International excellence

23rd February 2001 at 00:00
John Steers reflects on the Tate Modern's Century City show.

Century City, Tate Modern's new exhibition, focuses on nine cities worldwide where there was a massive pulse of creative energy at one time or another in the 20th century. The inclusion of Paris, Vienna, New York and London is no surprise. But what about the creative achievements of Lagos, Tokyo, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai? This exhibition shakes visitors out of any complacent Eurocentric preconceptions.

A comment repeated frequently, and often with impressive confidence, is that the United Kingdom has the best art education in the world. Whether or not it is true, how much do most British art and design educators know about art education worldwide? For those willing to find out more, the results might be both surprising and stimulating. Some might be shocked by a realisation of how narrow a lot of our practice in schools has become. Century City prompted me to think of the International Society for Education through Art (InSEA) because some of its recent congresses have been held in Lagos, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo - and in Cairo, Manila and Taichung. Other meetings have taken place in Europe, Australia and North America providing its members from more than 80 countries with a wide perspective on art education theory and practice.

InSEA deserves to be better known in the UK. Like its parent organisation UNESCO, the Society was founded in the aftermath of the Second World War and was conceived in a heady confidence that a new style of international relations could be developed where people might understand each other better thrugh education and cultural exchange.

Sir Herbert Read was instrumental in founding the society in 1954 and it is evident that he influenced both its name and philosophy. The idea of education through art is often taken for granted but for Read it was revolutionary.

He wrote: "The establishment of an education in art which will develop the imaginative and creative powers of children... must seem as harmless as any cause that ever brought two or three people together. But those who have followed through the implications of this aim know that it is packed with enough dynamite to shatter the existing educational system, and to bring about a revolution in the whole structure of our society."

At its heart InSEA has two core beliefs. First, is its idea that education through art is a natural means of learning at all periods of the development of the individual, fostering values and disciplines essential for full intellectual, emotional and social development. Second, the society believes that art educators worldwide should associate to share experiences, improve practices and strengthen the position of art in relation to all education.

For more about InSEA visit its website at or write to PO Box 1109, 6801 BC Arnhem, The Netherlands. You could open up a whole new world of art education.

John Steers is general secretary of the National Society for Education in Art amp; Design, The Gatehouse, Corsham Court, Wiltshire SN13 0BZ. Tel: 01249 714825. Web: www.nsead.orgCentury City is at the Tate Modern, London until April 29. For school group bookings tel: 020 7887 8888.

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