The Margate School report 

There's a sketch at every turn, J.M.W.Turner

For the artist communication with nature remains the most essential condition. The artist is human; himself nature; part of nature within natural space, P.Klee

Somebody must always be doing something new, or life would get very dull, Ninette de Valois

TMS logo (black text, transparent background).png

The Margate School (TMS) intervention (UCA/ESADHaR/EESAB) is an outcome, a legacy outcome of the ICR partnership and also the RECREATE partnership, together with a number of other projects, such as the BOAT in St Malo/Brest  (EESAB/UCA), HOME or Resort Studios in Margate (KCC), the ‘New’ ESADHaR campus in Rouen, the Collaborative Research Group (Crate/UCA), Sun Pier House in Medway (MC). The ICR and RECREATE project activities, bar dissemination and closure activities, concluded on 31 March 2015. All legacy interventions that aim to sustain their activities or services or wish to develop further, do so independently or have integrated outcomes into the respective partner’s own provision. It is likely that all partners will have integrated a number of elements of the ICR and Recreate collaborative experience into their own provision, be it in terms of pedagogy or services or expanded networks.   

The ICR partnership focused on supporting creative practitioners (creative art students, freelance artists, creative professionals from the partner region and adjacent areas) to develop the quality of their practice and their professional development. It nurtured a creative network of creative animators and intermediaries that engage with creative practice with the arts school and its students at the centre. It created a rich cross-border creative ecology of these stakeholders through its range of collaborative actions. Each action had a social and community as well as collaborative aspect to it. ICR therefore sought to stimulate cultural and economic growth, enhanced collaboration and cohesion in the cross border region. Some of the results have been captured on this website. www.creativeecology.eu

The RECREATE partnership supported the regeneration of town centres, encouraged activity in areas that have seen recent decline and the closure of many high street banks and shops. Project funding has gone towards the refurbishment of vacant commercial and cultural premises. Buildings were transformed into studios, workspaces and exhibition and showcasing spaces, populated with communities of creative industry businesses and graduates, including artists, designer-makers and digital media start-ups. Some of the results have been captured at www.recreateproject.eu/en/

In the ICR project we set out, originally to be led by Calais, to explore different approaches to arts education, art practice, community engagement. We have been exploring some of these questions in The Sculpture Question research group at UCA, or at the ESADHaR’s EDITH group. With the support of ICR funding the partnership was able to undertake the Rebound colloquium at Canterbury in 2014 led by Cathy Busby and attended by UCA, ESADHaR and EESAB staff and students, local stakeholders  as well as Roger Conover, Executive Editor at MIT Press. Also  the discussions and presentations at The Sculpture Question Conference as part of the Folkestone Triennial  held in 2014 also touched aspects of arts education and socially engaged practice, e.g. the presentation by Mary Jane Jacobs. The latest discussions around the arts and wider educational issues took place as part of the ICR Creative Challenge workshops led by Laurence Taylor of the Open School East and  Hendrik Tratsaert from Vrijstaat-O.  
A TMS presentation and discussion lastly took place in Margate upon the invitation of the High Sheriff of Kent.

The Rebound Colloquium, Cathy Busby reflected  “was a conversation, a participatory event. Questions provided a framework to focus discussion around the structure of the contemporary “art school”; research; teaching and learning. There was the level of the nuts and bolts (where the money comes from; research requirements; bureaucratic processes) and the level of broader ideas. The British would like to reduce the bureaucracy that is now overwhelming them, while the French want to preserve the open system that they have. While the Conference offered more refined presentations, the Colloquium gave a voice to the different positions in a period of upheaval and transition taking place at UCA and in the French art schools of the ICR partnership project. The Colloquium allowed for and exposed the differences and continuing pressures related to research and teaching, productively confusing the stage”.

Some of the Rebound participants produced the following statements:

  • To always keep in mind that our specificity and legitimacy is based conceptually and physically in practice.
  • Developing a research culture within art departments.
  • Encouraging creative pedagogy.
  • Our mother tongue is visual.
  • Keep making cool … thinking,  making,  involving
  • We are for an art school that embraces contradiction and encourages debate.
  • We are for an art school that keeps tuition fees to a minimum.
  • We are for an art school that considers the environment in every decision it makes.
  • Acting researcher vs. Acting as a researcher
  • Indivisible  vs. Instrumental
  • Evaluation vs. Valuation
  • To develop a culture of enquiry beyond your immediate subject matter.

