Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juli 2006

3.1. Die globalen Probleme des modernen kulturellen Prozesses
Herausgeber | Editors | Éditeurs: Michail Blumenkrantz (Charkow/München), Emelda Ngufor Samba (University of Yaounde 1), Michael Wimmer (Educult, Wien)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

It is time to make use of the arts in education and vice versa

Some remarks on the changing relationship between arts and education from an European perspective

Michael Wimmer (Educult, Wien)



If you ever spoke with a civil servant from a culture department and mentioned the word "education"; and he or she started back by stammering: I am not responsible for that, go to the school department". Then you know - here we have a problem. And if you start a discussion with a teacher trying to make him enthusiastic about examining the arts in schools and he or she replies: "No, I do not understand the arts at all. I am just a teacher". Then you might deal with the same sort of problem. And when you look at some results of public opinion research answering the question what is least important in a school curriculum and it is cultural education. Then you have already a rather comprehensive picture about the relationship or better non-relationship between arts and education in European societies of today.

In a first effort at explanation I found in a publication concerning the "educational complex" written by the Austrian artist Rainer Ganaal: He argues that education and educational institutions still can be seen as the location where the arts find its hated opposite. No doubt: There is still a severe gap between the world of education and the world of the arts.

What are the reasons for that? And, even more important: Is this gap still appropriate to the actual stage of development of modern societies?

My remarks on this issue start form the position of a suffering practitioner being day by day confronted with this gap and its respective speechlessness. It is part of my professional life to act day by day as a kind of turning point person trying to translate the "culture" of the arts world to the educational world and vice versa. For doing so it is less and less enough to bring in idealism or even enthusiasm. What is really needed is professionalism backed up by expertise that is provided by a new policy and expert field let us call it artsandeducation.

That is the reason, why a couple of equally cultural and educational institutions throughout Europe, where the organisation I come from is one of the members, founded a European network artsandeducation three years ago. The activities of this network are mainly dedicated to lobbying, to exchange good practice and to facilitate research work in this new policy and expert field. I am not going at this point to explain our lobbying strategy. I just want to mention that these organisations do have quite different focuses, but are prepared to work internationally and to bring in their expertise in the field of education, culture, youth, science of community work.

Instead I would like to try to examine the above questions; maybe not to answer them completely but at least to bring our professional feet down to earth for further action.


The paradigm change in society

In these days the term paradigm change seems to be rather overworked and often used incorrectly. In its proper sense it means a change in fundamental assumptions, attitudes and practices taken for granted which characterise systems of organisation and thought. And I am rather sure that these fundamental changes take place at the moment in more or less all social sub-systems that are characteristic of the structure of modern societies.

Politically - and please take into account my European point of perspective - the restructuring of Europe in the post-Cold-War period is redefining established political boundaries both as Europe strives to unify itself and as historical communities assert theirs claims of political recognition and independence.

Even more demanding for the traditional cultural and educational systems are the economic changes, e.g. to equip young people with the knowledge and skills they will need to make their way in this increasingly complex world of political, economic and social interdependence and competition. Many of these economic changes are driven technologically by accelerating innovations in electronically based information and communication systems. This means a shift from a production-based to a more service- and information-based economy that requires people with much higher skill levels than the schools are currently preparing them for. That means also to witness major changes in both the nature and the rhythms of employment and leisure time.

Restructuring the politico-economic frame means also to bring aboutconsiderable social changes, both as international as well as domestic phenomena. We are witnessing major transformations in the patterns of family life and community life. The new economies are also bringing with them a social cost, as old industrial structures begin to break down. In many countries there are mounting problems of social exclusion and social disaffection, as young and older people as well as migrants are either excluded from, or deliberately opting out of current patterns of work employment and social participation.

Culturally we are confronted with an enormous diversity of cultural values and practices. It means that we have to learn how to respect cultural differences and commonalties within the process of pursuing common cultural, political and economic interests not only on a European level. Educationally this means to have to prepare young people to engage with cultural diversity as well as to develop their own senses of cultural identity in a world where values, identity and lifestyles are changing at an unprecedented rate.

What do these changes mean for arts and education, and maybe for both of them?

