Since the movement began, Teaching Artists have had to work in classrooms and communities with the resources and spaces they were given. The business of the Teaching Artist has been to apply those skills in a range of spaces. As a musician or visual artist, writer or dancer, they have had to work with a space that is rarely ideal. Classrooms often contain a range of expectations for the participants, the artists and the teachers, as well as being cluttered with other learning resources, while halls and community spaces can sometimes feel too temporary or makeshift.
Many galleries, community hubs and libraries now contain allocated areas for making activities, often specifically for children. In Australia, for example, many new libraries contain ‘Maker Spaces’ and every major gallery has a family creative activity area – usually associated with the current exhibition.
However, in the last twenty years there has begun a new international movement of spaces specifically designed to house teaching artistry. The Ark in Dublin, ArtPlay in Melbourne and Playeum in Singapore each represent purpose designed spaces for intergenerational creative activity lead by Teaching Artists. Each of these examples offer flexible and dynamic designed spaces for a range of creative activities. The nature of these spaces help to support the practice of the Teaching Artists and, to be successful, need to reflect and complement that practice.
The Ark was Europe’s first purpose built cultural centre for children, developed as part of an urban regeneration project following Dublin as European City of Culture in 1990. The Ark has a purpose-built theatre for children, top-floor workshop for artists-in-residence and exhibition space for work by, with, for and about children. Playeum formed as a response to a very controlled curriculum of activities for young children in Singapore and engages artists to design interactive exhibitions and workshops for children and families in a space based in the gallery precinct of the city. ArtPlay is a City Council driven program of activities for children and families in the heart of Melbourne, Australia, sited in an old train repair warehouse and has become a national example of best practice.
On my recent invitation to Korea by KACES I was pleased to visit some new exciting initiatives that are part of this international movement to refurbish existing buildings and creating exciting new opportunities for community creativity and connectivity.
Our key forum was at B39 in Seoul. This old incinerator building houses galleries and activity spaces for a broad community and oozes creativity. It has, like many of these buildings, found the balance between an efficient industrial design style while retaining the soul of the building. A common factor of many of these refurbishments is to embrace and share the many previous lives and stories of the structure yet appear fresh and dynamic to new users. B39 is a fabulous space with so much potential – revitalizing an area of the city and offering new opportunities for creative exchange. In the forum itself many ideas and projects were shared, showing a real desire to exploit similar structures across the country to offer new creative spaces for intergenerational groups to gather, make and share.
My second day in Korea took us out of the city to visit Jeonju City in the Northern Jeolia Province. Travelling with Fran Edgerley from ‘assemble’ in the UK, I had the opportunity to see two new initiatives in action. Both the Art-Police centre in Deokjin and the Factory in Palbok demonstrated a commitment to re-utilising spaces for community gathering and creativity. The small police house, included multiple spaces with intriguing and thoughtful names (“sometimes together”, “often by myself” and “always a room with noise”) provides an unusual mix of arts activity, art therapy and domesticity on a human scale. The Factory in Palbok couldn’t be more different in many ways: a large scale building with enormous spaces but with plans for redevelopment imminent. Both spaces, although very different, actually offer the same set of common factors that enable creative intergenerational participation.
In a forum at the Factory in Palbok three other projects were shared with a group of representatives from local cultural and arts organisations, local government staff and individual artists. It was clear that there were common factors linking all these initiatives, both in the forum and in the examples we had visited. So what are these factors?
Essentially these newly developed spaces will support creative activity by providing dedicated spaces that display some of the following:
- A space that reflects the activity that is going to go on inside: If you intend to ‘preach and teach’ to a passive audience then you need a space where the seats are in rows and the teacher is at the head of the class, however if you want to create open learning spaces where all participants become teachers and learners together, then a different form is needed. Open and flexible areas that allow for democratic control of space is vital to break the mould of teacher/learner. Teaching artists thrive in spaces where they are able to move between being primarily a teacher or a learner. Creating spaces where participants become researchers through practice is critical in empowering individuals and groups through creativity.
- Spaces that enable interdisciplinary approaches: Open spaces encouraging users to use a variety of materials in a range of ways are important in supporting imaginative playfulness. Providing space that doesn’t feel too precious is critical is supporting creative risk.
- A place that gives status to teaching artistry: for too long Teaching Artists have had to ‘make-do’ with secondary places to deliver programs. A Teaching Artist, or Socially Engaged Artist, will benefit from purpose designed spaces that enable them to do their job the best they can. This will reflect on their work and give higher status to their outcomes for participants, as well as modelling good practice for others.
- Places for people to gather and be together: Creative activities give people the opportunities to build new and solid relationships through shared making. Collaborative creativity builds trust and empathy, allowing people to share their viewpoints of the world. In addition these spaces offer the opportunity for Teaching Artists and their colleagues to gather and share practice – building their capacity to improve their own work and build the capacity of their sector.
- Embedding storytelling through the arts within spaces of history: Refurbishing old buildings that contain a sea of stories from the past encourages a new cycle of storytelling and sharing of new personal and cultural experiences.
- Flexibility in design that supports inclusive engagements by the public: People need a variety of learning resources and materials – offering spaces where that flexibility is inherent supports diversity and personalised learning and sharing. With ongoing projects, participants of all ages are able to become co-designers of the spaces in which they are working – encouraging higher engagement and a greater sense of ownership.
- Spaces that evidence sustainability describe how the practice of making and doing can also embrace sustainable approache: Authentic and well-worn materials provide highly suitable environments encouraging the use of similarly authentic and recycled materials by teaching artists and participants alike.
- Creative Dreaming: Simply the idea of spaces that support creative dreaming and innovative cross-overs of cultural and social expectations can free participants in creative programs to ‘think outside the box’ and be more exploratory themselves.
- Playfulness and fun: A playfulness with materials, place names and resources will encourage the interactions between artists and participants to be fun and enjoyable. These will become places for people to laugh and create together.
- Enlightened leadership: Places where the leadership and curation of the spaces is open to multimodal creativity and learning, and where creative risk is encouraged supports the long-term creation of cohesive and productive engaged citizens. The leadership of these spaces is so frequently overlooked and is critical to building a team of like-minded staff at all levels within the building.
These spaces embody a set of values that embrace inclusion, sustainability and democracy. They acknowledge that creating together in intergenerational groups fosters a sense of ownership, engagement and citizenship. Sharing recipes becomes symbolic of sharing culture, and creating large drawings together reflects a trust and celebration of difference.
Do we need these spaces for teaching artistry to flourish? Good teaching artistry has survived without, but what a difference to have new purpose built spaces bringing more people into the world of making and offering Teaching Artists an opportunity to develop new approaches and ideas in inspiring and open environments. These spaces represent the future – a new way of working and creating together.
I wish these new spaces in Korea all the best and intend to be back at ITAC 2020 when I might get the opportunity to visit them again to see how they are doing!
We hope to facilitate a visit by Hyejin Yang, Program Co-ordinator International Affairs Team, to Australia in 2019 to meet the ArTELIER team and present at a meeting in Sydney for potential delegates to ITAC 2020 in Seoul.