Search the site

News categories

News archives

RSS feeds

Archive for the 'Architecture & Design' Category

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 10

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 10 – June 20th, 2009

The new Acropolis Museum opens in Athens, the British Museum should change its name and appoint a board representing the nations whose ancestors created the collections it holds; the education system is anaethsitizing children and stifling creativity, according to Sir Ken Robinson, educator and expert on creativity. And in New South Wales, more pointless reorganisation of the public service.

The tenth “Hoot” gives me the opportunity to talk about two issues of the greatest interest to me, cultural property and its contribution to our past and our view of ourselves, and education and learning and creativity.

Parthenon sculptures and the new Acropolis Museum in Athens: The new Acropolis Museum, designed by Bernard Tschumi, looking out on the Acropolis and the Parthenon, opened 20 June. The third floor features a reconstruction of the entire Parthenon frieze, the plaster casts of the sculptures (removed by Lord Elgin) held in the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery differentiated from the genuine sculptures by their white colour.

In “Majestic in Exile” in the New York Times of June 18, 2009 Nikos Konstandaras (managing editor of the Greek daily Kathimerini and editor of the English-language weekly Athens Plus) writes, “I have no doubt that one day all the Parthenon Marbles will be reunited in the New Acropolis Museum….

“Meanwhile, if the British Museum wants to be true to its self-appointed task of serving as curator of the world’s civilizations, and if it really does not recognize the geographic, national or ethnic origins of its masterpieces, then it should have the grace to acknowledge this in practice. It should drop the possessive adjective from its name and call itself simply “The Museum.” And its board of government-appointed trustees should be replaced by representatives of the nations whose ancestors created the works that it displays.

“This would mark the end of colonial and imperial provenance of acquisitions and open a new era of exchange and cooperation between the world’s museums. Questions of ownership would be secondary in this new dialogue of free and equal nations. The Parthenon’s sculptures have the power to transform those who gaze on them.”

In a report on the opening on ABC Radio’s Correspondents Report on 21 June Helena Smith reported on the opening. Introducing the report Elizabeht Jackson observed, “Activists, including David Hill, the former managing director of the ABC who heads the Sydney-based Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, hope the new museum will reinvigorate the campaign to bring back the Elgin marbles – the artworks that have been displayed in the British Museum since Lord Elgin removed them from the Acropolis over 200 years ago.”

*********

Creativity and Education: Sir Ken Robinson, former professor at Warwick University and speaker on creativity and education, has just published a book (authored with Lou Aronica and published by Allen Lane) entitled “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything”, stories of people who found passion in areas of life that were not the focus in traditional schools. In 1998 Robinson chaired a Committee which produced the report, “All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (the Robinson Report)”. The Times said: ‘This report raises some of the most important issues facing business in the 21st century. It should have every CEO and human resources director thumping the table and demanding action’.

Robinson argues that current education practices stifle creativity and are a “turn off” for thousands of young people very much because they don’t give enough attention to subjects in the arts. Education is founded on two premises, the enlightenment idea of (rational) economic man and the need for cultural identity. It’s value is seen in how well it prepares people for work.

Robinson was in Australia in the last couple of weeks and was interviewed extensively on the ABC (730 Report on TV1 on 16 June and 17 June , Margaret Throsby’s Interview on ABC Classic FM  and “Life Matters” on Radio National) ; several other interesting people with innovative approaches to education were also interviewed on “Life Matters” in the week starting 15 June.

In one of Robinson’s celebrated lectures, available on the web at TED, he makes a number of points common to all his talks.

“What’s it for, public education? I think you’d have to conclude — if you look at the output, who really succeeds by this … who are the winners — I think you’d have to conclude the whole purpose of public education throughout the world is to produce university professors. Isn’t it?”

“Children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065. Nobody has a clue .. what the world will look like in five years’ time. And yet we’re meant to be educating them for it.

“Every person’s intelligence is distinct.”

Referring to Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” and the environmental crisis, Robinson talks of an education crisis. “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children. There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, ‘If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.’”

