Anne Bamford

5 januari 2009

Toespraak van Anne Bamford tijdens Dirk Monsma’s afscheid als directeur van de SKVR op 12 december 2008

I am both proud and humbled to be presenting this talk on the occasion of Dirk’s farewell as Director of the SKVR. The SKVR has touched the lives of so many people in Rotterdam and is known beyond Rotterdam as being a centre for promoting excellence in arts education.

The SKVR stimulates both art making and art appreciation. It achieves this through clear leadership and direction, and by striving from the ‘ground up’ to reach as many young people in Rotterdam as possible. Through a range of ways –including special community centres, working in schools, collaborating with partner organisations and virtual methods- the SKVR has managed to expand the role of the arts in education in Rotterdam.

The SKVR is a powerful advocacy force for the value of the arts and promotes the arts through talks, books, articles, videos, You Tube and the full range of available technologies and approaches.

Activities take place across all parts of the city. Annually, the SKVR reaches more than 170.000 young people and employs more than 350 people. They cover over 90% of all primary schools and 50% of all secondary education with their different school programmes. But it could be said that these figures are the tip of the iceberg of the people whose life has in some way been touched by the programmes –including parents, grandparents, family and friends; audiences; the community and the academic world.

The SKVR develops courses in the arts; runs arts schools; targets people with ability and disability; organises theatre, gallery and film visits; and, partner with organisations to deliver special festivals and locally based activities –just to name a few samples of the range of options.

All this would not be possible without visionary leadership and careful management. The sustainability of SKVR has been built around making strategic connections with other organisations, businesses, local government and practising artists.

Dirk Monsma was appointed Director of SKVR in the year 2000. He has certainly made his mark since the new millennium! For example, he has written five publications, including his latest work, ‘I can make silver’. Perhaps his energy was signalled in 2001 when Dirk wrote ‘Time for revolution’. In the book ‘I can make silver’, Dirk explores the world of art education through his unique vision and experience. But this is not a ‘how-to-do-it book’. On the contrary, Dirk wants arts educators to uncover their own talents and creativity and bring these to children they teach. Dirk encourages art instructors to form their own ideas. The book expresses the powerful dream that all children should be able to play with music, words, images, dance and theatre. He makes the plea for artists and education to work together and provide space in the school day for the arts.

Dirk has also been prominent in identifying and promoting local young talent, such as nine-year old Linden. Dirk describes her as an amateur artist, pointing out that she meets the Central Office for Statistics’ definition of and artist. Linden, spend considerable time on her art making and although her passion is drawing, she is also interested in painting, architecture and going to museums. She is her own critic and strives to improve her art making. Not content with just visual arts, she plays trumpet at the music school, after being taken to see an orchestra and becoming inspired. Linden is a profuse painter and drawer. Linden may just be one of the many people who in the future may thank Dirk for beginning their lifelong love affair with the arts.

I think the philosophy of SKVR is well explained by Hente Anema Beekhuis- one of the artists who brings dance into the broad school. She states, ‘It is not my task to develop excellent ballerinas rather it is to get children to ask questions, to connect dance to the other parts of their learning; to be part of the children’s normal school learning programme’.

What most impressed me about the SKVR was not only the quality of what I saw, but also the diversity and accessibility. There is everything from classical music to rap –from Circus Roosters to Pop school.

SKVR operates under 12 beacons that light the way to high quality arts education. These beacons are:

1. Enable accessibility for all children

2. Create possibilities for the WOW moment and dare to take risks

3. Give art lesson in meaningful surroundings, with the pupil’s environment as the starting point

4. Give the pupils the skills and techniques to be able to really ‘speak’ one or more of the art disciplines

5. Ensure that pupils meet people from the professional arts, through the artists they meet and performances they attend and museums they visit

6. Stimulate the pupils to create, produce and present their own works of art

7. Involve the pupils in planning and presentations

8. Build on the moment

9. Evaluate on an individual and joint level

10. Be active in professional development and training

11. Make connections within the school between arts education and the other subjects

12. Create an open relationship with the surroundings, teachers, artists and cultural institutions

If all schools in Rotterdam were to follow these principles, I feel sure that the level of arts education and creative experiences of children would be excellent.

To conclude, I want us to imagine that one of the signs of the zodiac was that of the ‘arts educator’. Maybe the sign would be dancing shoes, a paintbrush, theatre masks or musical instruments. Let us ponder for a moment what people born under this sign of the ‘arts educator’ would be like? I had the pleasure to conduct research where I followed 22 highly accomplished arts educators for a period of two years. So what does this breed look like? You might also want to think about the ways in which Dirk fits the sign of being an excellent arts educator.

Firstly, they tend to be curious and imaginative children. They are good at making their own games and involving the people and things around them in their game. At some point in their childhood they usually received some positive reinforcement from an adult that they were good at art. Maybe they were asked to sing in a concert, to dance for a grandparent or they may have won a drawing prize.

Their own school art experiences were either amazingly good (and they were in love with the arts teacher) or they had such a terrible arts teacher they were convinced they could do a much better job!

They believe passionately in the value of art in children’s lives. For those born under the sign of the ‘arts educator’, children are seen as being central and is considered as an artist. They encourage individual differences in the children they meet and promote creativity and imagination. The children’s work is always their own. Children’s artworks are seen as a form of artistic language and the archetypal ‘arts educator’ has a seemingly endless capacity to listen to the artistic conversations of children.

As work colleagues, they can be frustrating. They rarely follow the rules and can be surrounded by drama. They are naturally visionary and passionate to thrive best when around people who are as flexible and responsive as themselves. While not always up-to-date on the paperwork, they effectively manage resources.

Those born under the sign of the ‘arts educator’ want to take over spaces, and anywhere is likely to be turned into an arts studio or exhibition or performance space.

The typical ‘arts educator’ tends to rebel against rules and curriculum. While they may repeat some things, they van be infuriating to colleagues as they are constantly changing activities and looking for new and better ways to do things. They see the arts everywhere and are natural risk-takers. ‘Arts educators’ are very good at getting ideas, and they take joy in successfully sabotaging restrictive structures.

A person under the ‘arts educator’ sign, will never acknowledge they are an expert. Even when the work day is over or as they reach retirement, their passion for lifelong learning means they are unlikely to be idle for long and will be regularly seen at gallery openings, concerts, educational talks and other opportunities to continue to learn. They have an almost evangelical zeal for arts education.

In summary, those that have been lucky enough to know someone born under the sign of the ‘arts educator’ will agree with me, that –like Dirk Monsma- it is these passionate and amazing individuals that really have the Wow Factor!

12 December 2008