance of the arts and the artist in creativity and cultural education, was purposefully designed to appeal to government ministers who were anxious to ensure that the programme could not be interpreted as being the result of successful lobbying by an articulate arts constituency.

In an interview with me, Ken referred to a complex political context shaping the work of NACCCE and its production of All Our Futures:

I read this paper to him (David Blunkett)…  he said we would like to do this…  I was saying why don’t we get a group together to advise you   on what would be involved in a systematic  approach to creativity  in the school system given how important this is… but he didn’t want to go down in history as Gradgrind…. he wasn’t comfortable with the Chris Woodhead thing…  it was cramping his style … he said Chris (Smith) was very interested in this too …  you tell us how this might work… who would you like on the group… So that’s how it came about…. I put the proposal together to make it happen…  it just seemed to me that there was a historic opportunity here ….  my own personal line of thinking  has been…  a continuing opening of the agenda further out… my interest began in drama… but I always felt that drama was part of a bigger picture … so it became arts in schools…  but all the things I’d been writing about personally…  had always persuaded me that there were powerful synergies between the disciplines… but also if you look at what was happening in the theory of science … and especially the  cognitive sciences and theories of mental representation and  meaning making, you don’t have to look around long to  see synergies between  science technology  and the arts  – I also knew … that  the people who worked in science and maths were just as pissed off about what was happening in their disciplines…  they were feeling boxed in by these strategies and so on….  as soon as (Tony) Blair started to talk about creativity, I thought this was great…. but you can’t talk about the arts for long without saying creativity and culture, not really…  I also knew that….  if we’d gone to David Blunkett or Blair then in 97, and said this won’t do, you’re marginalising the arts again, we need a big arts initiative, I know they would have said not just now, we’re doing the economy…. we’ve got so much on, go and talk to Chris (Smith)…  I knew instinctively this just wasn’t the way to go – creativity was a  portal for all of us to go through…. so I didn’t write a paper about the arts, I wrote  a  paper on creativity… this was just the right thing to do politically because…   this was what they were concerned about:  what they didn’t know was what to do about it….  and they didn’t know what they were throwing away in the process – they were killing arts programmes all over the country at the time…. It seemed a much better strategy rather than saying…. you’ve got a problem, you’re killing the arts… more than that, it was an opportunity to get around the same table not just artists  but scientists, business leaders, economists….  that then is irresistible; if you show this is actually a  common argument  and a big argument and that the arts  are four square with the sciences and technology….  creativity seemed to be the portal  we could all go through…we could all get that… people got the economic argument…   it was a way of recasting it… so in a way….  All Our Futures is in its own way the arts in schools projected onto a much bigger canvas…

You can hear that interview here.  It’s not broadcast quality but his insights and humour shine through – and they tell us a lot about what Ken was faced with in attempting to revolutionise our educational landscape.

Ken’s allusion to creativity as a portal through which disparate educational and disciplines might step, in order to counteract the effects of an ever-prescriptive national curriculum and increasing performativity driven managerialism in is as relevant today as it was back in 1999, and even earlier.

Both All Our Futures and The Arts In Schools  trace their lineage to Half Our Future, a report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) published in 1963 and chaired by John Newsom, which, in its turn pays homage to the work of Herbert Read and his 1957 conference report for the Joint Council for Education through Art, Humanity, Technology and Education where H.J.  Blackham concluded:

 We believe that neither the contribution of the arts to general education, nor the place of general education in the national life has yet been properly recognised, and we want to form a body of enlightened opinion drawn from all walks of life which will bring general public opinion to share our conviction and see our vision of the role of the arts in general and the role of general education in the life of our industrial mass society.

 Remember that this was in 1957, not 2020. And if you want to dig up the lawns even more, you can find the work of Caldwell Cook  with The Play Way – perhaps the first book on drama in education  – arguing in much the same vein at the height of the first world war in 1917:

A social revolution of some kind will be necessary in England after the declaration of peace on the continent; for even supposing some fair principle is established by force of arms, it has still to be wrought into a living practice by right education and good government.  For many of us the greater war is  yet to come.

