Our presentation, “The Musician in Society. From Craftsman to Creative Citizen”, was part of the ICON session at the Reflective Conservatoire (about practices of the Innovative Conservatoire), chaired by Celia Duffy. I had been looking forward to this lecture for already quite some time, as it closes a series of work on the musician in society, with exactly the focus from where I left in the beginning: the reality at conservatoires nowadays and in which way the institution lacks an understanding and consciousness of the social reality of the community outside of itself, especially when it comes to educating young musicians.
Previously at the conference: Gillian Moore, the facilitator of the invited panel “What does artistic citizenship mean for us as artists?”, which took place on the same morning as our presentation, asked an intriguing question: “Are we training artists in the right way to become artistic citizens?” This question leads perfectly to the perspective on artistic citizenship that Christina Guillaumier and I had chosen for our own presentation.
We started by framing artistic citizenship and providing just a few examples of engaged practice, to set the stage for context and possible practice, and collect three very basic premises to work form:
The arts are made for and by people.
Art making and art taking need to be integrated with personal and community life.
The arts as inherently social practices should be viewed, studied and practiced as forms of ethically guided citizenship.
As David Elliott puts it in the introduction of the wonderful publication Artistic Citizenship. Artistry, Social Responsibility, and Ethical Praxis: There is no option not to relate. Building on Bourdieu’s notion of “habitus” as the habits, skills, and dispositions of each and every one of us, drawn from our life experience, Christina and I argued that it is the responsibility of the institution to create an environment for students not just to understand and learn conceptually what Artistic Citizenship is. Students should instead be able to develop their own concept of it, through practice, and should be facilitated in this as an essential part of their professional education. This cannot be achieved through implementation of distinct subjects, courses or projects, but is rather meant as an essential foundation of the institution’s, teachers’ and students’ work, a foundation of relating and engaging.
A strong focus on mostly traditional professional profiles, virtually ignoring hybrid professional practices of today
A solid tradition that reproduces itself: Passed on from one-to-one teaching before and strengthened during the time at the conservatoire
Jazz & Pop practice is usually more diversified than practices in the classical, which is part of its own tradition, already including different kinds of performing situations, teaching, interdisciplinarity; but there is still a disconnection between conservatoire and society observable
As institutions, we need to change the self-understanding of our role as conservatoires within the perspective of lifelong learning, as “transitory stations”
There are lots of questions concerning these observations and their consequences. First of all, far from everybody would agree to these observations, for different reasons. There is no hard, or exact right or wrong in a complex area such as education; as these observations are made from a specific perspective and vision, and there are other, sometimes contrasting perspectives and visions as well.
Question are manifold as to which change of this situation is exactly necessary, and how this might possibly be put in practice. In our presentation, we chose the perspective of “transferable skills”, a term which has been coined by Helena Gaunt and that is actively used and practiced at ICON seminars, such as the recent seminar on listening. ICON operates from the conceptual framework of the arts as embedded, and being in the centre of our society, and aims to create strong relationships between practice and reflection, through an action research approach and feedback loops of doing and thinking. With transferable skills, we mean skills that are essentially trained through music: literally “musical skills”, which are then applied in and transferred to a huge variety of contexts, within and outside the strict realm of musical practice. These skills can then become “tools” of training artistic citizenship, as both students and teachers already practice these skills in their daily training; they understand the inner workings of these skills and already recognize them as essential, which makes them much easier to be made transferable.
Without being too concerned about working these concepts out in the presentation, we left the presentation itself open-ended at this point and made the direct transition to the practical ICON session, led by ICON Creative Directors Dinah Stabb and Jo Hensel, both from Guildhall. In this session, we did physical work with the group, as well as conducting a few exercises of listening, and by this putting the previously mentioned transferred skills in practice. What I personally found most striking in this session in its entirety was that what we at ICON call “transformative power” of the work that we do there, was observable in London as well, despite the short duration of the session with the group.
