Culture and Education in Contemporary Context | kulturpunkt

English Essay


Culture and Education in Contemporary Context

The cultural education sector has not yet been defined or mapped, and it is impossible to precisely count the number of educational programs implemented in the field of culture.

by: Ana Abramović

FOTO: Max Klingensmith / Flickr

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The term "cultural education" has become standard outside Croatia for the trend of connecting cultural and educational policies in order to better incorporate culture and art in general education, and formal and informal educational programs. The term is being increasingly mentioned in Croatia as well, but bear in mind that it is in no way a new idea – the fact that culture and education have corresponding roles is well known. However, it would be wise to make the best of this trend in European policies, and we are reminded of this by the 20th century’s history, when the combination of 19th century’s educational policy and 20th century’s popularization of culture played the lead role in the democratization of society. Here to help is the paper Made to Measure? Practices and Tendencies of Cultural Education in Croatia by Ana Žuvela, research assistant at the Institute for Development and International Relations' (IRMO) Department for Culture and Communication. The study was published this spring by the Foundation "Kultura nova".

At the heart of the author's research interest lie programs and educational activities for the public and the professionals in the cultural sector that are aimed at better understanding contemporary culture and art. Considering the unfair marginality of this topic in Croatia, her analysis rightly devotes most room to describing local conditions and arguing the importance of artistic and cultural education, but the publication also offers valuable insight into current practices and priorities of the European and local cultural policy.

The sector of cultural education, both in Croatia and abroad, has not yet been defined or mapped, and it is impossible to precisely count the number of educational programs implemented in the field of culture. Not even the Ministry of Culture keeps count of it through publicly available information on funded programs. Cultural education, as the author explains in the introduction, "is either hardly visible or invisible in the system of culture" and is on the edges of the already marginal specks in the area of national interest – culture and education. This study is based on the assumption that public policies in culture need to care about culture’s availability and accessibility and ensure the citizens’ greater participation, which can be achieved by encouraging formal and informal forms of cultural education.

The availability of education and culture

The controversies about culture are endless, and the current situation is an excellent example of this, both in terms of disagreement about the definition and implementation of cultural policies and mere theorizing about this "problematic concept". While in her book The Claims of Culture. Equality and Diversity in the Global Era (2002) Seyla Benhabib calls contemporary culture the field of conflict (as opposed to the Romantic concept of bildung, which suggests that in culture the human soul is formed through education in accordance to the values of the collective), Žuvela points out that the implementation of modern cultural policies is chockfull of misunderstandings. The reasons for these misunderstandings are becoming more numerous and complex each day, but we can surely agree with the author when she underlines the importance and responsibility of public policy for creating universally available educational programs, including those in the fields of culture and art. However, the implementation of public policies proves to be slower than the approaching negative trends, which require quick understanding and response form professionals and the public, who are witnessing the misappropriation of cultural resources and cultural infrastructure from community’s interests, as well as precarious work in culture on the one hand and the unconvincingly attractive paradigm of creative industries on the other. We should begin by finding our way out of the forest of contradictory notions of cultural development, and the author offers it through a brief survey of European cultural policies with a focus on the element of education.

These represent the efforts of European public policies to look at the sustainability of culture through the eyes of the audience, examining the benefits that individuals, and thus society as a whole, gain from participating in cultural activities. The European Agenda for Culture promotes participation in culture and its availability by encouraging citizen participation in the creation of content and the cultural and political framework in which these contents are made (as opposed to programs for the development of passive consumer audiences). The formation of the "quality spectator" takes place through learning and communication about art, and that process is parallel to the formation of the active citizen. As a contribution to understanding the relationship between education policies and the preferred participatory approach to culture, one perhaps too plainly articulated argument carries the greatest importance in Žuvela’s study: "Through education, the ratio of supply-demand is not reduced to one-time satisfactions of the audience’s unarticulated needs; it fosters the process of knowledge transfer and the development of cognitive abilities to understand and differentiate between cultural content, while creating the desire, will and need for cultural content."

Toward good practices

The author then continues her quest toward those segments of public policies’ implementation in Croatia where we can see some progress in connecting cultural and artistic practices with learning and sharing knowledge. As stated at the beginning, the opportunities to implement the author's research are limited: the theoretical framework of the interfaces between cultural and educational policy is murky, the very notion of cultural education is difficult to explain, and the cultural sphere has over the past twenty years developed in different directions, so educational activities and programs in Croatia have been unsystematically planned and dispersed in a series of "anecdotal experiences." Civil society organizations have a higher percentage of conducting programs of cultural and artistic education than public institutions, at least when it comes to free educational programs (this study’s subject is discussed assuming the availability of such programs for the public).

