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//Direction: Art!// – Elżbieta Sala

Direction: Art! – Elżbieta Sala

Our contemporary cultural education in Poland is innovative, important and in need of publicity.

‘No grand idea was ever born in a conference, but a lot of foolish ideas have died there’.[1] Whenever I hear this brilliant sentence by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, I am reminded of some vague recollections from dozens of conferences whose names I have long since forgotten, even though the experience they gave me was important at some point. I am under the impression that conferences are more and more popular. Various inflections of this idea are advertised virtually all the time: there are press conferences, business conferences, academic conferences. All things innovative and important call for a conference. In the world of academia, conferences are generated not only by the need to present one’s own work but also by the financing system that governs higher education. When PhD students participate in conferences, they are as much motivated by their passion for knowledge as by their awareness of the rules of the academic game in Poland. Cultural education also constitutes a game played at the meeting point between various social fields, including public education and art world. Despite the ongoing debate as to its actual meaning and role, cultural education is not devoid of any internal verification criteria. Taking their own experience as a point of reference, all people working in this area are capable of judging the value of activities undertaken by others and readily do so.

At the beginning of 2013, MOCAK came up with the idea of organising a conference concerning contemporary art-oriented cultural education. The Museum invited people working in the area of popularising art to enrich the session with their point of view. The motivation behind this project was complex. We wanted to promote good practice in the field, exchange ideas, meet new colleagues from the same circle, present our efforts and the just-published book, etc. However, the major reason for organising the event was the deep conviction that contemporary art education, in its best form, was innovative, important and in need of publicity, especially in the context of the (non)existing general social debate on the changes in the education system.

Art-oriented education is innovative because at the level of methods it is very different from the standards perpetuated in Polish schools and colleges. It encourages experimenting. It is important because it fulfils vital social functions, such as increasing social participation. It needs publicity because the experience gathered by educators may come in handy when trying to solve Poland’s educational problems. Contemporary educational projects are quite often interactive, creative and carried out in close co-operation with artists. Cultural institutions and art-related organisations tackle the problem of social exclusion with an increasing number of projects addressing psychiatric patients, blind people, refugees, people with mental disorders and those living in poverty. There are also social art events as well as educational projects that attract increasing number of people that are not all that interested in art in their everyday life.

The Direction: Art! conference took place on 26 April, attracting representatives of over 80 institutions and organisations from various parts of Poland. A total of over 40 projects were presented at the MOCAK Library and in the Museum’s audiovisual room. The Library hosted the Education Open Space, which took the form of multimedia presentations of more than a dozen projects. The events advertised in the audiovisual room were divided into three theme blocks: the art of education, culture for all, above the elite/egalitarian division. The limit of over a 100 participants was reached in just a few days after the registration had been opened.

Conference speakers did not present theoretical accounts of their preferred topics, but discussed practical solutions for pre-determined problems, including creative education, social participation and making art available to groups at risk of exclusion.

For me, the Direction: Art! conference was a clear sign that this area of activity is still vibrant and dynamic, and people working in this field are able to overcome any barriers and animosities that may undermine the world of art and education. They are able to get together in a shared understanding that their actions are valuable. The project was not financed by any grants or subsidies, MOCAK did not collect participation fees and, more importantly, did not reimburse travel costs. This event could not have taken place without the efforts of many people and the fact that the managements of many institutions appreciate the significance of such sessions. I am very far from any illusions as to the opportunities created by such conferences, as I know that they are burdened with a whole array of disadvantages. I have to admit that they are hardly my favourite form of communication. Conferences serve to present the world as it is rather than help foster new ideas. However, sometimes an element of our reality is so powerful that just letting it speak for itself is enough. I think this applies to innovative cultural education. It is time we started speaking about it.

We would like to thank the following participants for presenting their activities:

Patrycja Mastej, Wrocław Contemporary Museum

Marta Skowrońska, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw

Monika Dylewska, National Museum in Krakow

Dorota Ogrodzka, Teatr Polski im. H. Konieczki, Bydgoszcz

Magdalena Godlewska, Arsenal Gallery, Białystok

Beata Zuba, individual activity

Karolina Stańczak, Ewa Marcinek, Culture Centre Wrocław West

Anna Zdzieborska, Paulina Celińska, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw

Michał Grabowski, Centre of Polish Sculpture, Orońsko

Anna Owsiany, Łukasz Stanek, Creative Group Foundation, Warsaw

Barbara Sroka, City Culture Institute, Gdańsk

Aneta Zasucha, BWA Contemporary Art Gallery in Katowice

Marianna Otmianowska, National Museum, Warsaw

Anna Meronk, Laznia Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk

Anna Bargiel, Bunkier Sztuki Gallery of Contemporary Art, Krakow

Magdalena Kreis and Natalia Romaszkan, Design Gallery – BWA, Wrocław

Maja Dobiasz, Aleksandar Ćirlić, Katedra Kultury Association – Fieldwork Collective, Warsaw

Natalia Zamilska, Audiovisual Culture Foundation Grey Zone, Cieszyn

Maria Cibicka, Voivodeship Public Library, Krakow

Joanna Boniecka, individual activity, Krakow
Małgorzata Cebulska, European Solidarity Centre, Gdańsk
Józef Chyży and Ignacy Nowodworski, Opole Contemporary Art Gallery
Iwona Gołaj, National Museum, Wrocław
Maria Macięga, Public School Complex, Wysoka
Magdalena Mazik, MOCAK Library, Krakow
Małgorzata Nowak, Contemporary Art with Kids
Marta Ogrodzińska-Miłoszewska, TERAZ POLIŻ Art Group, Warsaw
Łucja Piekarska-Duraj, Malopolska Institute of Culture, Krakow
Małgorzata Różańska, Villa Decius Association, Krakow
Sylwia Rybacka, National Museum, Kielce
Justyna Sławik, Justyna Mazur,
Downtown Community Centre, Krakow
Katarzyna Solińska
, Glass Heritage Centre, Krosno
Grażyna Skalniak
, Podgórze Community Centre, Krakow
Beta Wąsowska
, individual initiative, Tychy
Kamil Wnuk
, Jacek Kuroń Junior High School no. 12 in Poznań and Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow


Conference idea: Elżbieta Sala, MOCAK

Programme: Elżbieta Sala, Agata Tecl, Kronika the Center of Contemporary Art in Bytom, Magdalena Mazik, MOCAK (Education Open Space)

Discussion panel leaders: Agata Tecl, Zofia Kerneder, MOCAK, Kinga Lubowiecka, MOCAK, Łucja Piekarska-Duraj, Malopolska Institute of Culture

Organisation: Kinga Lubowiecka, Maria Wegenke, MOCAK, Dominika Machowska, Magdalena Mazik

[1] F.S. Fitzgerald, The Crack-up, New Directions Publishing, Literary Criticism, 2009, p. 123.