The creativity and cultural education agenda isn’t new and its call to action continues to reverberate across the decades.  We might ask ourselves why we need to keep making those calls to action and why there seems to be a permanent deafness to its rhetorical powers.

During my studies, I captured my understanding of Ken’s work in a paper entitled ‘When Herbert Met Ken: the 100 Languages of Creativity’.  It’s central conceit is that of a thought experiment written in the spirit of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties in which some contemporary thinkers on creativity and culture – ie Ken Robinson and many others, in particular Sir Herbert Read – are brought together to examine the impact that Ken’s work has had.  You can read the paper here.

Whilst they never did actually meet, if there is to be an afterlife then at least Ken will be able to meet Herbert and have it out with him, fully reassess the impact that their work, and the work of those before and after them have had and plan for something better.

Their new visionary cultural landscapes may not be something we will see in our lifetimes, but landscape artists and gardeners move in mysterious ways so you can be sure that we will continue to feel the effects of Sir Ken’s work into the next century and beyond.

What if Robin Williams met Anna Craft? What does losing 2 big C Creatives in a week tell us about us?

We’ve lost a couple of giants in the last week, both of whom speak of and for creativity albeit in very different ways: Anna Craft with her little ‘c’ creativity and Robin William’s big black dog of Creativity.

There can’t be many people out there who’ve not encountered Williams in his various disguises but probably a whole lot more who have never come across Anna’s work on creativity and learning. Whilst Williams’ creativity was bombastic, totalising and indisputable, Craft’s was more nuanced, subtle and ambiguous: with Williams you felt a target on the wrong side of the monologue but with Craft you did at least have a sense that you were in dialogue with her, previous generations and yourself.

Between them, they encapsulate the spectrum of difficulty of what it is to define, discuss or demonstrate that most infuriating of phenomena: the ‘c’ word. Is it all about individual genius which borders on insanity and can only be understood by defaulting to understandings of mental health, childhood trauma or drug fuelled psychosis? Or is it about more subtle ways of engaging with and imagining a world of possibilities? Or both?

Let’s do an Anna and ask ourselves, ‘What If they met on their own respective stairways to heaven? What might they have said to each other as they made their way through purgatory? And what insights might they generate as they waited to find out their future destiny? And where would that leave the rest of us?

Would Robin admit to a life long secret desire to be a nursery school teacher? And Anna to a thwarted ambition to entertain millions through her latent desire to be a rock guitar hero?  We’ll never know for certain of course: but one thing they could both agree upon is that without them gracing the earth for their short days, we would all be a lot poorer in understanding what it is to be human.

But if you do have an inside track on their conversation as they made it up into the stars, it would be great to hear about it!

 

 

Participants wanted for “Street Art” project, 23 – 30 September in Luxembourg

Inter-actions are organising a Youth Democracy project called “Street art” which will give an opportunity to more than 80 young people from 4 countries to have a participative reflection about the place they have in the society through urban cultural active participation.

The themes will revolve around the role of active participation, empowerment, education, values. Street art forms are different around Europe and may change, but the street art stream goes on and is part and parcel of our all day life and urban space. Politics at any level cannot disregard this aspect that is part of our souranding and with this project we want to bring it to the open discussions.

In “Street art” young people will be able to participate in a complex self-development programme that will provide them with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to become active social actors and get reflection about the topic. If they will come from the artistic backgrounds- the project will make them aware of civic dimension of their work, influence of their work on urban space and other citizens. It will also make them aware how their creation can be constructive for others and for their future employment. For all participants the project will be a chance to come into the dialogue with politicians on local level- the action that was not in their agenda till now. The project will reveal the sense of the common debate on topics that are important both for youth and for local authorities.

