Experimenting Culture as a Means to Train Artists and Teachers to Play Their Role of Cultural Facilitators 

By Marika Crête-Reizes
(Arts education consultant, expertise in cultural medication/aesthetic education) &
Marie-Christine Beaudry
(Professor, Université du Québec à Montréal)

Abstract

In Quebec, teachers and artists are invited to act as cultural facilitators with students. Although integrating culture into teaching is a prescription for teachers, and cultural mediation has been in development giving artists new tools and contexts to experience, almost no trainings exist, in professional development or initial/continuing education. We developed training sessions for teachers and artists – together – to support them in playing their role of cultural facilitators. In this contribution, we detail key elements that constitute the heart of the innovative trainings courses that we have put in place, namely experimentation and reflection, and the sharing of expertise. 

Keywords: cultural education, cultural facilitator, artists, teachers, training

In regard to Quebec’s historical context, the school curriculum has put emphasis on culture and cultural education rather than on arts and arts education. The term “culture” is here depicted in its widest sense, and therefore implies many possible manifestations, including artistic, literary, historical, and scientific. If the terminology “teaching artistry” is often used in the United States and other countries as well as in most parts of Canada, in Quebec the term “cultural mediation” is favored. That terminology refers to a wider and established practice that takes various forms and is grounded in the arts and culture policies of various levels of government, as well as being an acknowledged lever for implementing social inclusion plans—and, of course, for bringing together arts, culture and education. Rooted in the concepts of cultural democratization and democracy, inclusion and participation, cultural mediation practice is based on creating opportunities for interactions and encounters between artists and/or works of arts and audiences/citizens. Professionals involved in cultural mediation are generally referred to as “cultural mediators” or “cultural facilitators”. In parallel, the role artists play specifically in cultural mediation projects, including in schools, is also named in Quebec “artist-mediator” or “artist-facilitator”. The use of that expression, rather than “teaching artist”, is in part related to the very concept of teaching and pedagogy, expertise recognized (and claimed) by teachers and the education milieu. That said, to ease the reading of this article, and to more easily differentiate the two, the usual term “teaching artist” will be used to depict the role artists play in schools. 

In Quebec, the 2018 cultural policy affirms the importance of culture in school and of teaching artists’ interventions in classrooms “for the development of individuals, particularly with regard to the adoption of habits that will remain in adulthood [free translation]” (Gouvernement du Québec, 2018a, p.21). The Ministries of Education and Culture invite artists, artistic companies and cultural institutions to facilitate students’ visits in cultural venues and to increase the opportunities to meet students. Therefore, artists are invited to play a role of cultural facilitator in schools and to act as teaching artists (Gouvernement du Québec, 2018a; 2018b). In addition, the cultural policy invites teaching artists and teachers to collaborate in activities organized for students (Gouvernement du Québec, 2018a; 2018b). This collaboration between teachers and artists would increase the quality and relevance of the activities offered to the students and help for a better understanding of the roles of each professional involved in the activities (Easton, 2003; Gouvernement du Québec, 2018a; 2018b). However, teaching artists and teachers do not always work together to organize these activities. Teaching artists stress that they often do not know in what context the teacher organizes the activity, what are the connections the teacher makes between the intervention of the artist and the curriculum, nor what are the teacher’s expectations (Beaudry & al., 2020). For their part, teachers report that they do not always know how the activity or the outing will take place, how to bridge the gap between the artistic subject and their discipline, or what role to play (Beaudry & al., 2020; Dezutter & al., 2019).

Integrating culture into teaching is a prescription for teachers. The first professional competency states that the teacher must act as a “cultured professional, at the same time interpreter, facilitator and critic of elements of culture in the exercise of his functions [free translation]” (Gouvernement du Québec, 2020, p.48). They, too, are invited to play the role of cultural facilitators with their students. Among the possible actions to integrate culture into their discipline, teachers are invited to organize cultural activities such as outings to cultural venues, meetings and workshops. Programs and measures, funded by the Ministries of Education and Culture, support teachers by allowing them, among other things, to invite a teaching artist to lead one or more workshops, to give a conference, or to do an in-school artistic residency. Despite this support, a number of teachers organize little or no cultural activities (Beaudry & al., 2017) that involve someone from the outside. These teachers say they do not feel sufficiently formed to integrate the visit of a teaching artist into their class or they do not know what connections to make with their subject (Beaudry & al., 2017; Dezutter & al., 2019). Although the role of cultural facilitator played by teachers is not new, it is barely discussed in initial and continuing education, and in professional development training (Lemonchois & Beaudry, 2017; Saint-Jacques & Chené, 2002). The role artists can play as teaching artists is neither addressed in professional training and when it is, the role they play in school and their complementarity with teachers is also not systematically addressed.

