What is Art Education? Symposium Kulturvermittlung/ Art education conference

Day One: Symposium Kulturvermittlung/ Art education conference, St. Pölten

(c) Renata Behncke/RBbureau.com
 Attending the Symposium Kulturvermittlung/Art education conference in St. Pölten, Austria May 10-11th, I entered into a  modern silver building that sheltered a diverse public display of scientific objects and interactive experiments special designed for diverse audiences.  Throughout the symposium I saw how both adults and children who were visiting were kept fully engaged.  Greeting Diana Costa, an art educator and one of the organisors of the symposium,  I commented how apt a location The Landesmuseum was for the symposium. This museum was a living example of how art education can be interactive, engaging, question-based and exciting.  It nestled next an equally impressive Festspielhaus (festival house) that hosted a performance based on a concept from the Sadler`s Wells:  "Alles Beweg" "Everything in Motion".  This modern complex bursting full of culture in a seemingly sleepy town outside of Vienna, fit perfectly for these dynamic three days of collaboration and participation.
     Delegates greeted each other and there was a buzz of anticipation...what exactly is art education and mediation? This pertinent topic has no doubt been part of everyday practice for professionals taking part in this symposium.  Already there was a diverse background of artists, cultural producers, teachers from a variety of disciplines, politicians and policy makers, education and outreach officers, arts and science administrators and we were all here to find some answers to this question.

(c) Renata Behncke/RBbureau.com
To a packed audience there was a short and sharp welcome from the director of the Landesmuseum, followed by a dynamic opening presentation from Markus Hengstschläger, Zentrum für Pathobiochemie und Genetik.  Medizinische Universität Wien. (Center for Pathobiochemistry and genetic from the Medical University Vienna). His main point focused on the fact that humans are creative, this is what makes us human.  Though echoed often, this point is perhaps worth such repetition since there are still so many of us that are faced a baying call of children and adults who insist “I can`t do this, I´m not creative”!  As this point is elaborated upon throughout his speech, I-and perhaps many others in the audience-are reminded of the courses and workshops where it is not about if you are creative or not, but more about if there is enough room for the diverse expressions of creativity, which includes problem solving in ways that are different from that of the teacher/course leader and are valid despite their differences.  Hengstschläger embellished upon this pointing out that healthy individuality-not selfish individualism-reveal themselves through creativity and so creating an environment that can nurture diverse expressions of creativity, in turn nurtures healthy individuality and not selfish individualism.
    Hengstschläger made an interesting analogy between plants and humans to talk about the meaning of art mediation.  An asexual plant is lacking individuality, this plant interacts with other plants and it is through this interaction where the individuality is revealed.  Through team work, the individuality becomes evident where it was once lacking.
    The next generation will have to learn more about how to interact with the other plants and so there can be greater understanding of how we can work as a team. Collaboration, brings about greater benefits, more diversity and as a result a richer cultural fabric of life.  Evolution.
(c) Renata Behncke/RBbureau.com
Hengstschläger reminded the audience that humans are mammals as well, however humans have the advantage of being able to practice, practice, practice until they get better.  Genetics do play a part.  “No matter how hard I practice, I probably won`t be able to sing as well as Placido Domingo”.  Genetically we are given gifts and these gifts allow us the potential to be something more.  Cultural, factors like environment, parenting, schooling friendships and working environment or for plants then these are the environmental factors, these circumstances determine if these gifts can then be nurtured, or discouraged.
    Just as we were pondering on this biogenetic approach, a man dressed in a Maestro jacket, 5 foot tall, with long black tails and hair silently stood before us, poised with his conductors batten  as if we were the musicians. 
(c) Renata Behncke/RBbureau.com
A few people, including myself started fidgeting uncomfortably in their seats.  What were we expected to do?  Was this what children felt like faced with our expectations?    His expressive face soon calmed our concern and captured the attention of the audience with his conductor`s batten.  After dividing the audience into three parts, without words, through gestures, he commanded the first part of the audience to clap once at his signal.  The second part clapped twice and the third part three times.  After a few false starts, under his conduction, he had everyone ricocheting off each other with a series of claps.
      During an engaging lunch I was able to discuss occidental and oriental exhibition practices for an exhibition that I had supported with photographs and film from Potala palace in Tibet with a young woman studying art history and focusing on Buddhist art in Northern India.
(c) Renata Behncke/RBbureau.com
(c) Renata Behncke/RBbureau.com
     After lunch, four of us met up in a darken room with a large screen used as the museum`s cinema.  Romy SuperSoulMe,  a new association in Vienna that won the social innovation prize at The Hub, was hosting a dance workshop using techniques and games that I recognised as being from Augusto Boal . In order to have a focus of discussion, we actually went through a workshop in the role of a challenging participant.  Having designed courses for young teenagers with professional dancers recently, I decided to take on the role of annoying and difficult teenager.  What I discovered through this role play in the workshop, was that is was all just a game to them. The aim of the game was trying to see how far I could push the facilitator before they would snap and loose concentration.  Romy, reacted very well to my annoying comments and responded by pointing out that I was the only one in the class that was not breathing or standing in a way that would help my movements.  So, by drawing the naughty teenager`s attention back onto themselves and how they could improve. I found through this role play that this is where my attention shifted.  This was an excellent tactic to address the naughty teenager intent on disturbances.  So, the focus is on merely pointing out that they are ‘shooting themselves in their own foot’ by not paying attention to their own movements, because then the dance moves only become harder for themselves.  This, I found is a better strategy than battling against their complaints. It was a fascinating experience to be ‘on the other side’ so to speak and I recommend this kind of role play training to resolve challenges that you might be facing in your own courses and practices.
     As we wrapped up our findings of the first day, we became increasingly art education is without borders.  Or that those borders are flexible enough to interact across disciplines and that the less you control the outcome and just go with the circumstances as is, that is when the greatest opportunity for diverse creative expressions can be released.