Starting with education we have to take into account that the fundamental assumptions about the educational sector, to be more precise, about schooling, are based in 19 th century thought. They are rooted in the assumption of an industrial economy with a strict division of labour (we still can find that our traditional school curriculum is divided into 10 or 12 subjects). We (and especially teachers never leaving their classroom) are still used to see education as a linear process of preparing young people to take up roles in economic systems based on industrial production. These economies have relied on large manual work forces, managed by a relatively small professional class. For this reason our traditional educational systems are still favouring young people with specific academic skills and widely neglecting what might make up the rest of their comprehensive personality.

Hopefully it is not just me to see the necessity of fundamental changes within the traditional educational systems. But what could or should they look like?


Towards Reinventing education

A few months ago an Italian-Austrian conference took place in Venice with the title: "With Creativity in the Future of Schools". All European experts agreed on a concept of a new "culture" of learning and teaching. It was common sense that such a new culture in the school has to overcome the old concept of dividing the world into isolated subjects and to work much more project-oriented, interdisciplinary, process-oriented, open for co-operation with experts and institutions in- and outside school.

Looking at examples of good practice in selected schools it can be easily found that this new culture of learning has a significant aesthetic or even artistic dimension. It allows, in a specific way, co-operation with artists and other representatives of cultural institutions to deal with problems in which young people are directly involved. And therefore it makes pupils and students much more motivated to take part actively in this common learning processes. This way of learning is much more oriented towards practical experience than to abstract knowledge. Therefore it opens a chance for creative solutions.

All experts agreed in the findings that the teaching of creativity cannot be isolated in one or two subjects on the margins of the curriculum (as we do have it at the moment in most European countries, in the form of a cultural ghetto somewhere on the margins of the curriculum). It has to be an integral part of all learning processes. Creativity should be dealt as a kind of general learning principle which makes the whole of the curriculum a vivid realisation of a new culture of learning taking into account the new technological developments and the actual cultural needs and interests of pupils and students.

Not being narrowed to the mediation of verbally repeatable academic skills such new learning processes are producing positive results in a wide range of different topics. One example is surely the ability of certain "outsider" school students to better function in groups. The success can be easily measured by the preparedness of students to learn, such as when they present creative solutions of their own volition, whereas once they might have been felt to be incapable of coming up with such ideas.

Speaking for a moment in cultural policy terms a further positive effect is that such an experience is often part of a first contact with art and this contact is concrete and relates to the living conditions of the young people. According to that we have to take into account, that school cannot be seen any more as a closed shop. The dramatically changing arena outside school, I tried to characterise above, is more and more influencing what is happening in school, e.g. the creative industries are providing more and more attractive offers to play and learn and by that put schools under considerable pressure to open their doors for co-operation with cultural institutions and arts organisation to make learning processes more attractive and at the same time more productive. Remember: the pupils have the choice between Nintendo and an old fashioned fine art lesson. It is us to find a sufficient answer as to what they will choose.

I am convinced that in this respect examining the role of the arts and culture can be a positive contribution to make school fit for this new competition. More than that the necessity of providing new ways of learning, it becomes clear that both areas, the arts as well as education, have the chance to rediscover conceptually and methodically their similarities and therefore to support each other mutually for their further development.

The Austrian Ministry of Education, Science and Culture is proclaiming the slogan "Education is More" saying that contemporary educational policy concepts cannot be narrowed to the henchmanship of the requirements of a labour market, of which nobody knows how it will look like in a few years time. This seems to me a good sign. At the same time there is some research work done in Germany to find appropriate methods to make young people find their way in a widely undefined future. In detail to find out in which respect cultural education and more closely examining the arts in school may contribute to the development of key competencies of young people.

It is obvious that the information-society of tomorrow will be less based on specific academic skills of the individuals (nobody knows which of them will be needed in a few years time) but more on key competencies to be trained in a life long learning process. This concept of key competencies is quite open (which makes it sometimes difficult to assess it) but connected with the dynamics of social development. Therefore it has to do with permanently changing living and working conditions in an intercultural society, in detail with the ability to take advantage of the different cultural techniques (is it language or is it ICT) in an intercultural context (with which we are confronted in a more and more globalised world) but also with self-esteem, adaptability, mobility and flexibility and to have the ability to solve problems, act in teams or take part in society actively and creatively.