Roger Conover observed that “Art education is notoriously difficult to define, let alone to deliver; it is a complex practice whose interest and elusiveness reside in its epistemological fluidity. We can, and should, debate the methods, techniques and practices of art making, but to do the same with art education risks pushing the subject into any of the disciplines over which art education sits like one of those circles in a Venn diagram – fragmenting its wonderful elasticity into a series of separate disciplinary cells.

Art Education, if it has any purpose at all, must also create bridges of understanding between the processes of production and the rest of society; that is, to explain or at least introduce art and artistic ideas to politicians and the public, and to calibrate art education within a broader mix of cultural disciplines. If art education is merely about improving the supply side of practice, that is to say if it is merely about training artists to survive in the economy, interaction with culture and society is restricted. This interaction is difficult, demanding and the single most important reason why art education needs to retain its epistemological fluidity. It is not describable, nor can it be prescribed. It is personal, subjective and immediate, susceptible to attack and prone to revision. Depending on wide and eclectic knowledge that is necessarily both more and less demanding than that expected of academic disciplines, it helps to stake out territory that cannot happen purely from a supply side perspective”.

At the ICR Creative Challenge workshop in London Hendrik Tratsaert  and Laurence Taylor produced a statement following their presentation and discussions with workshop participants:

“Openness is a basic condition.

Permanent learning as a positive attitude is often obstructed by formal or ridged learning conditions.

Whether it is a participatory art project or an educational model we call for more interaction and less formality in learning environments.

Participation requires lowering the threshold of access to learning and experiencing creative processes.

Learning is not only about skills and reproducing it is about experiencing together and sharing knowledge. Participants, stakeholders, artists, organizers, funders, decision makers and organizations must own this process.

In creating artistically valid projects in which everyone is represented one creates a field of tension and potential. We advocate the use of frameworks to ensure the group process leads to an agreed output.

 A deliberate use of public space can be helpful. A nomadic way or operating can favour this process”.

The Margate School idea emerged out of these and other partnership discussions and is trying to synthesize some of the thinking underpinning these discussions.  As an ICR outcome TMS is therefore to be situated in and for the communities of Margate with the objective to develop further through these communities beyond the lifespan of the ICR project. As such it is an outcome, together with the other outcomes, around which future projects can be developed, should partners or other beneficiaries wish to do so and depending on the individual circumstances of the various projects.

There has been some interest in the experimental and conceptual character of a broad community based pedagogic approach, as TMS idea implies. Subsequently there has been local political interest in the idea which then entered into a bigger debate, that is one of a physically based independent school. This initiative was brought about by the High Sheriff of Kent, who invited the ICR partnership to present the findings of the ICR TMS project to a dinner he held in March at the Turner Contemporary Gallery, to which he invited local politicians, public sector representatives, business representatives, arts stakeholders and some of the ICR representatives and practitioners, circa 100 guests in total.  Arnold Schwartzman OBE, supporter of the regeneration of Margate and former resident of Margate, came forward to champion the idea of TMS.

The TMS presentation set out that Margate is becoming increasingly (and again) a place of cultural consumption boosted by the Turner Contemporary Gallery and Dreamland development. For regeneration efforts, or may be more appropriately for reconfiguration efforts, to be boosted and sustained, there is an opportunity for cultural consumption to be strengthened by cultural production and urban place making. The Margate School could function as a key catalyst.

TMS would value and have ambitions for an independent cross-disciplinary post-graduate level collaborative provision with the arts at its core. It would focus on project-based learning in the expanded field, but avoid ‘schooled imagination’. As such TMS is inspired by Margate's past and passionate about the future. A school in and for Margate, as a private-public partnership, as such it can potentially operate on a fluid periodic and temporary basis or indeed with physical permanent presence in the longer term. It would operate as a not-for profit independent private organization but in collaboration with educational and arts providers, complementing existing provision, not competing; offering an additional resource to add value to local HE provision for example, acting as feeder to art MA programmes and indeed act a co-deliverer. Provision can range from portfolio reviews, to professional development, community projects to collaborative MA provision and PhD residency and support design and technology incubation provision.

Following the Margate presentation, the response was on the whole positive and it was agreed that further discussions and conversations need to be had. It was agreed that different stakeholders needed be approached in separate meetings to truly understand the potential for future collaboration. Stakeholders include educational providers, arts organisations and artists, politicians and public sector officers, business representatives and interested ICR and RECREATE partners. The future of the TMS idea will now depend on the outcome of these discussions but the ICR experience and concept developed so far should provide a good basis for TMS to become a successful legacy of the ICR partnership.

Uwe Derksen, 1 April 2015