In a more recent talk (at the Royal Society of Arts) Robinson quoted anthropologist Robert Ardrey, “But we were born of risen apes, not fallen angels, and the apes were armed killers besides. And so what shall we wonder at? Our murders and massacres and missiles, and our irreconcilable regiments? Or our treaties whatever they may be worth; our symphonies however seldom they may be played; our peaceful acres, however frequently they may be converted into battlefields; our dreams however rarely they may be accomplished. The miracle of man is not how far he has sunk but how magnificently he has risen. We are known among the stars by our poems, not our corpses.”

In the second part of the interview with ABC TV1′s presenter Kery O’Brien, Robinson said the following: “What I find is that head teachers are critical in schools, like college presidents are essential in universities and in political systems. Leadership is really important from every point of view. I mean, look what’s happening in America at the moment: that shift from the last presidency to the current one. There’s been a total change of mood because people take their cue from the tone of the leadership. And it’s true in every system I know. If you find a school where a head teacher gets it, anything is possible, and I mean that literally.”

___________

In New South Wales, Premier Nathan Rees has announced that the departments of government will be amalgamated into eight “super departments” with the aim of delivering better services for the people of NSW. dollars.

“I am determined to have the best structure to deliver better services for the people of NSW,” Mr Rees said. “These changes are designed to ensure a greater focus on our clients, better integration of public services and to cut internal Government red tape.”

The reforms will, according to Premier Rees, “Improve service delivery, better align a sprawling bureaucracy; and ensure the best value for taxpayers”.

All this ignores the evidence that restructuring achieves little benefit unless a lot of effort is put into explaining t he benefits and justifying them and providing resources to see thought the adjustments which will have to be made. It remains true that what makes the difference is how decisions get made and how leadership is practised. Coordination and ‘alignment’ require oversighting which carries with it al the problems of restricting innovation and suppressing dissent.

In 30 years governments almost everywhere have failed to understand best practice as seen in the most successful organisations and have merely created an unsustainable level of inaction and confusion.

Numerous articles on this site deal with this.

Remember this quotation, usually (but wrongly) attributed to Petronius: “We trained hard … but every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganised.  I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising … and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing inefficiency and demoralisation.” (1)

More quotations are to be found here.

(1) According to Wikipedia, the actual author of this piece of wisdom was the American writer Charlton Ogburn Jr. (1911-1998), in an article published in Harper’s Magazine in 1957 which recounted his experiences as a junior officer in the famous WW2 US Army unit known as ‘Merrill’s Marauders’, and the quoted passage referred to his somewhat chaotic early training.

OWL’S HOOTS NO. 6

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Owl’s Hoots No. 6, 15 May 2009: Education and schooling, teaching and assessment: what is the unique value of museums in education? And European Space Agency launches not one but two giant telescopes into space. Another astounding recording from Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela! And museums in Chicago: new buildings and miserliness.

Education and learning, early childhood intervention and performance assessment: I was fortunate in April to attend the recent conference of the American Education Research Association in San Diego, California – 18,000 or so delegates, up to 90 concurrent sessions over five days from 7:30am to 6:00pm! Leading researchers dealt extensively with standards of education, assessment of students and teachers, the development of brain function and cognition and many other important issues.

In asserting that the high stakes testing regime, so common in the USA and some other countries in the last decades, has narrowed the mind, Professor David Berliner of the University of Arizona quoted a letter from John Adams (1735-1826; second President of the United States) to Abigail Adams in 1780, “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”  Berliner asserted that students were learning what Adams’ sons and not what his grandsons were to learn.

Intervention in early childhood education is amongst the most important issues but is not receiving the attention it ought to. Orla Doyle of University College Dublin and others including Nobel prizewinner in economics James J Heckman of the University of Chicago (“Investing in early human development: Timing and economic efficiency”, Economics and Human Biology 7 (2009), 1-6) point out that research has shown that “intervening in the zero-to-three period, when children are at their most receptive stage of development, has the potential to permanently alter their development trajectories and protect them against risk factors present in their early environment.

“Children from poorer households also have lower verbal and cognitive ability and more emotional and behavioural problems on average. Parental education, particularly that of the mother plays a major role in the child’s development as educated parents are, in general, better equipped to provide stimulating home environments. ..Early investment in preventive programmes aimed at disadvantaged children is often more cost effective than later remediation.”

