Open School east: a radical curriculum


Situated in a community hall in Haggerston, East London, the AAC attended the first Open School East public programme event.

 What is Open School East?

“OSE is a non-fee paying art school for 13 associate artists and a communal space re-opening a former library in De Beauvoir Town, East London. Emphasizing cooperation and experimentation, the initiative is set up to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and skills between artists, local residents and neighbourhood organisations.”

It is important to point out that the former library space, the Open School East occupies, is commissioned and funded by the Barbican and Create London. The project is also supported by the Legacy Trust UK and the London Borough of Hackney.  Take that as you will.

Open School East – Art and Society

The event was chaired by Anna Colin a co-founder of the space. In regards to the OSE she stated, “it is a re-opening of public space to learn and exchange in the former library.” This free, art, ‘learning environment’ is focused around improvisation, collection, self-direction in a context un-burdened from the academic practice of accreditation and awards.

The production of OSE was highlighted in reference to the Arts and Social context  programme run at the Dartington College of Arts (1978 – 85).The example Anna Colin used was of students doing work experience, in contexts like a fish and chip shop, where art is not apparent, to discuss limits of participation and collective working. The innovative idea of the course was to produce a generalist artist-designer, capable of responding to the unpredictable creative challenges that arise in a community setting.

Elena Crippa the first of the four panelists focused on historical accounts of the changes in art and arts relation to education. She defined 3 key terms that exist historically; ‘experiment’, ‘radical’ and ‘discursive’. She highlighted a  shift from experimenting specifically with visual arts to questioning of society and existence.  Moving on to radical pedagogies, Elena discussed Paulo Feriere and questioned how, the artist in a community project or education workshop, has to be wary of becoming “the colonizer”. The purpose of this was to define the ‘radical’ and ‘experimental’, as two ways of doing, two distinct  possibilities, that should not be confused.

Alistair Hudson (deputy director, Grizedale Arts), the second panelist, highlighted the life span and production of the Grizedale Arts Centre. The space is seen by for many as a resource, which is for and of the community of Coniston, the Lake District. The building is the original site of John Ruskin’s institute, where Ruskin  used art as a tool to teach and learn with, rather than as a subject or discipline. Historical John Ruskin’s institute was  involved in many community based projects  such as building a road with students in Oxfordshire, one of who was Oscar Wilde, to prevent the spread of cholera.  Alistair defined the Grizedale Arts Centers relationship to   art, as  an ordinary  item in ordinary life, habitual, rather than  rarefied and or autonomous. Using the creative tools for use rather than mainstream market  values.

The Third panelist, Janna Graham (projects curator, Serpentine Gallery), discussed the development of the Centre for Possible Studies. Janna mentioned how the ‘banking’ concept is  processes of  ‘colonialism’ or the innkeeper to a neo-liberal ideology.

Ahmet Öğüt (artist and initiator of The Silent University) was the last panelist. Ahmet took us through the project Silent University, which can be seen as a ‘semi-autonomous’ space for migrants and asylum seekers to utilise  unrecognised voices to express  unacknowledged knowledge.. The school  allows a platform for individuals and collectives to share and exchange. The autonomous functionality of this space needs to parasitically be attached to an arts or cultural organisation to survive.  So it  also can be a tool for  those involved  to navigate their surroundings.

The first question here is, what are they defining as ‘public’ space and can ‘public’ space  become available if its commissioned for an associate group of artists to ‘engage’ with the local community. The placement of 13 artists in residence does spark the imagination and produce reality TV connotations, I’m an Artist get me out of here!’ On a serious note, if we were to see the artist as an agitator or a catalyst to  produce  conversations, our first issue is how ‘public’ will this space be and who’s ‘public’ is it defined by? How does a barbican/create commission relate to this environment, can it be relevant to the local community?

Each talk was interesting but only gave 4 accounts of separate interactions and did not allow time to have a discussion of how they related to  the OSE or others. The format was very didactic and if more time was available for discussion it would have been better. I think the AAC was very aware that the space was creating a radical curriculum but not quite a radical pedagogy.

It still boils down to similar issues of access and engagement and how we create structures that mirror capital or neo-liberal forms. The talk, format and structure epitomised the recouped format of the ‘alternative learning space’ it adheres the same format as any other institution but try’s to talk its way into being something else.

Open School East

Thursday 26 September, 2-5pm
Community Hall

Art, School, Society

photo credit: Owen Watson

‘Art, School, Society’ is Open School East’s inaugural public discussion. This roundtable gathers artists, curators and practitioners who are invested in researching and developing alternatives forms of education, artistic and otherwise. The event will include presentations of ongoing and forthcoming projects, considerations on access and usefulness, and speculations about the future of self-organized schools and their relationship to society.

Open School East
Old Rose Lipman Library
43 De Beauvoir Rd
London N1 5SQ

Who’s Neologism is it Anyway?


Having recently attended the Critical Pedagogies Symposium at the University of Edinburgh, the Alternative Art College has learnt a few new words and is prepared for its latest exploits. The two main topics of the day were radical alternatives to the marketisation of education and decolonising practices within education. During the day there was two longer lectures, the first from Heidi Safia Mirza entitled Decolonizing Pedagogies and the second by Joyce Canaan entitled Building alternatives to the neoliberal university. As well as this there was a roundtable discussion on the subject of Education, Intersectionality and Social Change. Participants included Heidi Safia Mirza, Arethea Phiri, Janine Bradbury, Michelle Keown and Mike Shaw. Apart from the main attractions there was one panel that caught this AAC member’s attention. The panel was entitled: Educate, Agitate, Organise.

The first point of interest was Camila Camacho’s report on the marketization of education in Chile. As a student of education at the University of Chile, and a teacher in a public state secondary school in Santiago, she gave us a window into the fight against the privatisation of education. Since the 1980’s Chile’s higher education institutions have been constitutionally regulated but a shift in power towards municipal control has allowed market forces to enter the education system. As a result de-centralisation and fragmentation are occurring. The Chilean education system is currently divided into three; municipal schools, private ‘state’ sponsored schools and wholly private schools. Within municipal schools a lack of infrastructure improvements, and the rigid nature of the educational system, has meant the level of schooling one receives distorts the future of the individual. A series of occupations in 2011, have attempted to recast education, as not just a tool for social reproduction, but as Camila states, to create a space for teachers and students to be ‘happy and free’. We can’t argue with that.

Stephanie Spoto’s paper, reminded us of the anxiety of being an anarchist teacher in a state institution. It was a relief to hear an open discussion about the contradictions of being an anarchist in this position. The question that needs asking is, how much autonomy does the university offer? As the learner straddles the divide between the student and the customer, are teachers the pimps of the education system? Or can we avoid the commodification of radical theories of equality, making them into more than just theories.

Finally Fred Garnett’s presentation left us in awe. Through the melee of slides there was a new word for the AAC’s vocabulary, heutagogy. If you don’t know it, a quick read of the wikipedia page will fill you in. It certainly seems like something the Alternative Art College has been striving for, even if we didn’t know what the word was. Fred Garnet is involved with the project wikiquals. It is true, as Fred states, we don’t spontaneously learn from content delivery – without failing to point out that this is all a MOOC is. His description of US ‘Ivy League’ College’s use of these forums is insightful. As forms for globalising perspectives of knowledge, they are the newest strategy for western universities to continue their colonisation of global education formations. They certainly don’t resist the status quo of orientation to western centric systems of knowing. What is required from offline and online education resources is a space for epistemic cognition, allowing for emergent and diverse counter formations. Or heutagogy, we think. A learning commons perhaps. This certainly rings true with us at the AAC.