At the Salzburger Kunstverein
The Global Academy? conference, organized by Hildegund Amanshauser, Sabine B. Vogel and Simone Wille, took place at Salzburger Kunstverein on 5 and 6 August 2016 as part of the Salzburg International Summer Academy of Fine Arts programme. Taking one-and-a-half years to organize, the conference was initiated with the question of 'how other institutions in the world deal with contemporary art education and what kind of exchange is possible between these new models'. The organizers invited independent platforms and organizations, including the Dutch Art Institute (DAI), Open School East (OSE), SOMA, Samdani Seminars and Art Foundation, Spring Sessions Amman, Casa Tres Patios (C3P), RAW Material Company, ruangrupa, The Silent University and Triangle Network, in order to consider various international perspectives from alternative cultural perspectives.
The commencing lectures by deputy director of Bauhaus Kolleg, Dr. Regina Bittner, and co-founder of OSE and director of Nottingham Contemporary, Sam Thorne, presented an overview of independent arts education platforms, citing both historical and contemporary examples. In the lecture 'Schools of Innovation: Bauhaus and Shantiniketan,' Bittner narrated the story of the Brachmachary ashra and the Visva Bharati University in Shantiniketan, India, founded in 1901 by renowned poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. In 'Art School Confidential', Thorne addressed the reasons behind the initiation of alternative models of education and considered a number of case studies from Black Mountain College and the early years of CalArts to Tania Bruguera's Cátedra Arte de Conducta in Cuba (2002–2009). To explain the aim of new education models, Thorne quoted Suhail Malik: 'recent artistic interests in education now look at education beyond the art school, by literally re-placing the site of art education in non-institutional settings.'
The second day continued with presentations about the aforementioned platforms, followed by a workshop, which concluded with a discussion session. Representatives of invited platform organizations – Gabriëlle Schleijpen, Carla Herrera-Prats, Diana Campbell Betancourt, Toleen Touq, Tony Evanko, Koyo Kouoh, Farid Rakun, Ahmet Öğüt and Alessio Antoniolli – briefly explained their education models and respective strategies. The participants conferred on their transdisciplinary approaches and curriculums during short presentations of 15 minutes.
The second day was organized around the conference's main question of what a global academy is, how it operates, and out of what contexts does one emerge. With the overall aim to probe a new constellation of independent educational platforms from around the world, the conference pointed to the lack of structure in various contexts and the subsequent rise of new forms of educational systems as a result. But while invited organizations and platforms represented the kernel of their mind-set and the new educational and (trans)-pedagogical methods that they have forged, the conference did not try to come up with any kind of solid framework to unite each participating endeavour or even to offer solutions raised by each project. Instead it raised important questions framed around programmes, development, participants and audience, with almost each participant stressing the need to replace an institutional setting by rethinking the current education system. As well as trying to create a long-term situation by undoing learned and received hierarchical patterns, the integration of new pedagogical understandings into the programme proved to be a crucial element for all participating platforms and organizations.
In addition, understanding the historical, political and cultural dynamics of the organization's city and country as a whole was shown to influence every step of decision making. In 'Pedagogy, Research and Practice as an Artistic and Social Response', Tony Evanko of Casa Tres Patios, questioned how critical thinking and instructive criticism can be presented in the realm of arts education in ambivalent political situations. In that sense, mapping and analysing the social contexts and local needs – instead of the so-called global – gains significance as each platform-organization has its own set of struggles. For instance, in the presentation 'The Spaceship, The Body and The Book', Gabriëlle Schleijpen touched on how DAI prepares their students to the reality of the male-dominated art market, taking a feminist and de-colonial perspective.
Furthermore, while OSE's home city London is facing expensive tuition fees and gentrification, other organizations such as SOMA, Casa Tres Patios or RAW Material Company cope with class distinction or residues of colonialization. A question posed by curator Koyo Kouoh added a further dimension to the discussion: 'How do we digest and experience colonialism and its effect on the psyche, landscape, economy and politics?' Kouoh continued by mentioning that the reputation of Dakar in the art world is different than the reality. The failure of the government to create an environment for plurality strongly affects the positioning of RAW, as well as the contemporary art scene in the country more generally. Censorship and even death threats are real barriers in terms of what can be represented and by consequence, what can be discussed.
During his presentation 'Initiated By,' artist Ahmet Öğüt brought up an often-avoided term in the realms of education: 'failure.' Founded by the artist in Istanbul, the model of Aciliyet Mektebi (The School of Urgency) was imagined as a collective learning centre with no budget, no sponsors and no grants, with invited co-collaborators already enrolled in various post-graduate programmes in Turkey. Öğüt commented on the how the learning centre was structured and added that for some reason, a hierarchical model unintentionally manifested. Despite that, Öğüt's presentation considered how accepting failure and receiving it wholeheartedly is a powerful method of unlearning and undoing.
Similarly, Farid Rakun from the non-profit contemporary art organization ruangrupa revealed in his humorous presentation that the driving power behind the collective is 'not-knowing at all'. Founded 15 years ago, ruangrupa – as they call themselves – has been slowly expanding as a radio show, a journal, an archive, a biennial and an institution for education. For the collective, expertise is achieved through experimentation and hacking institutional models by intervention or reinterpretation of existing systems.
Indeed, in a world where people cannot differentiate Dhaka from Dakar – as Diana Campbell Betancourt from Dhaka's Samdani Seminars and Art Foundation pointed out – what does the word global really mean? Issues of terminology relating to the words global and pedagogy was another issue raised during the Q&A session, particularly when Kouoh noted: 'We are all struggling with those words' – suggesting that using terms already in use, but in new contexts and with different intentions, could offer another a way out of the problem.
These presentations were followed by a series of workshops structured in small groups, as generated by each of the participating platform and organization. Topics of discussion included the validation of degrees, the politics of funding and the possibilities of long-term collaborations. In that sense, how instructors support students and their own art making, without falling into the traps of precariousness was an important topic that was brought up. The development of funds and finding money from various channels rather than having one sponsor only were among the key concerns.
With a great deal discussed during these two days, embracing vulnerability and maintaining dedication seemed to be crucial aspects of the work carried out by each invited platform, as they all explore the possibilities of creating new models outside of the mainstream system of education. Becoming comfortable with ambiguity was also highlighted as an important trait, so that, despite the challenges, new approaches can be tested out.
 Suhail. Malik, 'Educations Sentimental and Unsentimental: Repositioning the Politics of Art and Education' in Red Hook Journal of Curatorial Studies 1:11 (2011) http://www.bard.edu/ccs/wp-content/uploads/RHJ1.Malik_.pdf