The changing role of teachers

Trying to implement this new culture of learning and teaching we have to take into account the need to change the professional role of teachers. In the old system they found their identity as a frontal knowledge mediator transmitting repeatable packages of information, whereas in the new settings their skills as sensible moderators of common learning processes become more and more important.

To give an example: A school class at a polytechnic where a teacher together with his pupils invited two new media artists to take part in a project on ecology. The artists started their performance and it was obvious that the young people did not agree in their work. During a break the students went to their teacher asking him to stop: We do not understand what they are doing. And we do not like it. The teacher answered: I do not understand it either. But I would like to try to follow this experiment. We’ll see, maybe we’ll change our mind. And the young people did. After the break there was suddenly the point where most of them got involved actively and started to enjoy the co-operation. Some of them kept in touch the two artists long after the official end of the project..

In this example the role of the teacher seems to me decisive. He gave up his role as the only one in the classroom to know everything, but started mainly to function like a back-bone, offering the young people not knowledge but trust in the process, and thus fostering their self-esteem.


Towards reinventing the Arts

If you like the current trends in the art world then you may easily find out that participatory approaches become more and more important. This is not really something completely new (e.g. if you look at all the attempts of the last century to reconcile the arts with the practise of living) but it is - also driven by the claims of our democratic societies - now influenced by the question which role the arts will or should play in society in the view of this paradigm change we are all confronted with.

In this respect it seems to me rather conspicuous that more and more artists have become rather feed up acting during the last years in a kind of cultural ghetto called "pure autonomy" somewhere on the margins of the actual political, social, but also educational developments. They are going to redefine the arts as not just a sophisticated commodity for the educated few. Instead they are interested in interactive processes where new audiences are actively involved. That means to intervene in more or less all social fields to communicate with new people and by that overcoming traditional not only sectoral but also mental borders.

In these artistic interventions arts production is continually losing its significance in comparison with art processes. That means that traditional barriers between art producers and art recipients are going to be bridged by new art communication and co-operation methods. And the traditionally inclined plane between artists on one side and the audience on the other becomes more balanced.

More and more artists are convinced that this kind of immediate co-operation becomes essential for their work. I need this kind of feed back from young people, otherwise I cannot compose any more, I heard one of the participating composers saying.

These new artistic approaches are fostering my suspicion that - looking at the realities of how educational and how artistic processes are organised - the old categorical division between education as the world of order and the arts as the world of chaos does not work any more. Instead of that we find that both are driven by process orientation, by active participation of all those being involved in these processes, by a common experience and the necessity to make use of all the resources the participants are prepared to bring.

To go a little bit more into detail in this process of restructuring Arts and Education

my organisation was commissioned by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to do some Research on how this gap between the arts and education could be bridged and to find out what productive outcomes could be attained by this new co-operation.

As a prerequisite to answer this question we defined four interfaces that might be crucial. One is on the policy level, one describes the methods of how to deal with the arts in school, one is on the provision of educational programmes of cultural institutions and one is on the training of teachers and artists.

Let me give you in the following just a few impressions of the current situation at these four interfaces.


The Interface between cultural and educational policy

To start with the interface between cultural and educational policy. A few weeks ago the Dutch Government invited experts from all over Europe to discuss our project. During this conference "a must or a-muse" it became evident, that in most of the European countries the existence of a national policy in the field of arts and education was more or less unknown. Also on a European level within the European Commission the necessity to combine cultural and educational issues in a synergetic way seems to be quite a new problem.

In most of the countries the competencies for arts, culture and education are divided in different ministries with the results that those responsible and in charge to not talk to each other or even know each other. The Dutch government seems to be quite an exception, when they organised not only a common ministry but also a common policy. Consequently a lot of interesting measures like the implementation of a new synergetic subject "cultural and artistic education" could proceed, together with a voucher-system with the help of which young people can visit cultural activities of their choice and discuss it in school. And it can be said that these measures have led to a more positive public opinion towards these kinds of cultural activities.