Active young people will take part in one of the 2 international Urban Seminars that will be organized in Luxembourg and in a “Open Art Week” that will organise street art events in several places in the country. It will give them a chance to reflect about street art and exchange their experience and opinions. These 3 events will provide young people with concrete methodology that they will be able to use after the international activity in their home countries with other peers.

Each Urban Seminar will have a particular focus. The first one will be around urban music (dance, singing, beatboxing), the second about visual art (graffiti, light animations, etc). The third event will bring together 40 young people who will organise events around Luxembourg.

During the 3 events young people will debate with decisions-makers, MEPs, deputies, mayors and experts about related topic as well as interact with local groups. The seminars will be organized in cooperation with local authorities and give visibility and content to the event. The discussions during the seminars will be facilitated by young people themselves to give them a chance to experience leading a real participative activity.

The project will have a sustainable impact and multiplier effect. We believe that many young people will be empowered by this action.

The project will reach numerous young people as well as decision-makers and make streetart as support for youth positive active participation.

Contact:

Luc Wendling
16,rue fort Wallis
L-2417 Luxembourg
Mail: wendling@inter-actions.lu
Tel.00352 492660
Gsm:00352 621 227 285

What is an entpreneurial city? What are its building blocks and whose doing the building?

We’d best mindful that entrepreneurship is (at least) a double edge sword – carrying with it connotations of Delboy behaviour, illicit grey economy dealings, making a quick buck doubly fast but without a grain of civilising or moral coding behind it.

Whilst it can mean being creative, innovative, flexible, and focused on spotting income generation opportunities when none existed before, none of these things in their own right are necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad’ things. It depends on what is done in the name of entrepreneurship as to its resultant value.

So, an entrepreneurial city could either be the city from hell – much like Tokyo in Bladerunners, or it could be an en-nobled, ennobling civilised space in which people’s entrepreneurial behaviour is directed towards the greater good rather than their own bank accounts. An entrepreneurial city could either be filled with wide boys, hoods and spivs – or it could be like Venice. Or both. The choice is ours – i.e. all the inhabitants of that city, not just the choice of the ‘entrepreneurs’ whose interest might just be focused on their own economic destiny.

The building blocks of an entrepreneurial city might be

…The way it treats its poor, its excluded and its disillusioned
…The way it gives air time and political influence to individual spirits
…The way it doesn’t preferentially focus on the ‘big boys’ of the economy but supports the development of nano-, micro- and mini- SMEs
…The way it recognises and values local culture – not just traditional, mainstream arts and museums but the myriad of ways in which people go about things and create value, difference and impact
…The way it values diversity and difference
…The way it doesn’t only tolerate dissention but appreciates it
…The way it regulates itself and public behaviours
…The way it values risk, challenge and uncertainty
…The way it engages with the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” (Wikipedia)

So, if we want to start making an entrepreneurial city we’re probably best starting at home. Our offices and premises could be reflective of those building blocks; we should worry less about PR aspects and not be so anxious about making mistakes. Entrepreneurialism is founded on risk, learning, making mistakes and recovery. If we want to encourage that, we have to breath the same kind of air once in a while too.

Tips for Business Start Ups: don’t write yourself out of your own business (at the beginning)

It’s amazing the number of start ups out there who have a terrific idea at the heart of their business proposal – whether this be setting up a photographic studio, becoming an interior designer or inventing a new ice cream – only to get very coy indeed when it comes to committing their fulsome selves to the push and pull needed to get that idea off the page, out of the kitchen and out into the street.

Cutting and pasting someone else’s thinking, copy or images into the materials you need to promote your own business rather than get down to the messy business of creating your own creative raw material from which you can construct your own company’s creative capital is one way in which young up-start start-ups manage to show their commitment-phobia. Another way of doing it is to ignore the very skills and interests which led them to creating their business idea in the first place.

But perhaps this is a reflection of a start-up culture which takes rather too much to heart the concept that all business activity consists of is recycling some-one else’s ideas – or running away from your own. Of course, there are times to sell on your business and move it into the hands of some other young keen entrepreneur: but it’s not at the start of the process when it needs you to fully invest your own time, spirit and creativity into getting that quivering young phenomenon, the new business, up and walking about into the sunshine.

