Art and education beyond education: Interview with Arteco

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“Do to understand. Education and Society” opens a series of interviews with museums, foundations, associations and cooperatives, to learn methods, perspectives and pedagogical models of educational services in Italy, it will serve to outline for the first time a mapping research of contemporary education.This time we talk about art and education beyond education with Annalisa Pellino and Beatrice Zanelli of Arteco Association, founded in 2010 on the basis of the experiences of the founding partners in the protection and enhancement of the historical and artistic heritage, aware that such heritage constitutes a comprehensive set of works, which are closely linked to the territory that has produced and represents a cornerstone of civil society.

What is your idea of an ​​educational service and on which model is inspired (theoretical references and experimented educational methods)?
Overall we think any educational service should start with the contents to become a means of citizenship, social inclusion and expression of cultural diversity. Indeed the idea is to carry out activities in order to know not only the art history or the artists but also, by knowing them, to develop imagination and creativity. It is, therefore, important to learn how to not only communicate each other in a non-verbal way and how to work in a group for common goal, but also how to get together with others for the simply pleasure of doing it. It is not simply to facilitate knowledge transmission (or disciplinary competence) from a trained person to one who isn’t trained, or she or he is trained only partly, but how to produce a sharing experience, an exchange between oneself and the other. The purpose is not to achieve a specific goal, to give an answer or show how to be performers and equal to the situation, but simply to invite us to cross an unexplored territory. In this new territory questions can even may not have an answer, or rather, they can have many answers. In this territory everything is possible and nothing is always the same.On the one hand we carry out an activity, a workshop and even an art-mediation, by working with the Arts Education (the contents of art history, contemporary artistic languages and practices). On the other one, we work with the concept of Arts-in-Education, as a means to put in contact with the world, to know themselves and to obtain the consciousness to be able to see in both a unique and different way. We work on a broaden territory in which socio-cultural and emotional variety of factors come into play. It is a dialogical approach which somehow coincides with what we think about when we curate some exhibitions according to the Educational Turn. Since the ‘90s this both methodological and content turn has shifted the focus from the object to the person and to the cultural production with a procedural and relational viewpoint. According to a strictly educational research, we could refer to the constructivist approach, the most efficient one in contemporary museum education nowadays. The learning process in an informal educational environment, like the museum, could be conceived as an active process focusing on the figure of the visitor. In this process it is important not only the practical element (hands-on learning) but also at the same time a reflection about both the sense of agency taking place in and the language that we need to express it (G. Hein). It is also a reference method that focuses on previous knowledges and motivation (E. Hooper Greenhill) as well as on both context and relationships. (However, these references concerns the well-known cases represented by Dewey’s, J. Piaget’s and L. Vygotsky’s learning theories).

What are your methods and tools, and how do you adapt them to every single exhibition?
We curate exhibitions – or when we cannot curate them directly, we curate the educational project – that are very different from each other. Every time we try to experiment new workshops and to diversify formats that have been especially appreciated by the audience. The process happens in a continuous dialogue with museum educators and mediators, because they are the first ones to lead the visit and / or the workshop and to verify its consistency according to educational purposes. So we ask our mediators to come up with some proposals, if they have any ideas or if they notice that something is not working or needs to be balanced. The comparison and verification are the principal aspect. There is even the update on the practices, theories and approaches, drawing on both the various programmatic and research papers published in the European context, as well as the specialised literature on the topics of art education and heritage education. Moreover, the tools are in turn adapted to both audiences and contents. So the approach will undoubtedly be that of learning by doing and the Socratic method in relation to a school-age public. If we work with teenagers we would think primarily about peer education and action learning. If we work with a multicultural group we would be more oriented to an empowered peer education model.

How did the experimentation, given by direct contact especially with children, improve your approach and what were the results?
Experience shows that several factors combine to make a coherent educational project and appreciated by the public: surely both contents quality and an ability to connect with other spheres of life and imagination of the child, but also nice materials and a Montessori prepared environment. A further aspect is the mediator’s approach and its ability to transform the activities aimed at creating an object to bring to school or to show to parents. The aim is even to share and remember a real experience, where you enjoyed, learned something by discovering that this something is always between theory and practice, between us and the other. We start from the idea that every visit and workshop are never the same as the previous ones. This is because people change and what happens in a group is unpredictable. Even we different every time. It is an imponderable emotional and relational moment.

