Still Moving and Learning? Questioning previous and further research | XABIER LANDABIDEA, MATINA MAGKOU, CRISTINA ORTEGA

September 27, 2013

Abstract:

The Artists´ Moving and Learning study explored the added value of mobility of European artists on Life Long Learning processes from a qualitative and experiential point of view. Recognising the relevance of researching artistic mobility, this article revisits its initial approach and main findings in light of the present development of the economic crisis in European countries such as Portugal, Greece and the Spanish State. The findings and recommendations plotted in the European Reports are confronted with a scenario-changing structural crisis and it is concluded that the systemic crisis has  repercussions on the conceptual and legitimacy level of the artistic mobility. The article infers that further research is necessary in order to reassess mobility´s benefits and Life Long Learning opportunities in times of systemic crisis.

 Keywords:

Mobility, artistic and professional development, non formal and informal learning, crisis.

The “Artists´ Moving and Learning” study

This paper is based on the Artists´ Moving & Learning research project conducted between 2008 and 2010 under the Lifelong Learning Program framework financed by the European Commission with the objective of analysing the impact of mobility artists in Europe from an educational and Life Long learning perspective.

The study, led by the ENCATC and coordinated by Mediana sprl was designed, conducted and written in both a national[1] and European basis[2] by a network of project partners of diverse nature: the University of Deusto in the Basque Country, the French Joint Research Unit PACTE, the Centro Internazionale per la Promozione e la Ricerca Teatrale in Italy (Inteatro), the Budapest Observatory on financing culture in Eastern-Central Europe Hungary; the Romanian Centre of Professional Training in Culture, and the Fondazione ATER Formazione from Italy.

As a research and authoring network created ad hoc for the study, it offered an interesting and complementary mixture of institutions linked to the cultural and artistic field (from academic institutions to artistic bodies and observatories) from eight different countries. This diversity of natures, histories and locations made possible a vibrant, innovative and organic approach to the object of study instead of applying a “ready -made” formula to the questions raised, which proved to be a key element when researching the learning experiences of mobile artists.

The importance of researching mobility

Mobility has been and is being thoroughly researched both inside and outside of the European Union. There is no shortage of sources dealing with the objective and subjective conditions of professional, formative and artistic mobility (see, for example the Report on the Situation and Role of the Artists in the European Union, 1999 and the ERICarts Mobility Matters[3] study, 2008) and the evaluation of mobility policies and funding schemes.

The originality of the Artists´s Moving and Learning study lies in the combination of objective and subjective dimensions (taking into account the experience of mobility and the experience of learning) and in the choice of a qualitative method adapted to tap into the artists’ insights of their relationships to moving and learning.

The discourse analysis of the artists´account of their most relevant mobility experience shows that moving appears to have a very strong impact in creativity and artistic developement, leading many of the interviewees to acknowledge that art is itself a form of mobility. On the other hand, the study has been able to identify a much wider set of capacities acquired by artists while moving that have thus been referred to as a portfolio of capacities with an operational perspective. This has allowed us to highlight national and European level effects of mobility experiences in terms of the perception of mobility (its nature, its importance), the possibilities of mobility (what facilitates and what impedes fruitful mobility) and the disparities in the age of access to mobility (especially when initial learning is concerned).

Portugal Visual and performing artists in Portugal. Source: Portuguese National Report.

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The added value of mobility on life-long learning

Mobility[4] of performing and visual artists[5] is hereby taken as a catalyst for personal, professional and artistic change and as a qualitative and powerful factor stimulating life-long learning.

In that sense the study pushed for the exploration of the specificities of artists’ mobilities. Artists may, after all, move like other type of mobile professionals, but what makes a difference is their learning outcomes. The personal impact of mobility on artists’ creative capacity, but also their ability to generate a variety of outputs, both in the host country and in their place of origin is what makes artistic mobility an essential element in the creative sphere which the EU wants to enhance. This was the departing point of the research.

Whereas quantitative approaches to artists´ mobility schemes are necessary in order to inform mobility and artistic policies, a qualitative approach is ideal in order to explore the links between moving and learning, and uncovering the effects of mobility in the Life Long Learning processes of artists. The methodology of the study was therefore centered on the analysis of the interviewed artists’ experiences. The reports were therefore based on their discourses. These personal narratives have a lot to tell us about interactions between moving and learning.