It’s WORLD CREATIVITY WEEK! 8 articles to get you going…

World Creativity Week! And about time to.  You can never get enough of all things creative.   Because creativity‘s great isn’t it?  Like apple pie, Christmas and Easter bunnies all rolled into one?  Well, yes and no.  Not really.  ‘Creativity’ and our recent glamorisation of all things creative really needs a good shake up.

And here’s some places to start:

The concept of The Creative.  https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/are-you-a-creative-or-a-non-creative-for-everyone-in-world-creativity-week/

The benefits of Useless Creativity. https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/5-tests-to-measure-u-creativity-useless-creativity-for-world-creativity-week/

The concept of M-Creativity. Creativity in all places at all times. https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/introducing-a-new-form-of-creativity-m-creativity-especially-for-world-creativity-week/

The Creative School as Creative City. https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/how-does-a-creative-school-become-a-creative-city/

The Perils of Schools becoming Creative Cities. https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2011/10/13/here’s-how-a-creative-school-becomes-a-creative-city-2/

Unleashing the unwanted on the unexpecting. https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2011/09/04/unleashing-the-unwanted-on-the-unexpecting/

Reasons to be uncreative. Part 3. https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2012/04/20/poetry-on-the-hoof-best-excuses-dedicated-to-the-end-of-world-creativity-week/

How to get rid of it altogether. https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/2-easy-routes-to-killing-creativity/

So you wanna be a partner? Presentation to the Creative Connections in the Early Years Tasmania teams

Urban regeneration partnership initiatives – in which public, private and the voluntary sector collaborate in order to bring about the management of public services within neighbourhoods – have been a feature of the UK’s political landscape since the Thatcher government of the 1980s.

In 1999, the National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE) were commissioned jointly by the British government departments of culture (the DCMS) and education (the DfEE) to review  the place of the arts and creativity in the curriculum.

They went on to publish  All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education in 1999 which in turn led to the launch of the Creative Partnerships (CP) initiative: a programme of creativity and cultural education in 16 areas across England in 2001. Their aims were to provide school children with the opportunity to develop creativity in learning and to take part in cultural activities of the highest quality….  and provide ‘a powerful, focused, high profile and inspirational tool for change, genuinely capturing the imagination of children, parents and carers, teachers and communities.

Whilst CP came to an end earlier this year, its ethos of partnership working has been extended across many public sector organisations who have developed many different kinds of cultural initiatives from music education to cultural leadership to creative learning.  Increasingly, these public sector organisations have identified themselves not only as funders but as partners too.

The impact of new forms of cultural partnership on the Early Years settings

This presentation will critically review within an Early Years context what this new form of cultural partnership has entailed and how it is played out in the classroom, the school, between organsiations and at a macro, policy level too.  It ask questions such as:

• What is meant by partnership – by whom, when and in what context?
• How is partnership is manifested at operational and strategic levels?
• What might be principles of cultural partnership?
• How have these principles been implemented in the Early Years classroom?
• What factors prevent the development of a healthy cultural partnership?

Case studies involving the engagement of artists in early years contexts; cross-organisational planning and delivery; and how national policy impacts on practitioners at a local level will be discussed.

Learnings from on-line dating sites and lonely hearts club adverts will also be taken into account!

Download the presentation here:

http://db.tt/sFJrxJGC

Here’s how a creative school becomes a creative city (2)

Impresa and Coletta’s Tool-Kit for Cities suggests that cities:

* Deliver an ‘appealing reality’, because ‘young people are very savvy in assessing cities’;
* Put values on display, demonstrating how the city ‘welcomes newcomers and new ideas’;
* Keep in touch with former residents, and find ways to have them ‘return to your city’;
* Create opportunities for civic involvement, deliberately seeking out the opinions of young people;
* Use internships to connect with young adults;
* Survey young adults regularly, including ‘exit interviews’;
* Celebrate young entrepreneurs and civic contributors;
* Communicate development plans to young adults;
* Promote your city: ‘place marketing works best when it is based on authentic stories that people are willing to tell about their cities’;
* Promote a young adult lifestyle, particularly ‘active nightlife’, and do not be fearful that this might ‘scare off the soccer moms’

Mapping out these criteria for creative cities against schools OfSTED reports offers some tentative support to the notion that schools, rather than places of teaching and learning actually are better described as creative cities.

