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Virtual Symposium: Art and Social Practice
5th March 2014

Virtual Symposium in Art and Social Practice: How do we teach and learn it in Higher Education?

An experiment in research informed teaching

On 5th March students and staff from the Department of Fine Art spent a day in online dialogue with their counterparts in University of the Highlands and Islands and Birmingham City University. Video conferencing facilities in the Grove enabled Middlesex to participate in an innovative research project initiated by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation into participatory arts practices. Proceedings at this end were led by Dr. Loraine Leeson and Alberto Duman, who run Level 2 and 3 modules in Art Practice and Community as part of the BA in Fine Art, and the symposium was chaired from Shetland College by artist Roxane Permar on behalf of University of the Highlands and Islands. Twelve different sites in England, Scotland and the US were involved in the dialogue, many participants joining the debate from highly remote locations.


Central to the event was an opportunity for students to share their outreach projects online and gain feedback from others working in similar ways, though in very different circumstances. Their work was contextualised through case studies that included a project involving the Arizona prison system, a Cultural Health worker from Aberdeenshire and participatory performance in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow. Keynote speeches were delivered by Hilary Nicoll, project manager of Artworks Scotland and Pablo Helguera, speaking from New York about concepts in his book Education for Socially Engaged Art, a key text for art students learning how to work within communities


The opportunity arose through a visit by Loraine Leeson to Shetland College at the end of last year, where she was invited to bring her expertise to an event for a new experimental networked module in Art and Social Practice. The occasion led to Middlesex University participating in the March symposium, later expanded to include artist Françoise Dupré and her students at Birmingham City University.


The day was highly successful in not only bringing together an extraordinary number of participants from different locations, but in the exciting sharing of experiences by students within a wider critical framework. The social practice of art is a burgeoning field of study internationally and we would like to see a symposium of this kind become an annual event. Video conferencing could indeed become a more integrated part of teaching if more flexible facilities could be made available. These could also support distance learning in community-based practice and build on the UHI experiment to facilitate students in any part of the world to realise projects in their own locality.


Photo © Kerri Jefferis, Level 3 Fine Art.