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After the closing

30 October 2010

One of the most remarkable things about the ELIA Biennial, when viewed from the inside, is how quickly it passes. Years of planning, months of preparation and two days after the opening you are already attending the closing.

Of course a lot more is going on than what is in the conference programme proper: this year, there was the NEU NOW Festival, the first meeting of the SHARE academic network, cultural evenings in a circus tent, and symposia at the local FRAC and museum. Plus there is the General Assembly of ELIA members, the election of the new representative board and the new president, and the whole array of smaller meetings and discussions that comes with being a network organization. Still, it all goes by in a few crazy days, and it leaves anyone who is trying to follow it all with the dazzled feeling that there is just too much to grasp.

Frans van Vught, in the Symposium Upheavals in the landscape of higher arts education, has presented new ways of classifying and ranking educational institutions, through tools that are currently being developed in the U-map and U-multirank projects. The question relevant within this conference, of course, is how higher arts education fits in those systems. There is a lot of skepticism in the sector about classification and particularly about ranking, but Van Vught states it clearly that you can’t stay out of these developments if you don’t fit in because you’re different, because every sector is different, the trend can’t be reversed, and no one else will speak for you if you opt out. Martin Prchal avers that the AEC has been pro-actively involved in this through the Polifonia network for precisely that reason, and still the denominators discriminate against the arts. If art schools are not acknowledged as research institutions they will loose their funding. True, Van Vught says, but that is not out of ignorance or because of bureaucratic considerations but because there are other stakeholders involved. Chris Wainwright counsels that we should not believe other disciplines are more coherent – they are just more powerful. There is, in his view, no other sector in higher education that is so knowledgeable about its social impact and that is something a ranking should reflect.

Amina Dickerson, in the closing plenary, confesses that she is struck by the concern, almost obsession among delegates with the notion of a “creative economy” and the fear of losing artistic authorship to new forms of corporate creativity. There are other issues to attend. In ten years time, she predicts, no European cities will be in the global top ten either in population or economically. This calls for a new attitude. The question she would like to pose is simple: what’s next? What is the new scenario for art academies in a globalizing world? What are the skills that art teachers can still confer upon their students to cope with this new reality, when the younger generation is so many miles ahead in digital and technological know-how? It is time to come up with new scenarios. When there is going to be an exchange on a global level, it will have to start from mutual respect, and accept that through this encounter “they will change and we will change, and we will both be something different from what we have been”.
In a somewhat different vein, Shashikant Barlanpurkar adds that we have lost contact with the people in this “age of communication”. In his view, artists should be good citizens first, and be aware that their work entails social obligation and responsibility.

Timothy Jones, in his paper in the artistic research symposium, makes two important points. The first is that artistic research is now coming of age as a university disciplines. This is attested by the spread of the term ‘research artist’ in curatorial language, which is now even applied anachronistically to dead artists. The second is you cannot be creative and keep things the same. Creativity means change. On the other hand, he is equally baffled that as soon as artists gave up “creativity” as the term by which to define themselves ‘creative companies’ took over.

Is there a conclusion to it? No, there are only many more ideas to take into account. But the conference, the 11th ELIA Biennial Conference 2010 that took place in Nantes, is over except for the closing party. The Festival goes on another day. And tomorrow we will have a new ELIA President. Some sort of aftermath.

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