Building Blocks / Breaking Rocks (2018) draws on the knowledge, expertise and practices of two artists/educators/teachers working in collaboration with a group of children from two local primary schools where, for one reason or another, an art oriented pedagogy is supported and enabled to flourish. For one artist/educator, art emerges because of the school structures that provide resources (including the employment of a qualified artist/educator) for children, across the school, who reveal an interest in art to participate in regular art learning experiences. For the other qualified artist/teacher, art is an identifiable learning area, noted on the weekly programme in anticipation that all children in attendance in that class will engage, with art, its makings
The conceptual framing for this exhibition emerged as a result of an ongoing Art at Work project, a collaborative and accumulative project that is interested in examining the past-present-future relationships between art and education in Aotearoa New Zealand. Art at Work initially emerged in 2013 as a result of research (with exhibition, see Art at Work: https://www.artandeducation.co.nz/art-at-work-2013 ) in memory of the passing away of educator, Elwyn Richardson, and his relationship with artist, Jim Allen.
Elwyn Richardson’s work that promoted an art(full) inquiry approach to education is well documented in his book, In the early world (1964). The dynamic art (and craft) work that Richardson achieved with children in attendance at Oruaiti Primary School was accomplished because of both, the significance attributed back then to art as an important vital way of knowing the world, as well as the collaborative relationships that existed between Elwyn (i.e. teachers) and artists, such as artist Jim Allen. Back in 1953, when Jim Allen was initially employed by Gordon Tovey as an Art Adviser for the then Department of Education, he was sent up to North for some time to work very closely with Richardson (and the wider communities that surrounded Oruaiti) to develop ways of working with art (and craft), in education, with children, teachers and their families, in the community. The ways that emerged were innovative and responsive to then contemporary theories and technologies that had relevance to both art and education. Recently, in part, because of considerable concern regarding the status of art in education, this history, other local histories, have ignited considerable interest (see, for example, Bieringa, 2016; Craw & O’Sullivan, 2016; MacDonald, 2016; O’Sullivan & Craw, 2015).
Overtime, the practice of artists working collaboratively and productively with teachers in ways that ensures that rich and diverse learning outcomes are achieved for ALL children has been explored in a number of ways, in different contexts. In particular, the ongoing highly influential art and education project work that has emerged from the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy (see Vecchi, 2010), this work has had considerable international influence. While there have been and are attempts to establish something similar in Aotearoa NZ, without ongoing government support these endeavours fail to thrive in any significant way. Since specific funding budgets for art in primary schools was cut in 2010, the mandate for literacy and numeracy has accumulated an extra strong hold. This emphasis has resulted in a considerable absence of any informative knowledge and understanding of (contemporary) art practices, its resources and facilities, in schools - something that is also reflected in many initial teacher education (ITE) university’s modern learning environments, and in their programmes offered to student teachers.
...the arts ...are integral and inseparable parts of what it is to be human... The challenge ... is that the benefits of art, ...[is] not always readily available to every New Zealander. [It] should be. Every one of us
Jacinda Adern1, Minister of Arts, Culture & Heritage, 2018
We have yet to understand the current policy directions for art in education as they might (not) be reflected in the recent speeches delivered by Jacinda Adern, our Minister for Arts, Culture & Heritage. In an earlier speech, Adern states, “[a]rts and culture are not a ‘nice to have’. They are an essential part of our individual, community and national identity. For too long they have been treated differently when it comes to sustainable growth, career paths and economic benefits,” (n.p.). Adern’s speeches emphasise the importance of galleries and museums, the sustainability of art in our communities, this is so great. The ‘pedagogical turn’ discourses in art are very much alive, and effective: the galleries, museums and other community sites that are taking up this challenge and making art available in the community, to wider audiences, are gaining considerable momentum, perhaps. With and alongside this, the business of art education is growing too. However, what’s missing in Adern’s speeches is any articulated wisdom that makes the connections with how essential the benefits of art might be being played out (yet), let alone be readily available in the everyday lives of ALL children within the childhood milieu of its more formal public educational institutions.
Making public – we’re all in this together
Building Blocks / Breaking Rocks (2018) positions children’s art works, once again, outside of education, in the public world of art. This positioning can be understood as an act of aesthetic experimentation with places where traditionally still dominant somewhat hierarchical, if not mythical, categorisations easily prevail: artist/audience, art/pedagogy, art/education-education/art, teacher/student, adult/child, nature/nurture. It is anticipated that this exhibition-making act(ivism) will contribute to a disruption of the restrictive discourses that inform a knowledge of child, and/or other, identities and the easy categorisations that persist...
A collective assemblage of desire:
“...is not an individual feature, but rather a feature of the ‘pack’. We exist in ‘packs’ and we do unconsciously. We... must avoid all attempts to ‘speak for the other’ ...in favour of focusing the ...childhood milieu and the staging of places where collective assemblages of desire can construct themselves in unexpected not yet defined ways.
(Olsson, Dhalberg & Theorell, 2016, p. 736).
Both building and breaking are construction site activities, blocks and rocks are construction site tools – these activities and tools are synonymous with childhood. We are hopeful that positioning children’s art work in the gallery, a site where art is staged, culture and knowledge are produced, contributes something to constructing spaces that are capable of contesting and offering alternative child- identity discourses, ones that enable the milieu of childhood, of children, to be immersed in the wholeness of that which they/we are studying – art, life? As a result, it is expected that the child- art practices that emerge inside/outside education develop a capacity to widen the engaging (with) art offerings available to and with children – and others in their lives. Children, their families, art, artists, teachers, and educators, as a result, will experience a greater sense of knowing art and the aesthetic agency art, its makings, offer - in much more than ‘nice to have’ ways, but rather in complex ways that are recognised as integral and inseparable parts of what it means to be child, human.