According to OfSTED, Fichte Nursery School in Hull for example delivers an appealing reality as what pleases parents most about the school is that Children are expected to work hard as well as have fun in the nursery and this leads to good progress.. The teaching is good and staff have high expectations as to behaviour and the children’s response…

The school also can demonstrate that it puts its values on display, demonstrating how the city welcomes newcomers and new ideas as The nursery classes and corridors are full of attractive displays and a wide range of artifacts that children can see and handle at any time.

The school also demonstrably keeps in touch with former residents, and finds ways to have them return to the city through parents evenings, governors meetings as well as through the development of the Fichte Parents Writers Group (FPWG): a group of parents who, through a creative writing project researched the experiences of previous attendees of the school and encouraged them to share those experiences and stories through that project.

Furthermore, the school creates opportunities for civic involvement, deliberately seeking out the opinions of young people through its involvement in several local and government initiatives such as Sure Start and the building of the new Children’s Centre which aims to support parents and their children in close partnership with the school. It uses internships to connect with young adults by playing host regularly to trainee student teachers and research students. It can also be seen to survey young adults regularly (through regular parental consultative processes) and celebrates its young entrepreneurs and civic contributor’s as: the children’s work is always celebrated by displaying it very effectively across the school.

According to these criteria then, Fichte Nursery School qualifies as a creative City. The implications for this shift are manifold. Membership of school communities becomes more explicitly transitional and relationships between members more based on qualities of corporate society than the kin relationships of community.

New definitions of community consequently emerge in which whilst there are new spaces for diversity and difference to be explored also lend themselves for surprising new conflicts to emerge.

Simple causal relationships between landusers in the city of Fichte Nursery School can not easily be demonstrated; they become spaces in which minor events have major, surprising and unexpected consequences and if Eve Miteldon Kelly is right: when one entity tries to improve its fitness or position, this may result in a worsening condition for others. Each ‘improvement’ in one entity therefore may impose associated ‘costs’ on other entities, either within the same system or on other related systems. Mitleton-Kelly (2003)

This has significant for the successful (or otherwise) implementation of school improvement agendas. Complexity theory would suggest that the emergence of winners brings about the emergence of losers. When schools are engaged in competitions for pupil numbers, for positions on a league table, for higher CVA ratings, it is not as if they are running on an Olympic race track with competing athletes to see who can run 100m the fastest: in the competition that Nursery School Cities are part of, the ‘front runners’ are partially responsible for determining the state of the race track of those lagging ‘behind’.

More on this at https://drnicko.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/how-does-a-creative-school-become-a-creative-city/

Poetry on the Hoof: What are you trying to sell?

Overblown overwrought slush puppies hush puppies
Kill your babies.
This drip drip drip drip drip insidious rush
Filling the air like a full time nanny
Weasingly her way on a  roll of
Irritatingly blindingly supremely
Fuckingly all round the bend disbelief
Save for an odd moment of peace.
That would be nice
A silent moment
Nothing heard no-one no how
Chance would be  a fine thing.
Oh stop your warbling sugar coat
Saccarhine strumpet nonsense.
Switch off that Egg roll
dosing us up to our eyeballs
With manipulated secreted violented
Slush slish slash
Get out of my town fast
And call a halt to your
Internminable intangible curruscating
Bilge water that is
Drippping dripping dribbling down
Our chins until yes we yes
We yes please yes yes yes yes
Stop.
Whew.

(After a day in Beaumaris, performed by teachers and local authority officers.)