I am looking forward to continuing this work: at ICON, at the conservatoires where I am working, and most notably a series of workshops that I will conduct with others in the research environment of the HKU Utrechts Conservatoire, Studio 118. To be continued soon…
From 20th to 23rd of February, the Reflective Conservatoire Conference (RCC) took place at the Guildhall School for Music and Drama in London. This was the third and last in a series of three conferences and seminars regarding the artist in society (after the ICON seminar on listening in October 2017 and the Protean Musician conference in Oslo in November 2017), and by this represented a wonderful closure of a huge amount of input to be processed, specifically in regarding to conservatoire education. It was particularly fascinating to experience the three very different formats of these events: ICON’s interactive modes of engaging practice, Oslo’s small core group of “bright minds” (Darla Crispin) working on the theme of the Protean for three days, and the large scale and extensive program of the RCC.
Next to being an engaging conference, these days were a gathering of many friends and colleagues, from HKU, ArtEZ, the team of ICON creative directors, many former ICON participants and international networks such as the AEC or EPARM. It has been wonderful to experience these days with so many well-known – and new – people together. As the conference had an extremely extensive program, I could only attend a part of the presentations. I chose a few of them to write about here that I think were most remarkable, or most useful in the larger endeavor of developing a concept on the musician in society. Seen the length of this post, I also decided to write about the collaborative presentation with Christina Guillaumier, as well as the overarching ICON session in which we presented, at a slightly later moment in one or two weeks.
Opening by Helena Gaunt
On the first afternoon, after the initial welcome from Guildhall principal Lynne Williams, Vice-Principal & Director of Guildhall Innovation Helena Gaunt introduced the conference theme, its issues and challenges, and asked a few intriguing questions to inspire the participants’ thinking and engagement during the next few days.
Gaunt started with an elaboration of the theme of the Artist as Citizen – and why it is such an important one at this moment. We live in a time of both great pressure on, and enormous opportunity for the arts. Pressures are reducing of public subsidy, a lowering political will and, specifically in Great Britain, the very real threats to the quality of the arts coming with Brexit. Opportunities are digitalization, the rise of the creative industries, the process of moving into an experience culture, the continuous exploration of co-creation of artistic experiences, new domains of artists working as populations age; strategies of how we meet marginalized groups of society such as refugees, prisoners or mentally ill people, and addressing humanity in a time when we see major failures of leadership in our global corporate economies. According to Helena Gaunt, these pressures and opportunities ask us to dig down and think about what our purpose as artists is, or can be. What can the fundamental elements and characteristics of the arts – provoking, disturbing, illuminating – bring to the wider world?
Regarding changes and challenges that are provoked by the discussion of the artist as citizen, Gaunt touched on one aspect that is crucial to the fundamental values and principles of musicians in particular: the notion of craft. She observed that craft and academic or professional skills don’t seem to combine very well in our daily practice as musicians, and that there is a tension between them.
However, craft is so much about utility as well. The case of a glasblower illustrates this, as one who creates a most beautiful and artful object, which has a clear function at the same time as being artful. Gaunt suggests a shift in our understanding of craft towards being embedded in purpose and identity on the one hand, and expression in the world on the other. She calls this “expanded craft”: a partnering of values, rather than their separation. The interesting question for our practice and our education is then: How do we get these values to become partners?
Gaunt further elaborated on embedded craft, as being a concept that works across disciplines, sectors and cultures. Her elaboration was marked by four terms that each connect to a powerful pair of seemingly contradictory terms, which provide food for further thought:
Innovation: imagination and enterprise
Sustained purposeful work: doing/creating and reflecting
Connected communities: individual and ensembles
Resilience: perfection and lifelong growth
Especially the last pair is an interesting one for music education: Craft is often associated with perfection, exacerbated by virtuosity and the recording industry, among others. At the same time, however, the process of failing and trying again is utterly critical in order to develop continuous and lifelong learning.
At the end of Gaunt’s introduction we turned towards a more practical and explorative work form, in which the conference participants were asked to take a few minutes to collect “burning questions” about the conference theme of artists as citizens, and collect sources that illuminate the relationship between “artist” and “citizen”. Both could than be tweeted under the hashtag of the conference, and by this collected online. The resulting feed was projected onto the large screen, and be discussed further.