Training artists and teachers, and allowing a dialogue between them, is needed. An enrichment of teacher training is necessary in order to promote a “better integration of the cultural dimension into their professional practice [free translation]” (Gouvernement du Québec, 2018b, p. 5). Training is also required for artists for them to better understand the education dynamics and optimize their interventions in the school environment (Gouvernement du Québec, 2018b). It is in this context that we both intervene as instructors with teachers and teaching artists who wish to organize or are involved in cultural activities in elementary and high school classes. As a professional specialist in cultural mediation with teaching artists and as a University professor in initial and continuing education teacher training, we combine our expertise in order to design and offer professional development trainings for teachers and teaching artists. These trainings meet important needs of both the cultural and educational milieux: 1. To be trained to (better) play the role of cultural facilitator with students; 2. To better understand the role of every professionals involved in cultural activities led in a school environment; 3. For the teaching artists, to better link their actions to the school context; 4. For the teachers, to think about and deepen ways to integrate cultural activities into their teaching. 

In this article, we humbly propose to share our professional practice. First, and referring to the role both teaching artists and teachers are invited to play with students, we briefly present what a cultural facilitator is, then we focus on the two specific elements that are at the heart of our trainings and which, in our opinion and that of the participants, make them structuring professional development trainings.

What is a Cultural Facilitator?

Our approach is based on aesthetic education, defined by Greene as “an intentional undertaking designed to nurture appreciative, reflective, cultural, participatory engagements with the arts by enabling learners to notice what is there to be noticed, and to lend works of art their lives in such a way that they can achieve them as variously meaningful” (Greene, 2001, p. 6). Like Bruner (1991), Dewey (2010) and Greene (2001), we conceive culture as a sensitive and intelligent experience, as the fruit of an individual’s participation to society and of the meaning he/she gives to his/her participation (Bruner, 1991; Greene, 2001). Culture allows students to construct meaning from the knowledge they have learned in school – scientific, literary, artistic, etc. – (and in life) and to act (Bruner, 1991). Therefore, acting as a cultural facilitator means inviting students to a (different) way of seeing, thinking and creating (Greene, 200; Kerlan, 2003). It means to introduce students to different forms, practices and venues dwell by arts and culture. Cultural mediation, then, becomes a space for active encounters between an individual and a cultural object. And this encounter brings the students to observe the work of art, to question him/herself about what he/she sees or hears in it, to question him/herself about the artist’s approach and creative process, and to reflect on his/her own experience and on the work at hand (Greene, 2001). This relationship, this dialogue, implies a certain form of exploration, an experience as understood by Dewey (2010): for the teacher as well as for the teaching artist, it refers to the idea of bringing the students to “produce”, to create in connection with the cultural object in study (Dewey, 2010; Greene, 2001). The experience to which the students are invited is therefore sensitive and intelligent; it appeals to their senses, memories, emotions, but also to their knowledge, skills and reflective abilities (Balling, 2016; Brehm & Beaudry, 2019; Lemonchois & Beaudry, 2017).

The trainings we offer are rooted in this conception of culture and of cultural mediation. Therefore, we invite teachers and teaching artists to collaborate during the sessions and to set up dynamic encounters – encounters that promote experience – between students and arts and culture. We do not give any recipes; there is no “mechanical process in the encounter with the work of art [free translation]” (Chabanne & Villagordo, 2008, p. 3). Concretely, the trainings last between 2 and 4 days or take the form of a course lasting a few weeks. They bring together teachers and artists with varied backgrounds (public and private schools, school subjects and levels, artistic disciplines) and from across Quebec. In some cases, teachers and artists participate as a team because they are involved in a common cultural activity; others register without being associated with a cultural activity or without being paired with an artist or teacher.

Nourished by the work of other researchers (Chabanne & Villagordo, 2008; Dewey, 2010; Greene, 2001; Kerlan, 2003, 2012, 2015; Lemonchois, 2019) and by our own work and professional experiences, we have based our trainings on two specific elements: the adoption of a posture of research (of answers, of meanings) and the sharing of expertise.

