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Using creative artistic processes to shape basic education

In the project “Lernkunst”, teachers and artists interweave artistic and educational processes.

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Lernkunst is an approach by uniT Graz, a cultural initiative aimed at promoting emerging art and young artists, together with innovative standpoints and programmes. The focus is on unconventional approaches in educational work with adults and young people, particularly in the areas of basic education and compulsory school-leaving qualifications.

As part of the Lernkunst project, artists and educators explore questions around the nexus of artistic and educational processes, addressing questions such as: What kinds of formal and informal learning opportunities are inherent in artistic and creative processes? How can I create learning environments that reflect the realities of my target group? How can I support project-oriented learning and design processes?

Integrating art and education involves creating an artistic process together with the students. “What is important here is that there is no predetermined outcome,” notes Birgit Waltenberger, Head of Education at uniT, explaining a major crux of the project.

Teachers and students elaborate on the topic in the form of project work that incorporates artistic input. From there, a variety of material can evolve, ranging from texts to short plays or videos.

Fostering different competences

The activities in creative projects touch on many aspects of learning and competence, explains Waltenberger. “For instance, if I want to design a space for an artistic project, I have to measure it, think about how much material I need, or how to construct something so that it doesn’t collapse. I have to figure out which materials I am going to buy, and I need to go purchase them.” Moreover, there are numerous communicative processes involved in the project work; the participants have to negotiate with other people, arrive at a consensus, and resolve conflicts. 

Overall, the processes are very much about the space, about engaging with it, with oneself, and with others. “It’s also about taking up space in the sense of becoming visible in the group, which also serves to protect. In the group, students can do things that they can’t do alone or wouldn’t have the courage to do by themselves. That has a lot to do with experiencing one’s own boundaries and the boundaries of others.” Creating a connection is oftentimes easier using movement and the body rather than speech. The focus is not limited to communication within the group. It also involes opening up to the outside world, adopting a standpoint as a group, for instance through performances or interventions in public spaces.

Experiencing emotions and managing them constructively

The processes can also be used as a gateway to dealing with emotional issues. For one, they provide access to topics that are relevant to the students’ lives and address issues that the group is grappling with – such as questions about their future, their own roles in society, and topics like fleeing and finding a place for oneself. Secondly, the group can gain a sense of recognition, such as when the students put on a play and receive applause. The other side of the equation includes failure, because not everything works out every time, says Waltenberger. “This inevitably also encompasses the issue of assessing and judging, which is then deconstructed and called into question.”

Acting, reflecting, and coping with resistance

Taking action is at the forefront of artistic learning and educational processes. But it always calls for reflection as well. “Students are often quite sceptical and question what they are actually learning,” says Waltenberger. That makes it important to reflect on the processes and results. 

Resistance (to learning) is indeed an issue in the context of the processes of the Lernkunst project. According to Waltenberger, this is why the creative space needs to be designed to accommodate everyone: “What opportunities can I offer to make room for everyone?” The projects thus comprise a variety of roles, which means, for example, that people who don’t want to be on stage in a play are not expected to do so. There are duties to be performed and roles to be fulfilled offstage as well.

Initiating creative learning processes with limited time

Limited resources and working time are not uncommon in adult education. Nonetheless, trainers and teachers can still design creative learning processes with their participants because, according to Waltenberger, the work doesn’t always have to involve large-scale stand-alone projects. It can also include projects that are developed jointly with trainers from other educational fields or competence areas, as well as smaller projects. By way of example, Waltenberger mentions a walk through the city that was organised in the basic education programme as part of the competence field “German-Communication-Society”. The focus was on the history of places, for which the participants also conducted further research on their own and created a map of the location.

But the students can also conserve resources by using their imagination. They can step into a role, act it out, experiment.

About Lernkunst

The uniT cultural initiative has two main spheres of activity, one of which is the “Kunstlabor” (art laboratory). It addresses the intersection of art, education, and social issues, focusing on basic education, compulsory school leaving qualifications, and the transitions to higher education. “Lernkunst is always involved and is the vehicle, as it were, that we use to realise the objectives,” notes Waltenberger, describing the project.

Lernkunst emerged in the context of basic education in 2008 – originally as a project by uniT and Mafalda called “Raus aus der Box” (Out of the Box), which aimed to incorporate art and creativity into basic education.

Currently, uniT is also collaborating with international partners to design a curriculum that will help qualify artists to work in social fields with young people.

More information:

Text/Author of original article in German: Lucia Paar/CONEDU

Redaktion/Editing of original article in German: Jennifer Friedl/CONEDU

Slider: Pixabay-Lizenz, Alexandr Ivanov,, Video: Standard-YouTube-Lizenz, uniT,

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