Keynote 1: Geoffrey Crossick “Arts, citizenship and civil society”
Professor of the Humanities, and Director of the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s Cultural Value Project Geoffrey Crossick offered the first keynote speech of the conference. He distinguished and elaborated on three dimensions of arts, citizenship and civil society:
artists as citizens
participants as citizens
how civil society & citizenship constituted through the arts
He discussed these dimension on the background of the report of the Cultural Value Project: Understanding the value of arts & culture; a large scale research project of the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC, see here for the final publication, written by Crossick & Patrycja Kaszynska). The leading question of the report was how we obtain evidence of that value of arts and culture in society. One of the report’s objectives was questioning claims of this value that weren’t supported by adequate evidence.
I found this notion of “adequate evidence” particularly intriguing, as it reminded me of the importance of artists as being researchers, as we ourselves are responsible for actually delivering data on the importance of our work, which goes much further than just telling our own stories and vision. From this perspective, Crossick made an important argument towards research in the arts: for a narrative about the arts’ values in society, from the perspective of the arts themselves. This narrative should not just consist of artists’ anecdotes, but should include research and outcomes based on actually useful data, which is essential for making specific aspects clear about one’s projects, their value and impact.
Crossick thinks of the report as a response to four key questions about the value of arts and culture:
Who wants to know and why? Governments always want to hear, but mostly in relation to economical values.
What is the phenomenon whose value we’re trying to understand? Most analysis’ look predominantly at subsidized culture, neglecting commercial areas of cultural production and activity, including streaming & games, amateur production and participatory co-creation.
Are we looking in the right places in our search for value? Looking at impact outcomes is not always the most appropriate, or enough: The report includes six full chapters on what is called “components” of cultural value.
By what methods should we find and evidence that value? Quantitative methods can be valuable, but are not more rigorous or useful in themselves per se! The equal validity of methods from the arts, humanities or qualitative sciences has to be accepted, which include close reading of texts, language, images and performances. If these are not taken into account, the value of arts and culture will never be understood.
Crossick’s argument here is that the methods have to follow that what we try to understand, not the other way round. But artists’ stories and anecdotes are not data to sufficiently support a value-related narrative, but artists do have to take ownership of evaluation; so that they can construct narratives they believe in, about why the arts matter, about what are the values of arts in society, from the perspective of the arts! – And based on good evidence.
“We should understand the variety of methods that flow from the arts, individuals and society, and we should insist on the need to explain how we know what we claim is indeed the case – including what we as artists achieve when acting as citizens.” (Geoffrey Crossick)
In the final sections of his talk, Crossick offered a number of case studies, and elaborated more on how artists actually position their engagement as citizens in relation, or as a part of their artistic work: “It’s what many artists do, and what they want to do.” Many artists who work in these areas do not do this because they cannot “make it” as “pure artists” (as others often claim), but because social engagement is part of what drives them as artists. They see most of this work equal to their own artistic practice, and don’t necessarily make a crucial difference between both. This also underlines how outdated these traditional images of “autonomous” artistic work are, which often seem to suggest that a total detachment from artistic work to external influences. The kind of work is extremely varied, and is situated in the areas of health, aging, dementia, criminal justice, education, youth and community work, urban planning and development, up to the design of new urban spaces. Some of the projects here connected specifically to improving of life quality, while others were broader oriented, towards experience and appreciation of arts and culture in general.
Crossick closed his keynote with a few interesting questions about quality of the artistic within this kind of work: “If engagement with the arts has beneficial, social or health outcomes, does the excellency of the artistic product itself make any difference to the outcome? We know that it does, from research in literature, self-understanding and empathy.”
Keynote 2 – Vikki Heywood “Old wood and green shoots. Clearing the way for young artists as citizens.
In the second keynote of the conference, Vikki Heywood focussed more directly on education, and on the relation between education and the students’ training in becoming citizens. Heywood shared a few tendencies in current practice, addressed several aspects of critique on the institutions as they are now, and then presented a new institution, Mountview, which seeks to address these issues.