Do you involve sometimes experts or artists?
One of our mission’s main points is to promote contemporary culture and art education and in particular to support young artists.  Often we curate young artists’ exhibitions and we collaborate with them by asking them to become an active part of an education process that in some cases becomes an opportunity to produce new works. An example of this process is the project 1, 2, 3 clicks!, sponsored by the Agnelli Foundation in 2013. The project’s initial idea was to propose some workshops in the primary schools in the Piedmont region to think about the school space through the use of photography. In that case it was essential for us to involve four artists who have designed the workshops with 4 educators and they carry out the project together in the schools. The result was a double exhibition dedicated to both the children’s photographs and the photographers’ works. The interesting thing is that this was the result of the experience with the classes. In 2014 we have collaborated with the artist Ennio Bertrand on the project A breath of poetry. This project was an interactive art work starting from a workshop about haiku in primary schools in the Barriera di Milano, Turin’s district. However, we could also talk about other cases involving the adult public. For instance in our last exhibition we invited Turin Mad Pride‘s artists to create a relational artwork. During this project performances and workshops took place, for instance those about the “ceromancy” by Andrea Caretto and Raffaella Spagna or on the concept of “ekphrasis” by Cesare Pietroiusti and Andrea Lanini. Therefore, as since 2013 we run the Pinacoteca Agnelli’s educational services, we’ve collaborated also with young artists like Simona Castaldo, Giulia Gallo and Enrico Partengo, who are active in Pinacoteca Agnelli’s educational projects.

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Congresso dei Disegnatori di Torino, 2015 © Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, foto Andrea Guermani.

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Congresso dei Disegnatori di Torino, 2015 © Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, foto Andrea Guermani.

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Congresso dei Disegnatori di Torino, 2015 © Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, foto Andrea Guermani.

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Congresso dei Disegnatori di Torino, 2015 © Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, foto Andrea Guermani.

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Laboratorio in classe nell’ambito di click alla scuola primaria Antonio Ambrosini di Torino

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Laboratorio in classe nell’ambito di click alla scuola primaria Antonio Ambrosini di Torino

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Laboratorio in piazza Carignano, Torino, per il festival dell’architettura in città

Could you describe a workshop in which you noticed a particular success for children learning?
As Arteco is the association running the Pinacoteca Agnelli’s educational and training projects, it offers a variety of workshops. The workshops’ constant element that we have seen with pleasure is the ability to explain complex concepts – variously transmitted according to the age group – through the learning by doing.  The manual activities, if they are properly taught, allows also the youngest children to know the main artistic issues, by turning seemingly unknowable artworks in materials to work on. Instead, the experience in the Turin’s Draftsmen’s Convention was different (conceived by the artist Paweł Althamer, presented and produced by the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, curated by NERO, Torino Toolbox, October 8 – November 8, 2015) . We have adapted our educational proposal to a project that was characterised by the explicit preconditions inspired by anti-authoritarian principles and the denial of the traditional teaching idea. Within the Convention, the proposed activities have been very free in which the only guideline was the supply of drawing materials. This approach encourages the freedom of expression – conceived also in a physical sense. This approach stimulates the movement, the involvement of the whole body in the creative production and it also promotes sociability, even though it requires an active support from the mediator.

* Pinacoteca Agnelli’s Education Department:
Managers Marta Di Vincenzo and Ersilia Rossini; Mediators: Simona Castaldo, Giulia Gallo, Valerio Gioria, Nemi Ferrara, Enrico Partengo, Simona Pompei, Valeria Primo, Elisabetta Reali, Francesca Simondi, Alice Zatti.

Did you start experiments, research and / or partnerships with other realities?
We deal with the relationship between art and tout court training rather than contemporary art and pedagogy as such, with regard to both the adult public and  the school one. Arteco is a young reality, unfortunately we have not yet had opportunities to work with the EU institutions, but we are working for it. Needless to say, without going too far, ZonArte’s network, very active in Turin (the city where we work in), is a great reality of experimentation and innovation where there are opportunities for keeping up to date and taking part in practical and theoretical research materials. Anyway, with regard to single projects, we collaborate with the museums’ educational departments in Turin. An example is a series of interviews about  the relationship between school and museum (available at this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMWzprip0Yk) that we run in 2013 for Gipsoteca Calandra of Savigliano (CN).

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Elvira Lamanna

She graduated in Art History at "La Sapienza" University of Rome, with a dissertation about art and institutional critique from the '60s to 2000s. She obtained a Master's degree in Educational Management for contemporary art in Turin. Art critic, she deals with contemporary art, in particular in relation to interdisciplinary practices, political activism and alternative pedagogy. She is undertaking a Master of Research among the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College in London.

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