ActinArt

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Entrepreneurship is a red-hot trend in education today. Every type of school in pretty much any academic level in Scandinavia is either currently offering entrepreneurial education or is moving towards doing so. But most methodologies, tools and writings on the subject comes from a school of thought connected to traditional business. Even though there are many lessons to be learned from capitalist market-thinking, parts of this paradigm doesn’t translate very well to the reality felt by students in arts education. It is therefore of great importance that we move towards a more tailored approach that takes the special needs of these students — and lets not forget the lives they wish to live — into account.

The ActinArt Bootcamp initiative 1.0 was designed as an experimental lab. It consisted of two workshops of in total 6 days duration, with field-testing of ideas in between. It brought together students in their final years of various arts based educations from Spain, Denmark, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. 

The purpose was to collectively investigate how we could design and test an education in an artistic entrepreneurial approach by collectively ideating and conducting experiments within the field in the various home-countries. The result was shared with a network of teachers in the field of entrepreneurship within higher arts based educations, at a conference in Vilnius.

What do I mean by “experimental lab”?

My simple definition of a lab is: A place in which hypothesis are tested in realtime through the means of conducting experiments. An experiment would in this case be an action with a somewhat unpredictable effect.

We start out with an overarching question and through the use of enquiry-based investigation we move towards designing several experiments that can either validate or discard the assumptions we had before conducting the experiments.

It is important for a lab to be the most meaningful that we work from the assumptions of the people who are participating — not “common/general” knowledge. I work from the idea that entrepreneurship is build on taking actions with an unpredictable outcome. This cannot be taught by case-studies, and generic methods. We most seek to instigate will in the individual student, and that becomes a lot easier if we work from their individual realities.

First Gathering – Finland

At our first meeting I had the following criteria:

  1. Create an inspiring learning space where all students are able to investigate, share, play and learn.
  2. Create a framework for thinking and having dialogues around art and entrepreneurship and their personal connection to both topics.
  3. Move towards designing experiments that can provide the group with direct experience in acting entrepreneurial , and can test the assumptions aired during the dialogues.

Creating the learning space 

I worked with theatre inspired exercises and play to remove fear and connect the group. These games and physical exercises were carried through the entire program. Two students with a background in theatre eventually took over and offered to start off our mornings. It led to beautiful co-creation and made for a very respectful and creative atmosphere. I also had the students collectively create a framework for how we would be working, based on dialogues about their needs and aspirations in the learningspace. Throughout the program we revisited this “rule-book” and made sure it was updated and stayed meaningful as we progressed.

Creating a framework for dialogue.

We worked from my opening question: “What is the place for the academically trained artist in society today?” This led us into a long investigation. We touched upon the contribution of art, our personal relationship with it, and how we saw the value in a broader sense. The students reflected individually on how this value could be brought forth. This led us to the conclusion that art is seen as “outside” of society by many, and is therefore understood as an unnecessary “luxury good” or too abstract to be seen as valuable to the broader population.

Move towards experiments

This finding formed the theme for our experiments: Invite a group of people to experience your art, that you assume would not otherwise be in contact with it or see its value.

The students investigated individually who they would invite and challenged each other’s assumptions about their choices in smaller groups. We proceeded to formulate and design the experiments and used the group to review if the experiment met a group of criteria we had set up collectively. Among others these criteria tested how ambitious, realistic and creative the experiments would be.

We ended the first gathering with a presentation of the experiments and a collective reflection on our learnings.

Second Gathering – Vilnius

At the second gathering I had the following criteria:

  1. Share the experiences and harvest the new knowledge coming from conducting the experiments
  2. Introduce a strong framework for working further with the thinking, and look at how they can take “smarter action”
  3. Summarise and “feed forward” all the knowledge created during the summits.

Sharing the experiences

Each student presented their experiment. After each presentation we reflected collectively on the learnings and how it could have turned out differently or possibly with more effect. All the insights were turned into questions and statements that formed a library for further investigation.

The framework for future work

I then provided a framework called “The 8 arch-energies”. It is built on an extensive study into what types of attitudes, habits or energies can be found in successful businesses and organisations. The tool is built as a personal enquiry method done in steps together with a sparring partner. It creates great insights into where their thinking about business comes from and how they each possess or lack these energies. We ended the exploration with sharing findings and methods for working with the various aspects.

Feeding forward at the conference

At the conference in Vilnius we invited the teachers into dialogues in smaller groups in which the students shared their new insights. Finally we created a two-part conversation. First the students had an open dialogue about what they saw as the challenges in the current

entrepreneurial teaching. The teachers listened in without committing. Afterwards the tables were turned. The teachers had an open dialogue about what they had heard and their immediate thoughts about, with the students listening in. We concluded with an open reflection on our findings and the next possible steps.

Conclusion & thoughts for the future

The program has proved very useful and meaningful to the participants. On top of the actual training, and the effect of the experiments, it has also created a new international network. One of the students is currently working on how we can continue the process and deepen the learning further. I also sense we are “on to something”. The students express confidence and willingness to act on their insights. Two very essential parts of being successful as any kind of entrepreneur. I deeply recommend that we continue this work and move towards building a strong suite of frameworks that can be turned into pedagogical material for all teachers in the arts education to use. Our findings from this session should be tested again against another set of students, and then we will be ready to design actual material. It is my deep wish that this important process continues in the name of art!

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