According to its role of a forerunner, the Dutch government proposed the establishment of a European wide network of decision makers to put the necessity of combining cultural and educational issues on the agenda on all political and administrative levels. The participants agreed on a list of recommendations encouraging the European Union as well as National Governments to formulate a proactive policy in the field of arts and education. Especially the need of a closer co-operation between schools and cultural institutions should be taken into account.

So at least a common start has been made.


The interface between the Arts and schools

I already gave a first insight into the marginalised way the arts are treated in most of the curricula in Europe. It was Ken Robinson, former professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick, who was commissioned by the Council of Europe to undertake a survey on the importance of the Arts in the individual educational systems. And his results were more than frustrating. In most of the countries it is just music and fine Arts that are obligatory; the many other art forms do not play any role. More than that, concerning the content of the art lessons there are, with only a few exemptions, no systematic efforts to take contemporary art forms into account.

One of the political answers to these disturbing results is the establishment of some service organisations that are promoting especially contemporary art forms in schools.

One of them, the Austrian Culture Service (ÖKS), I was heading of for many years, I would like to present to you in a few words.

ÖKS was founded as an arm’s length organisation of the Austrian ministry of education, science and culture to provide special services for schools, individual artists and arts organisations that are willing to cooperate. It was founded more than 20 years ago  after a socio-empirical survey had found that the cultural behaviour of the Austrian population was minimal (e.g.. they read just 1.5 books per year or knew theatre just from outside of the building). Therefore a comprehensive catalogue of cultural policy measures was formulated. One of the measures was to establish the Austrian Culture Service, to give especially young people a broader access to all kinds of contemporary art forms. They should be able to come in personal contact with artists and, if possible, not just look or listen to their art but to work together with them.

Meanwhile we provide more than 3 000 so-called dialogue-meetings in schools all over the country whereby artists of all disciplines, writers, musicians, actors, dancers, fine artists, architects, designers or new media specialists are enriching the everyday curriculum. It is normally the teacher who is defining the framework and who is using the ÖKS as an expert institution to provide information, contact, experience, and to get money especially for the fees of the artists.

For us especially personal art mediation provided by the artists assumes a position of particular significance. That is what we call the ÖKS method. The result is a close interaction between teachers, artists and pupils and thus a whole new dimension in interactive learning processes understood as a kind of avant-garde approach within cultural education.

On the other hand we are working together not only with schools but also with cultural institutions and arts organisations that are willing and prepared to work together with schools more closely. Together with them we organise quite elaborated cultural projects negotiating themes that are normally neglected in the everyday curriculum. These projects can be art based or reflect actual themes by using aesthetic approaches, such as how to find new co-operation forms between schools and museums by using new media (museum online), how to express the need for tolerance to overcome xenophobia or how to take advantage of the European integration process.

The last years we also took advantage of being something like a missing link between the political and administrative system on one hand and particular schools and cultural institutions on the other by participating in the development of structural measures, e.g.. to support schools to develop their own cultural profile, to train teachers especially engaged in cultural activities to become their own project managers, to provide schools with an own budget dedicated to cultural activities or to support Arts organisations by developing elaborated arts mediation programmes.

To give an example of an Arts mediation project in school that is combining cultural and educational policy issues in a quite elaborated methodical setting: It is called "Soundweb" and it is bringing together musicians, composers, teachers and pupils. It starts with a training programme for artists and teachers where the methodical background is explained and teams are built. These teams work for about three months in school, where the ideas of the pupils are the most important resource. At the end of the process all participants are prepared to go on stage, for example during a festival of new music, where they can present the outcome to a broader public.

"Soundweb" is not just an isolated activity. "Soundweb" is an Arts project and at the same time an educational method: further the project provides a lot of spill over effects with at least possible structural consequences that could be taken into account: "Soundweb" is a training programme for teachers as cultural mediators, and it is a training programme for artists to enrich their professional role. It is part of the actual curriculum development in schools and in arts universities. It can be used as a tool to support new ways of realisation for musicians and all together to establish an attractive learning setting for young people.