Two of the tendencies Heywood observes are that it slowly becomes the norm that arts venues act as a hub for the local community, and that the gap between professional and amateur players is breaking down and disappearing. She addressed the need of institutions to react on these developments and actually reflect the society we live in. According to Heywood the institutions should become meeting points for students, creative professionals and the community, and by this reflect the society and community in which the institutions are situated, as many arts venues already do. “We don’t want our kids to learn in a bubble.” This includes the challenge that our organizations and institutions are not diverse enough, in terms of ethnically, gender and sexuality.
“None of our institutions perfectly reflect the society we are living in.” (Vikki Heywood)
Heywood presented an institution that is still very young, as response to these challenges: Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. It is an institution that takes the historical meaning of the word “conservatoire” serious: looking after people, rather than looking after repertoire. The institution provides space for professionals, students, teachers and the community. One of the basic stances from which Mountview works is that students deserve to have their culture to be reflected in their training.
“There are no road maps for training artists as citizens, so we created one.”
I found it particularly interesting to hear that Mountview’s team scouts talented youngsters, as part of a socially motivated attitude – “not because we need applications, but because we are convinced that the system is not fair.” (Heywood) They are specifically looking for candidates who might otherwise never opt for auditioning, among others because of their seemingly low social or financial status. The next quote, which closes my report on this keynote, connects beautifully to this, as it defies what I often perceive as a sense of hierarchy and raking between institutions, closely connected to the problematic notion of excellency: “We are us, and we are very good at being us.” I would love to see more institutions, and more conservatoires, sending out a message such as this.
Keynote 3 – Helen Marriage
In the last keynote presentation of the conference, artistic director Helen Marriage presented the work of her company, Artichoke. The company produces large scale artistic works, events and experiences, with the aims of reaching the largest audience possible, and providing disruptive and live changing experiences.
Artichoke set the tone of their work already with the first production,The Sultan’s Elephant, created in London in 2006. It is a work that takes over the city and disrupts public life quite literally, as it required closing down the inner city of London for four days (!). Marriage specifically elaborated on the process that lead to these four days, which took seven years of negotiation – the idea that an artist would lead the stage of the city was entirely unnegotiable to the city’s council. In the end, it became a transformative moment for London: The events were engaging with an audience that weren’t trapped by a building such as a theatre of a concert hall, and the happenings and huge moving objects shared public space with people who would otherwise never meet.
“Our cities don’t have to be dedicated to shopping and traffic. They don’t.” (Helen Marriage)
After Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke was asked to do more work such as this. However, they chose not doing work exactly like it, but continued exploring public space with this kind of work. One of these projects is One & Other, London 2009:
Another good example of this is London 1666 (2016), a “festival of arts and ideas” marking the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, in which Artichoke “invited artists and academics to respond to the Great Fire and consider the modern threats faced by the world cities today: from climate change to conflict.” Centre of the Great Fire 350 umbrella season of events was a 120-metre-long sculpture of the 17th century London skyline, London’s Burning, set alight on the River Thames. To me, one of the strongest aspects of this work is that the wooden sculpture was built by a group of young people from the poorest areas of London: The artists trained these young people in order to do everything necessary to build the enormous sculpture, including wood work, coming in time and, in one case, “eating a tomato because the young boy had never seen a vegetable in his life.” Just as in Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke devised a project that many others deemed impossible, even more so as they did not just develop memories, but real opportunities: Many of these young people found work through this project.
”What we are saying to these young people is: You can do this.”
The final remarks and statements of Helen Marriage finally sold me to her and her company’s work and vision on the arts in society and artists as citizens: Although one hallmark of their work is the deliberate disruption of daily life, of what people think is normal, they do not not aim to do only that, but commit to a quality of the work that is so high that it offers an even bigger payback to the citizens than the disruption they are faced with. To offer them an experience that stays with them for life.
Falk Hübner is a true example of 21st century hybrid professional practice in the arts. He works on the intersections between experimental practice, artistic research and higher arts education. His diverse practice ranges from devising experimental music theatre, performances and installations, publishing articles to working with students and giving shape to research agendas within higher arts education curricula.