What does representation mean to arts educators right now?
With rapidly changing narratives on what constitutes contemporary Equity and Diversity values and polarising perspectives on issues related to identity, migration, critical race theory, decolonisation and national pride, Karina H Maynard shares how the Provocations Project spotlights the benefits teachers and students receive from improving cultural representation in arts education.
One of the main aims of this year's provocations project is to encourage students and educators to broaden their creative perspectives. To foster development in this area, it is necessary to centre the representation of marginalised people in the creative industries, historical narratives and curricula.
Over the past three years, there has been an increased focus on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Heightened by online discourse spurred by the Black Lives Matter movement during the global pandemic, the remit of the conversation has expanded to include the experiences of marginalised people and the establishment of a new blueprint for mainstream EDI values.
In 2018 I curated cultural programming for the ‘Paris-Londres: Music Migrations (1962-1989)' exhibition at the Muse national de l'histoire de l'immigration in Paris. Set against the climate of Brexit and the Windrush scandal, the exhibition received international praise for the research that demonstrated how Caribbean and African migration to London and Paris from the 1960s to the 1980s resulted in the rapid growth of multiculturalism, which transformed the two European cities into revered global creative capitals. Through the prism of music and social protest, the exhibition evidenced how transcultural and intercultural development propelled creative culture and redefined pride in British and French national identities.
In a relatively short period of time, a renewed vigour for protest, amplified by the concentrated online focus effectuated by the lockdown restrictions of the pandemic, has fuelled often polarising international conversations about the treatment and positioning of marginalised people in society, where, although specific ideals transcend national borders, conversations often land on calls to redefine individual national identities. Complex and nuanced, the politicisation of how we consider the history of marginalisation and theories related to systemic oppression has resulted in overwhelming calls for progress juxtaposed by political and social pushback, such as the War on Woke movement led by some USA political representatives and an emboldened vigour for a more exclusive definition of national identity in Britain.
So what does this mean for arts educators?
The Provocations Project that I have designed for UAL Awarding Body not only provides students with the opportunity to create work that explores cultural identity, global history and impact but also focuses on providing arts teachers with CPD training days and webinars to develop the skills to support students during the Provocations Project process.
The training encourages teachers to continue broad and sector-specific research into how Western colonisation influenced the contemporary world. It prompts reflective thinking about how arts educators can develop their mindsets and better recognise counterproductive belief systems inherited through systemic influence and historic educational experiences. From an anti-discriminatory perspective, it is easy to see the flaws when we reflect on the guiding EDI values that shaped attitudes and events in the past, compared to what is considered civilised and just treatment today. Exploring this premise encourages a development-focused approach from teachers, who can more readily accept that it is okay to let go of beliefs that do not align with our contemporary values and do not enrich the teaching experience we provide for students today.
The ability to evolve and move past outdated mindsets and behaviours does not erode the identity but instead enhances professional performance and enables teachers to meet the needs of students.
The Provocations Project training days and webinars enhance the critical thinking necessary to deliver more representative teaching. Teachers can bring questions about their specific creative disciplines and realms of institutional responsibility to the session. The broader topics and skills development aspects of the training contextualise real-life examples. The aim is for teachers to develop a more confident approach to facilitating representative education, decision-making and more positive interactions with students.
In my EDI work over the past 20 years, working to support individuals and organisations in developing more equitable, representative and inclusive institutional cultures and practices, it is becoming more evident that the most beneficial outcomes rely on how readily people can embrace transformation.
Creatives and creative educators can envision different approaches and outcomes that shape their experiences and impact the world. To fully express creative potential requires the vision, exploration and flexibility that supports the inclusive, diverse and representative transformation needed in arts education. This approach results in improved student outcomes and a more positive creative impact.
So how do we approach improving representation? An obvious starting point is the law, such as the Equality Act 2010 and the anti-discriminatory frameworks in place for protected characteristics.
In the Provocations Project CPD training days and webinars that have already taken place this academic year, teachers have brought valuable insight to the sessions, resulting in focused consideration of the needs and challenges required of educational institutions to meet the needs of students in terms of more representative curricula and the policy and practice development that improve all aspects of service provision that strongly influence the quality of experiences students have whilst studying, their progression opportunities and long-term outcomes.
Through role-play, reflective conversation and critical consideration of representation, teachers who attend training days contemplate the work everyone is required to do. Often, challenges require a mindset shift to a more inclusive outcome. Indeed, resistance is a natural response for thinkers, such as teachers’ need for compelling evidence before considering new ways of doing things. However, through the exploration of themes such as decolonisation in the CPD training days and discussions that took place in the Provocations: Cultural Identity webinar, teachers often realise the need to release blocks related to feelings of shame and guilt and are developing new EDI approaches that are informed by history and promote evolved belief systems not rooted in outdated values that are consciously or unconsciously oppressive and discriminatory.
The colonial history of the past 500 years is inextricably linked to The Industrial Revolution, historically aligned with sentiments of societal progress and economic advancement. The decolonial approach asks at what cost and how can things be done differently? Decolonial thinking is essential to critically examine where our ideas about the world stem from and how safeguarding ideals and narratives of the more oppressive status quo of the past can limit our ability to support an enriching educational experience for students. Students of all identities benefit from diverse representation in the people who teach them, the topics and examples used in the classroom, and the processes and practices that either support or hinder their presence and success in the educational setting.
UAL Awarding Body qualifications allow teachers the freedom to create diverse, inclusive and representative creative educational experiences for students. When teachers take a self-developmental approach to enriching their knowledge of underrepresented creatives and cultures in various disciplines, they create more dynamic learning experiences; students develop a sense of identity and self-esteem, built on confidently interacting with the creative world in a way that is curious, respectful and engaging on a deeper level.
The long-term impact of improving representation in arts education is how it frames how students see the world. It enables them to seek, recognise and celebrate the diversity of how their creative contributions can positively shift how they represent themselves and connect with others.
Role models are necessary. There is much work to do in removing the barriers and discrimination that adversely result in a lack of diverse representation in educational institutions and the creative industries - at all levels. However, if arts educators realise their power to effectuate positive cultural transformation, sustainable improvement in arts education, the creative industries and creative thinking are achievable and this can be worked on together in an open and mutually supportive way.
The Student Provocations Programme
The Provocations Project offers students three optional prompts throughout the academic year to engage in work that explores different themes. The purpose is to support students in exploring these themes and developing confidence in approaching diverse topics.
Creativity plays a universal role in authentic self-expression and interpersonal connectivity. The first provocation asked students to explore: Which aspects of their cultural identity positively shape their ability to connect with others. The teacher CPD training day provides teachers with skill development in supporting students in self- exploratory work.
The second provocation prompts students to learn about a creative person or creative tradition from an underrepresented group in mainstream creative history and to create work based on the most poignant message they receive through learning about them. Teachers are encouraged to help students to research underrepresented historical figures or traditions to broaden their exposure and understanding of diverse creative expression.
The third and final provocation will focus on Vision & Impact. Students will be encouraged to recognise the power of a positive self-identity, respect for others and the impact they can make through their creative work and thinking.
In the upcoming Global History and Visionary Impact webinar, teachers can explore the minimisation and erasure of creative contributions and influence of underrepresented groups in mainstream historical narratives and the facilitation of empowering learning experiences for all students.