The interface between education and cultural institutions/arts organisations

In many European countries it is quite a new fact that cultural institutions are providing educational programmes. In doing so they are sometimes supported by cultural policy measures, e.g. in Great Britain where meanwhile about 80% of the money spent for cultural institutions is dedicated to educational activities. Also in the Netherlands where there are special incentives for cultural institutions to make new target groups active participants of their programmes.

On the other hand e.g. in my country this trend seems to be rather new. Cultural institutions are firstly seen as places where arts production or arts presentation takes place. It is mainly decreasing public funding that constrains cultural institutions to come in contact with people in a sustainable way that have been neglected in the old frame of "high culture for the educated few and mass culture for the big rest".

For most of the institutions it did not become evident up to now that the provision of educational programmes for new audiences does not mean just to facilitate additional activities on the margins of the business, but to change the whole profile of the institutions and therefore also the way the arts are dealt with in the whole apparatus.

One of the key questions in this respect seems to me the development of appropriate quality criteria that are not only aesthetically biased but equally pedagogically. That is quite a challenge for many representatives of cultural institutions that are now forced to take into account also new methodical and didactical dimensions without loosing the aesthetical ones.

In this respect it was rather helpful when the Arts Council of England edited a guide for arts organisations how to build better relationships with schools.


The interface between the Arts and the job outline of artists

It was the famous conductor Simon Rattle quoting in a report for the British government to implement a focal point for creativity in school with the title "All our future": "The artist of the next century will have to be an educator, too".

Looking at the actual trends in the arts we easily find out that the traditional job outline of the artist does not correspond any more with the arts business of today. The notion of being an artist was developed sometimes in the 19 th century along with the idea of a lonely genius producing art just for his or her own sake and having nothing in mind like teamwork, project management or entrepreneurship and being involved in all kinds of communication.

While a survey (in Austria) found out that in the meantime only 27% of artists are engaged in pure art work, 25% in applied art, but 28% in art mediation and art education activities most of the higher arts education institutes and their training provisions do not take into account these new circumstances. The result is that most of the artist that are joining educational activities today are not trained for that. This makes it not easy to define quality criteria in this field or even discuss methodological questions. But the artist has to develop an elaborated role as an expert in aesthetics together with the teacher with his pedagogical know how and the pupils with their resources to make common learning processes productive.

And these skills have to be trained quite well.

With the support of the European Commission a series of transnational projects started to enrich the job outline of artists. To enlarge the job profile especially in the direction of education the project "be prepared" makes artists their own art mediators.

In special training settings artists get an insight in didactics, learn to define their roles in educational activities and reflect on the outcomes.

Another project is "transmission" run by the Royal National Theatre in London in co-operation with Dutch, Finnish, Greek and Austrian partners, equally based on research, training and performance in this field. Thanks to this project, for the first time a synopsis of training and performing institutes at least on European level that are prepared to take new job outlines into account in the provision of their trainings was made possible.

I come to my conclusion. My thinking is driven by the hypothesis that at a certain stage of the development of modern societies it might have made sense to organise a strict division of labour between the arts and education. However in the present situation, that is still hidden behind the mist of everyday routines, it might not be the case any more. What we can see is a new network of communication and co-operation that does not find its end in front of all the traditional frontlines drawn sometimes in the last century.

The arts are one of the outstanding tools to question, and more than that, to liquidise old structures. And education can be seen as the other side of the medal putting in practise what was brought on the agenda by the arts. Both are supplementing each other as a kind of communicating tubes that give way for equally social and individual development .

A lot still has to be done. Is it the formulation and implementation of national policies in this field; is it the reorganisation of school alongside new social realities, is it the reprofiling of arts organisations functioning as education providers by using artistic means or is it the reorganisation of the training of teachers and artists that are willing to bring their pedagogic and aesthetic skills to a common learning processes.

This kind of comprehensive reform is the necessary prerequisite for the establishment of a modern learning society where the Arts not just play a marginalised role in the leisure time of the educated few and learning is no longer narrowed to the concept of traditional schooling but is understood as a lifelong attitude for lifelong development.

© Michael Wimmer (Educult, Wien)

3.1. Die globalen Probleme des modernen kulturellen Prozesses

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For quotation purposes:
Michael Wimmer (Educult, Wien): It is time to make use of the arts in education and vice versa. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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