 

Main findings

The ten national realities, when compared and normalised, showed a rich, complex and dynamic scenario of artistic mobilities throughout Europe and the rest of the world.  While the different national reports portrayed idyosincratic and specific mobility schemes and legal, professional, artistic and cultural references shared by interviewed artists from the same country, the European Report also provides an account of the general trends, shared patterns and main findings that are shared by the great majority of the 144 participanting artists. All in all, the main findings of the study can be summarized as follows:

Artistic/professional learning and biographical/personal learning were at no point understood by the interviewed artists as differenciated realities but taken as a whole. Personal and artistic development were explicitly and universally taken to be inherently and inextricably intertwined. A big variety was found in the mobility profiles regarding the reasons and motivations of mobility (professional, formation-related, personal…) although they remain mostly  optimistic and positive. Reasons and motivations are interpreted in the key of opportunities and chances either to do something or learn something, instead of being forced to go or having no other option but to move. Even when the events surrounding the main mobility experience are related to as inevitable, the reasons for mobility are interpreted as opportunities, not as necessities.

The variety was also notable regarding the preparation measures taken and help received before the mobility experience. Existing official (institutional, corporate…) help-desks and pre-existing personal networks were used when available, and tended to be perceived as very much favorable, but a laid back, informal preparation (or total lack of preparation) was also frequently noted. This is also reflected in the diversity of positions regarding previous mobility experiences and attitudes towards the stay and in the  formative action taken once in the host country, which were almost as varied as the artists themselves.

The departing points registered were, therefore, spectacularly varied, both inter and intranationally. Curiously, though, a more unanimous voice was registered regarding the richness of the experience for both personal and artistical development and the  stimulating nature of the new context, which were practically universally accepted and put forward.

In relation to the most impressive elements, artists tended to highlight the importance of cities as nodes of connection with artistic circles and markets, the possibility of reflection and creation in the new environment(s). The intensity and reach of the mobility experience proved to be more dependent of the artists´ capabilities and attitudes (language, social skills, contacts…) than from the objective conditions found in the host country, and ranged  from a first contact with the host community to long-term collaboration and integration in the new culture. In some cases, where the integration was more complete, the artist no longer made a distinction between her/his life and mobility. Travelling, in those cases, is felt as cosubstantial to life itself, directly linked with the process of learning, creation and personal/artistic growth. Moving, learning, creating and living become one thing.

Wanted vs forced mobility: the cases of Greece and Spanish State.

The Artists Moving and Learning research project was conducted during a time (2008-2010) when the social repercussions of the economic crisis were not as evident as at the moment of writing these lines. As researchers revisiting this project in the form of this short article almost three years later, we questioned ourselves whether the results of 2010 would be still valid in 2013. Especially for countries in the South of Europe, like Spain and Greece, the socio-economic context has changed a lot. Would it make sense today to underline the benefits of mobility on learning if we do not consider whether the motivations and needs of the artists are still the same as a few years ago? Could we argue today that artists are still moving and learning? Or what predominates is an urgent need of survival and search of alternative ways to continue doing what they want to but they might be facing troubles doing this in their home country?

The Artists´ Moving and Learning project asked the interviewed artists about their most significant mobility experience, and took for granted (although exceptions were found during the fieldwork) that these experiences were wanted, desired and chosen. This (mainly) uncontested scenario of wanted, chosen and desired mobility has, arguably changed with a profound economic and systemic crisis that have elevated the unemployment rates of 26,3% for the Spanish State and 27,6% for Greece in July 2013 (Eurostat) that almost doubles in the case of young people.

Can a professional mobility, when forced by dramatic economic circumstances in the home country, be as beneficial and positive in terms of its Life Long Learning effects?  The waves of migration from Greece and Spain to other countries, while needing further study and documentation, have significantly increased over the last years, and this has had repercussions especially for the artistic professions. The scenario in Greece and Spain has been affected by the fact that subsidies for the arts and opportunites for mobility coming from the public sector have decreased, cultural venues face problems in their activity and artists look for alternative jobs to support their living. Working internationally was, for many years, a choice, not an obligation. Today, financial uncertainty has become a major motivation for artists to leave their homes- most of the times with a long- term perspective and without looking back.

The financial, economic and systemic crisis that has shaken Europe has, arguably, fundamentally changed the mobility scenario for European artists. As researchers dealing with issues of artistic mobility, it´s therefore crucial to examine the repercussions of the new economic and social scenario in previous findings of this research project.

Spain Visual and performing artists in the Spanish State. Source. Spanish National Report.

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Benefits of mobility (personal, professional, artistic)

The comparative study articulated in the European Report highlighted a series of positive learning effects of the mobility experiences ranging from learning potential (both on personal life and artistic perspective) to cultural sensitivity and employment opportunities.

Regarding learning possibilities identified with the mobility experience creativity, motivation, perspective change, autonomy and self knowledge were most mentioned. This informed a positive, constructive conception of mobility as a field of opportunity for personal development and growth at both individually and collectivelly, once again, at the professional and personal level. Personal benefits showed a strong link with the personal growth and the enlargement and development of artistic imaginary (both entwined and inextricably linked) and in some cases converging in a nomadic approach to one´s life.