A Research Stance that Calls for Experimentation and Reflection

The duration of the training is intentional: it allows participants to experience several activities, which take three different forms. Some immerse participants in cultural activities that the students can experience; others get them to put on their professional hats (of teaching or cultural mediation) and work on the connections between cultural objects and their school program or cultural mediation projects; finally, other activities stimulate thinking and reflection. Training alone is not enough to develop or change practices: it must be accompanied by the possibility of trained individuals to intervene, to take action (Monceau, 2013), by putting it into practice. The training we provide is therefore not part of a transmissive framework focused on masterful teaching: on the contrary, the participants are quickly, and firstly, in the experiment, and in doing so, we provide formal content. In the end, the different activities bring the participants into contact with different cultural forms (works in performing arts, literature and visual arts for example).

What unites these three forms of activity is the research posture in which we immerse the participants, right from the start of the training. Echoing a socioconstructivist approach to learning (as example, inquiry-based, by problem solving, by projects), the research posture we encourage requires participants to be in action and in a continual quest for answers. The research posture appeals to their sense of exploration: making discoveries on their own, activating their curiosity, asking questions, making choices and questioning their choices, and looking for new keys to interpreting cultural objects. It allows them to experience cultural objects, to reflect on their experiences and on the connections to be established with their professional practice. Culture is an experience: it is important to us that the relationship to cultural objects is part of a dynamic experience from which teachers and artists can reflect for their own practices.

The research stance calls for a necessary cultural experimentation; in fact, at the very heart of the creative process is the permanent questioning which animates creation and contributes to building a sensitive relationship with the world. In this process, we find an opening, a dialogue, a relationship with oneself and with others. By thus inviting participants to “touch” creation and its components, they are led to experience arts and culture and to reflect on their relationship with it. As Greene (2001) points out, it is difficult for a teacher – and we sometimes think it is also the case for an artist – to think about a cultural experience for the students if he/she has not reflected on his/her own cultural and artistic experiences. The teacher’s relationship to arts and culture plays an important role in integrating culture into his teaching, and also seems to play a determining role in the development of his students’ culture and in their relationship to it (Simard & al., 2007). By placing them in an active relation towards arts and culture, experimentation enables them to “feel more, to sense more, to be more consciously in the world” (Greene, 2001, p.10). This acquaintance, or deepening for some, of the components of a cultural object leads participants, and teachers in particular, to explore new modes of expression and learning, and to imagine and reflect on the transposition of the approach for the students. By experiencing from within, the proposed creative process also creates meaning, and this meaning is more likely to emerge if real, personal engagement is experienced.

If cultural experiences in school environments can permit an « initiation into new ways of seeing, hearing, feeling, moving », it implies « the nurture of a special kind of reflectiveness and expressiveness » (a continuous quest for meanings) and can therefore, incites “a learning to learn” (Greene, 2001, p.7). Thus, the opportunities for reflection that punctuate our trainings are linked to the experimentations and invite participants to take an active look at their observations and learnings, on their commitment and engagement to the experimental process, and on their professional practices. Moments of reflection take various forms (individual, collective, written, oral, physical, etc.) and are brought about by questions (i.e.: How can a cultural object trigger research? What connections can you make between this research process and the learning process of your students? What is your teaching-learning intention by integrating this cultural activity in your class?). Caune underlines that cultural mediation “is not the transmission of pre-existing content: it is the production of meaning according to the materiality of the medium, the space and the circumstances of reception [free translation]” (Caune, 2017, p. 45). Thus, the research posture places the participants at the center of the process; they are the main actors in the encounter with artistic and cultural objects. Several studies have shown that the moments of reflection offered to professionals in continuing education are essential factors in their professional development (Lafortune & Deaudelin, 2001), making it possible to anchor the learning and potentially to change practices. For Schön (1994), the reflection of an individual on his actions transforms him/her into a “researcher in a context of practice [free translation]” (Schön, 1994, p. 97). This brings us back to the research posture that we favor: this double reflection – in relation to lived experience and professional practice as a cultural facilitator – appears to us to be essential and as a driving force for training. The participants also underline that the reflective downtime guides them towards greater connectivity with their own cultural interests and practices, their curiosity and their educational intentions. Some report that they lead them to know themselves better, as a teacher and as an individual, to expose themselves to new points of view and to open up more. It also seems that the creation of a community of practice helps to anchor the learning of the participants. And what better space than arts and culture to question and to experiment new avenues!

Expertise Sharing

Interdisciplinary, the complementary of roles between teachers and artists, and the development of a common language between them are at the heart of exchanges and experimentation during trainings. We always make sure that there is a sharing of knowledge, skills and roles between artists and teachers. If the training is intended only for teachers, this sharing takes the form of creative activities and discussions led by our duo’s specialist in cultural mediation, and sometimes in the presence of invited cultural speakers.

