Monday, March 7, 2011

Arts Education Conference

We've all studied art in school and in college. Well almost, that’s if you consider the demographic of the students studying here at CEPT. Between Munnabhai, our in-house Xeroxman who coats pages with ink as we rush from jury to jury, Sameerbhai, our stationary quick fix who manages to stuff many rolls of paper, paints, pens and people in one small space, two art galleries, two theatre spaces, walls painted by students or waiting for such an honor, two resident artist spaces, several workshop spaces and much more, our everyday negotiations in the space in and around CEPT involves artistic and aesthetic exposure and engagement at one level or another. But for many students, and their teachers, arts and academics belong to two ostensibly contradictory poles.

To negotiate the distance between the two, efforts at the local, national and international level are being made. "With the economic crisis, the fear of terror attacks and the growing social unrest as the social gap widens, people are feeling insecure. Art helps you deal with the your insecurities as you have to deal with unfinished products all the time hence arts education is gathering considerable attention", opines Dr. Evelin Hust, Director of Goethe-Institut, which organised the Arts Education Conference (Bangalore) in collaboration with the India Foundation for the Arts. The conference brought together policy makers and practitioners interested in integrated art education for rural and urban students, children and adults living in troubled regions such as Kashmir, museum visitors etc. It also brought to the fore interesting pedagogical practices and projects recommended and implemented in Europe, Karnataka, Chennai, Kerela and other places.

One particularly interesting idea that was communicated through a hands on workshop by Dr. Manfred Schewe is the idea of using Theatre in the classroom to teach other mainstream subjects such as a Language class. Based on the premise that playing helps the learning process, a 2009 research by Wager, Belliveau, Beck and Lea published in 'Scenario', a specialized German magazine for teachers, shows that theatre not only creates a platform for intercultural awareness and exchange but it also could "bridge cultural and linguistic barriers". The benefits of such a pedagogical practice are manifold but let us explore what it means to learn with what the workshop leader called 'drama pedagogy'.

Try to visualize this, you are in a foreign language class. You are standing in a circle and the entire class represents 'one person' and this 'person' is a murder suspect. The teacher is 'in-role' of an inspector and asks you, the collective entity where you were last night, what you were doing, who you were with etc. The moment one player contradicts another, the 'murder suspect' i.e. the entire class, has contradicted itself and is found guilty. Imagine studying the entire time with such activities. Being present in the workshop, I can assure you Dr. Schewe had no issues of discipline, maintaining silence as the others strained to listen attentively, or participation as the non-threatening and playful approach invited even the shy ones to come forward. It gave a rightful space for the 'process' to take center stage as opposed to the 'product' and the exam. And more importantly, it allowed the participants the freedom and the space to fail and learn and fail again before learning some more.

The advent of such practices in formal and informal education is significant. And it will benefit many students. What is heartening is to observe the sudden surge of interest in arts education at the national and the international level. The Second World Conference on Arts Education was organised by UNESCO at Seoul this year amidst several other projects in Germany, Kashmir and other places. This conference is part of a larger movement of consciousness about arts education.

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