From a purely artistic perspective some shared elements were highlighted, especially the contact with other artistic communities, the acquisition of new technics, the opportunity for the definition of own´s own artistic profile, and a newly found connection between everydayness and creation. Regarding other professional benefits, three competences related to the artistic activity but not necessarily directly linked to it were mentioned: the coordination and production of international projects, learning and practice of foreign language(s) and the formation in digital tools for production and communication.

These opportunities for artistic and professional development appeared also closely related to a cultural awareness expressed in very different terms, but never far from the idea of developing a higher cultural and social conscience. Expressed like being able to turn from tourist or spectator to a participant in the host country, opening to other cultures and lifestyles, understanding the universality of art, developing a higher tolerance and social sensitivity and the ability to take distance from events, cultural awareness rises as one of the major merits of the artistic mobility.

Last, but not least, employment opportunities were frequently mentioned and referred to when documenting benefits of mobility. Specifically, three positive outcomes were highlighted: the acquisition of a certain international status or curriculum, the opportunities for cooperation with relevant professionals and companies and the importance of developing a network of contacts.

Reconsidering the concept and status of mobility

It can be argued that the legitimacy, glamour and social capital associated with the figure of the mobile artist are in crisis due to the aforementioned factors affecting the status of the European (especially from periferic countries) artists. Not only are mobility schemes and funding structures affected by the budget restrictions, the skyrocketing unemployment rates and economic unstability affect individual careers fueling a brain drain from countries like Portugal, Greece or the Spanish State. The very concept of moving for artistic reasons is therefore in crisis.

The study that constitutes the ground for this article proposed five ideal archetypes of moving/learning artists based on their narration of the mobility experiences and their link to Life Long Learning processes: The hyper mobile world artists, whose vital and professional trajectory appeared strongly rooted into a multi-facetted mobility; portfolio artists, who moved in order to increase their artistic skills; creative mobile artists, who moved chiefly in order to stimulate their creative processes and the gap artists, whose mobility was more informally formed and structured.

So, what happens with the artists forced to moved in order to make a living? Do these five ideal categories stand amidst the perfect storm of unemployment, social unrest, welfare cuts, political crises and decline in cultural and artistic investment? Does an artist forced to move by the situation still benefit from the same opportunities than those who moved in qualitatively different times? Is making do with the present situation as experientially fruitful and benefitial in biographical and artistic terms when a visual or performing artist has to work as a bartender to make ends meet? Could a sixth archetype be formulated regarding the economic, organizative, spatial, social and cultural learning outputs of the exiled artist? Further research is necessary in order to answer these questions.

Conclusions and suggestions for further research.

Further research is fundamental to reconsider the doubts rised along this brief reflection and in order to reassess mobility´s benefits and Life Long Learning opportunities in times of systemic crisis.

The Artists´ Moving and Learning research project did not include a profile on Greece, which has been one of the European countries most striken by the economic crisis. Given the lack of data on the mobility practices of Greek artists, and its special interest as a case study, this research would have been a starting point for further investigation in the field. In the other hand, extending the research on other European states that were not included at that time would have provided a rich corpus of material concerning the mobility of artists in Europe and a comparative research a few years later would have given answers to questions related on how can the altered socio-economic situation affect artistic mobility and learning in different countries.

In any case, the fragile and changing nature of the mobile artist urgently needs empirically grounded and theoretically innovative research in order to address its transformations in an economically, socially and politically conflicted Europe.

 

Xabier Landabidea, Matina Magkou, Cristina Ortega

Institute of Leisure Studies, University of Deusto / ENCATC

Xabier Landabidea is a researcher and lecturer in the Institute of Leisure Studies. His research interests include cultural leisure and the study of the experience of audiences and publics. He has just finished his Ph.D dealing with the televisual leisure experiences of different generations.

Matina Magkou is preparing her Ph.D in Cultural Management at the Panteion University of Social and Political Science focusing on the support mechanisms for the mobility of Greek artists for the promotion of creativity and international cultural cooperation.

Cristina Ortega Ph.D, is the President of the European Network of Cultural Administration and Training Centres (ENCATC) and the Director of the Institute of Leisure Studies of the University of Deusto.

 


[1] 10 national reports were produced: Belgium National Report, France National Report, Hungary National Report, Italy National Report, The Netherlands National Report, Portugal National Report Romania National Report, Slovenia National Report, Spain National Report and the United Kingdom National Report

[2] See the European report in its english, german and french versions.

[3] See the Mobility matters report in http://www.mobility-matters.eu/web/index.php

[4] Understood in the sense of the International Network of Contemporary Performing Artists s short, medium or long term move across national borders, for professional purposes.

[5] Taken, in UNESCO´s definition of any person who creates or gives creative expression to, or re-creates works of art, who considers his artistic creation to be an essential part of her/his life, who contributes in this way to the development of art and culture and who is or asks to be recognized as an artist, whether or not he is bound by any relations of employment or association

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