The diagram below, used in our trainings, explains the complementarity of each person’s roles and the collaborative dynamics that are at play.

Figure 1

Roles and collaborative dynamics

Note. From Crête-Reizes & Beaudry (2020)

Participants are encouraged to reflect on their roles, their expertise and their involvement, and thus distinguish the roles of cultural facilitators played by each. As the graphic shows, no one is in a position of superiority; each occupies a place in their field of expertise. All these complementary expertises converge to the student and his/her encounter with the work of art or cultural object. An encounter at the heart of the experience, and which one wishes to be meaningful. The artist is an expert in his discipline and in cultural mediation; he/she acts as a sort of bridge between the cultural activity and the students. His/her role is not about “playing the art teacher”; rather, the artist conducts classroom activities and creative workshops based on his/her expertise (Easton, 2003). He/she does not replace the teacher, but works with him/her. He/she “acts as an expert in the encounter or the sensitive experience to be lived, without a competitive spirit [free translation]” (Nadeau, 2020, p.74). The cultural venue, when it is involved in the activity or project, is an expert in its field of practice (performing arts, visual arts, scientific culture, etc.) and in cultural mediation, in addition to welcoming school groups in its venue and offering (often) cultural mediation activities or workshops before (and sometimes after) the outing. The teacher, as an expert in teaching-learning, bridges the gap between cultural activities, students and his/her curriculum. With the artist, and the cultural venue when applicable, he/she weaves connections between the students’ culture and a new culture to be developed, and thus implements the cultural approach to teaching. 

By being immersed in individual and collective creative and reflective activities, it seems that teachers and artists are more aware of the importance of their involvement in the integration of culture into their practice and the multiple ways in which their work can be translated to their role as cultural facilitators. These experiences allow participants to clarify each other’s roles (needs, expectations, limits) and to establish a collaborative relationship. These experiences also allow the teacher to properly prepare his/her students for the artist’s arrival, to understand the need for preparation and to properly plan the teaching-learning situations in connection with cultural activities. They also allow him/her to adopt a posture of discovery and awakening in the face of the work of art or cultural object that will be integrated into his/her teaching since he/she must explore it him/herself. Many teachers say that the activities they plan have more meaning for them and their students. As for artists, these experiences enable them to better understand the context in which they intervene with the students, the reality of the teachers, the students and the schools they visit, and help them clarify their intentions in the planning of cultural activities. Artists report that trainings help them develop and deepen their practice and that they become more intentional in their guidance, gestures and interactions with students. They also mention that the dynamic with teachers is positively enhanced and that they feel they are part of a team when they arrive in class.   

Finally, teachers and artists are placed in the position of co-learners: they share a common experience and find echoes to their own questions – sources of their professional understanding and enrichment, and essential points of support for reflection on their human and professional identity.

Conclusion 

When we started training teachers and teaching artists, many said they felt comfortable with their role as cultural facilitators, and several teachers claimed to integrate culture into their teaching. According to both teachers and artists, the training allowed them to deepen their knowledge and practice, but also to legitimize their approach and share their experiences. For some time now, we have been training teachers who are less comfortable with their role of cultural facilitator, some of whom know very little about it, and who attend training because their colleagues are present. If we see resistance during the first hours of training, we quickly witness – and the teachers also point it out – a change: an openness to the role of cultural facilitator, coupled with the development of a feeling of competence to play it. Teachers report knowing how to connect arts and culture to one or more elements of their training program. They also underline the impact of training on their entire teaching practice, and not only in the context of cultural projects. Experimentation, reflection and the sharing of expertise are not unrelated to these changes: they would not occur without the duration and format of the training. 

That said, some teachers and teaching artists go back to their previous practices. The emergence of new practices related to cultural mediation requires time. It must also come from a continual intentional reflection from the teacher and the teaching artist to cultivate meaningful cultural commitments and engagements that resonate and find their place both in the personal and the professional spheres. It is this reflection that can lead the teacher and the teaching artist to perceive new paths of thoughts, new actions to experience. Acting as a facilitator requires “revisiting one’s role, one’s conception of knowledge and the way in which it supports and equips students so that they can give meaning to school knowledge [free translation]” (Barth, 2017, p. 149). By focusing on experience, rather than just on theory, on reflection and the complementarity of expertise, our approach seems promising. There are very few joint trainings for teachers and artists in Quebec; and yet, the scope of such a twinning has little to compare for the participants.


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