Linda Darling-Hammond (who was on President Barack Obama’s transition team) and Elle Rustique-Forrester of Stanford University in reviewing the consequences of student testing for teaching and teacher quality (in chapter 12 of the Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education vol 104/2, p 289-319, June 2005) note that the centerpiece of state educational reforms over the last decade has been the development of educational standards to guide school practices and investments. “The central assumption is that by holding students, teachers, schools, and districts responsible for results on standardized achievement tests, expectations for students will rise, teaching will improve, and learning will increase. [However] while tests might be levers for greater equity, they have long been used to keep students separate and to exclude students from educational curricula, programs, and opportunities.”

The important conclusions are that “… assessment systems in which teachers look at student work with other teachers and discuss standards in explicit ways appear to help schools develop shared definitions of quality. Evaluating work collaboratively rather than grading students in isolation helps teachers make their standards explicit, gain multiple perspectives on learning, and think about how they can teach to produce the kinds of student work they want to see.”

Our understanding of learning and what advances it, has changed radically in the last several decades but the appropriate strategies for education authorities is far from agreed. Similarly, many museums are approaching their education function as if the responsibility is only to schoolchildren in class excursions (or field trips)and giving them lectures and handing out worksheets for completion by each child individually. In doing so they are ignoring their unique ability to provide free choice learning opportunities.

Huge telescopes launched into space: On May 14 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched two powerful new flagship telescope observatories, Herschel (containing the largest mirror ever carried into space) and Planck. An Ariane 5 rocket carrying the two observatories blasted off from the ESA’s launch centre in French Guiana in South America. On the BBC Jonathon Amos reports (in several items with videos) that the observatories will study space and time in more detail than in the past and give scientists a better and clearer window on the universe. The rocket will take the observatories out to a position some 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, an ideal station from which to view the universe. The launch comes during the International Year of Astronomy. The event is covered by other media including Deutsches-Welle World on line.

Another magnificant Simon Bolivar Orchestra performance: I have previously written, talking about “quality”, of Venezuela’s youth orchestra movement and the conductor Gustavo Dudamel. Their recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 and Francesca da Rimini has just been released. The Times of London’s review of the live performance of the symphony at the 2008 Salzburg Festival read, “In Tchaikovsky’s allegros you imagine steam rising from the fiddlers’ flying fingers. The gorgeously played horn solo in the slow movement was as melancholic as anything in Dostoevsky..”

In the liner notes interviewer David Nice asks Dudamel if his [horn] soloist (in the symphony’s second movement) is the same horn player heard “executing the obligato in the scherzo of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony so brilliantly”. Dudamel replies, “No it’s the other principal horn player. Of course we have quite a choice, because there are 16 horns in the orchestra”. Remember that when Dudamel was auditioned for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the orchestra’s president reported the remarkable reaction of the players, “We had combustion”. The performances on this album are truly outstanding! It is more than youthful enthusiasm.

Miserly Museums in Chicago: In the Chicago Tribune for May 14 (“City culture scourges“), Mara Tapp, organiser for “Cool Classics!”, a book-based art-and-culture after-school program,  writes, “When the Chicago Public School year ends June 12, elementary students will not be able to visit for free the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Science and Industry — because none offer free days until September. Let’s call them the Truly Miserly Museum Corps.”

The New Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago designed by Renzo Piano is written up in the Art Newspaper and the New York Times May 13 (with pictures).

Next week: More on education and schooling, learning and cognition and another quote from John Adams. Perhaps some comments on advances in museums in Australia after the Museums Australia conference in Newcastle this coming week.

Tom Flynn and the Parthenon Sculptures and other outrages

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

artintelligence.co.uk

is the website of Tom Flynn Art Advisory Services. There are a large number of very interesting essays on a number of differnet issues facing museums including return of cultural property, the Churchill Museum at the War Cabinet Offices and so on. The blog and the website both have lots of interesting commentary, including (April 2008) commentary on the Parthenon sculptures and the UNESCO conference in Athens in March 2008 on the Return of Cultural Objects to their Countries of Origin. Tom has a post “Parthenon Marbles Case Overshadowed by Iraq Looting” on the museum security network about the Sculptures also.

This is a copy of the updated entry in the Links page of this site.