The first issue discussed at length is the explicit cultural policy implemented by the Ministry of Culture. The direct influence of the Ministry on the culture field is realized through subsidizing the cultural production of public institutions and providing support to civil society organizations’ programs. The strategic documents of the Ministry recognized the importance of education for strengthening the capacities of cultural organizations, and the importance of “active and passive participation of individuals and groups in the cultural life of the community". Education has been defined as a priority in four out of eight Culture Councils so far, according to Žuvela. However, how neglected the implementation of these priorities has been is obvious from the unavailability of any data and statistics on the number of implemented cultural education programs, which once again shows that the explicit policy outlined in strategic documents is not consistently implemented even when it comes to the basically only instrument used - providing financial support for programs of public cultural needs.

However, in some of the recent developments and projects in the local cultural field, Žuvela notices certain progress toward realizing the importance of education for participation in culture. Although the author misses the opportunity for a systematic analysis of what is happening in the dynamic field of culture in the civil society (which the leader in the number of realized free public programs of cultural education), the study nevertheless mentions some laudable initiatives that promote the importance of education in the field of culture and art, such as the activities of the Association for the promotion of visual culture OPA, established by art teachers.

Also interesting is the author's view on the process of Croatian cities’ candidacies for the European Culture Capital of 2020. The author looks at this megalomaniac project with due caution, aware of the real dangers that it brings (financial collapse, gentrification and commodification of the city), but also recalls that in many cities the project opened up opportunities for discussion and for planning micro-cooperation and activities to connect participants in the cultural sector. All of this took place outside the framework of public calls for funding public cultural needs. In addition, she points out that "the art program in all four cities that made it to the finals had a strong educational component and was built on a variety of workshops, seminars and the like." The dynamics in the cultural field during the candidacy period certainly exhausted some culture workers, but it is interesting to imagine the effect culture would have on social development if such dynamics was sustainable and a permanent feature of the local cultural system.

No excuse for being late

Another important thing for the future of culture is, as Ana Žuvela points out, the existence of cultural infrastructures tailored to the needs of the community they belong to. Examples of socio-cultural centres in countries all over Europe cannot be compared to the local cultural centres as we know them: as the remains of former “culture homes” (which undoubtedly played a major role in the democratization of culture during socialism). Today, these institutions generally don’t respond to the calls of public interest for greater accessibility and participation of citizens in contemporary culture and art, and are themselves pictures of institutional givens of local culture. A possible solution proposed by the author of the study is to open the institutions to hybrid management practices. One such example is POGON – Zagreb Center for Independent Culture and Youth, while numerous similar projects will have to wait for a long time for their realization.

Despite all the negative trends in the cultural sector, the number of cultural institutions has been continuously growing in the past fifty years. It is impossible not to feel the pressure of time when faced with the implementation of new types of cultural institutions that should be realized in Croatia according to elaborate projects of socio-cultural centres. Žuvela’s reminder that creating new forms of institutional culture requires knowledge that is still not available in Croatia via existing cultural education programs seems extremely important. The conclusion that emerges from the entire study is that, with time, the pressure to implement new types of cultural education grows.

The integration of cultural and artistic education

It is easy to agree with the simply stated aims of the cultural policy represented by the study Made to Measure? However, the formulations brought to us by European documents ("the synergy of culture and education will result in new and positive values in the society") aren’t just waiting for approval and affirmative nods from the decision makers. Once again, we are called upon to learn from previous examples and exercise caution towards practices of cultural education, the ones that are currently implemented and the ones that are yet to emerge in local context. As the author herself writes, when being a professional in culture, and education, it is important to recognize the challenges of high ethical responsibility which require professionals to continuously learn about the meanings of art work and cultural practices in the age of daily change. An interesting continuation of this topic would be to analyse existing programs and curricula of cultural education, even those that are not free for future culture professionals. In this light, it might be unusual that the study Made to Measure? only mentions - and doesn’t address - the project “A Backpack (full of) Culture”, the only current example of cooperation between the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Science, Education and Sports.

Also, the cultural education of professionals and the audience is probably a good way to modernize the culture system, but the integration of cultural and artistic education into the basic education program is more important for the wider social picture. We can imagine a link between these two dimensions in the cooperation between cultural professionals and educational institutions around a challenge that’s already been identified - equipping the teachers with necessary pedagogical practices that will encourage young people to engage with contemporary culture, art, economy and society in general.

Translated from Croatian by Lana Pukanić.

Objavio/la vatroslav [at] 20.10.2016