They Are Serious About Play

I didn’t properly record the source, but last week someone tweeted a link to the LEGO Foundation’s document, Creating Creators, which has the subtitle: “How can we enhance creativity in education systems?”

The document is a collection of seven essays on the subject. What interested me was the more international perspective on the topic than I had really previously seen. There are pieces written by the Minister of Basic Education for the Republic of South Africa as well as one by a student of that country’s University of Pretoria. Apparently teaching to the test is also perceived to be a problem in South Africa.

There was also an essay discussing how the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) will test for creative thinking for the first time in 2021. The PISA is the cause of much hand wringing over how students in the US compare to students in other countries in different subject areas so it can be worth paying attention to the results when they are issued and using them to initiate conversations.

That is if the PISA is administered next year. I was surprised there was no acknowledgement of the impact of the global pandemic in any of the essays. It turns out that while this document is new to me, it was actually published in 2019. With so much learning disrupted this year, they may decide to postpone the administration of the test for awhile longer.

I poked around the LEGO Foundation’s site a little bit and was not surprised to find they had created “A guide to playful distance learning – online and offline.” While it is focused on educational institutions it has a lot of fun ideas that arts & cultural organizations and libraries can use for their programs –or individual parents can use with their kids.

As the title of this post indicates, LEGO Foundation is serious about play and the Knowledge Base section of their website reflects that. It is a good place to visit for research and ideas on the topic.

Germany Would Like You To Perform With Confidence

Big thanks to Rainer Glaap who sent me a link to a news report that Germany has created a $2.5 billion cancellation fund that would allow event organizers to plan shows in the third and fourth quarter of 2021 with some confidence by promising to cover any Covid related losses. They are also working on funding to mitigate against losses due to capacity restrictions.

Scholz said that the federal government would like to reimburse all costs “which were made in optimistic expectation and cannot be realised due to corona restrictions” for events in the second half of 2021. “Otherwise the pandemic will be over at some point, but there will be no concerts. And so the whole machinery with the many self-employed soloists and musicians gets back on its feet,” he added.

Scholz says he is also working on a funding program to support cultural events that are financially impacted by capacity restrictions enforced due to coronavirus, as well as hybrid shows.

Apparently Austria implemented a similar program in October and ended up putting it into practice a short time later:

The protective umbrella was put to use sooner rather than later when Austria went into lockdown on 3 November. The lockdown was lifted today, however leisure facilities and cultural institutions will not be permitted to reopen.

Similarly motivated to stimulate cultural activity, the article reports that Denmark had provided subsidies for organizing socially distanced events in September and October.

The insurance and subsidy approaches both provide interesting models for the Save Our Stages effort in the US. I suspect other countries have arrived at additional plans that would be equally viable and worth exploring.

Who Is Prioritized In Programming Decisions

The Atlantic ran an article about how museums are having to deal with questions about equity and representation in their programming that are posed by both external and internal constituencies.

The content of the article is pretty much applicable to every arts and cultural organization, regardless of discipline because the root of the problem seems to be the process by which programming decisions are made.

The collection departments at museums don’t tend to engage with the educational staff—who help interpret exhibitions by organizing lectures and seminars that can enhance public understanding of a display’s importance—until too late. “When I was first in the art-museum world as an educator, we were presented exhibitions after they had been curated and decided upon,” she said. “And then it was our job to figure out how to teach from those exhibitions. How the content mattered, how relevant it was to our community, all those decisions were made outside my office.”

In that sense, context enters the conversation at the end of the decision-making process. And even when educators are involved, they can sometimes focus too much on scholarship—as with the “White Gold” exhibit—trapping museums in a cycle of overemphasizing academics and underemphasizing analysis in a racial and historical context, leading to misguided exhibitions. “What curatorial processes could benefit from are open-ended questions rather than setting out theses to prove,” Bradley said.

This basic scenario has long existed across arts and cultural disciplines. This is part of what people are referencing when they discuss silos in organizations. A programming decision is made by one group and then another group is tasked with marketing it to some segment of the community. What this does is put those who weren’t involved in the decision making in the position of reverse engineering a rationale for the value of the programming and trying to make it stick. A better alternative would be starting from the question of what will be valued by the community and letting the programming decisions emerge from that.

How one goes about discussing the question of what will be valued differs from place to place and organization to organization. Some of the museums mentioned in The Atlantic article received feedback from community partner organizations, others made an intentional decision to involve people without formal arts training so that the process didn’t get bogged down in academic lingo and context.

Wasn’t Looking For Substantive Discussion of Workplace Equity On An Orchestra Podcast, But There It Was

I may owe some apologies to Drew McManus because I would have never expected that a podcast about the classical music industry would provide one of the best discussions about the complexities of workplace equity that I have heard. (And I have heard a lot, even in the last 10 days.)

The most recent episode of Shop Talk features a conversation with Ruby Lopez Harper, Americans for the Arts Senior Director of Local Arts Advancement; and Dr. Brea M. Heidelberg, Associate Professor & the Director of the Entertainment & Arts Management program at Drexel University.

The fact both guests had an established rapport from having previously worked together allowed them to move quickly to a substantive discussion of workplace equity efforts. For the most part, Drew just stood back and let them delve into the subject.

Even before they brought it up, I was already thinking about what the future might hold when workplace equity programs are no longer the hot priority for funders. It occurred to me that the test-focused values of our education system is reflected in many other aspects of our lives. (Likely the education system is also a reflection of broader values.)

Just as knowledge is only valued until a test approves of our apparent mastery, there is a feeling that once you have taken the equity seminar and received the certificate, the problematic elements have been eliminated and you are now an approved good person.

So it would make sense that there might be a similar transactional approach to funding: Once X amount of dollars has been spent on the problem and Y positive outcomes have been reported, (and as we know, every funded program comes off exactly as planned, at least in final reports), then the bulk of the important work as been done and the funder can move on.

It also occurred to me that the mindset of orchestra musicians, though not necessarily the boards and administration that run the organizations, might be among the best suited for work place equity efforts. Musicians know that the attainment of knowledge and ability is not complete when a passing grade is received but rather it is a lifelong pursuit of self-improvement — much as the pursuit of equity.

Kudos to Drew for pulling this off. This is not an easy topic to get honest, quality discourse on. Take a listen.

As Drew writes,

…it’s more frank than candid and I mean that in the best possible way. Even if you don’t think you’re the sort of person who “needs” to hear this, you do. If you’re white, you’ll probably feel uncomfortable, but again, only in the best possible way. Don’t miss the section on #TraumaEntrapment around the 40min mark.

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