How well founded was the founders’ idealism and has InSEA lived up to expectations? Or has it become what economists call a ‘shell institution’, that is an organisation that has become inadequate for the tasks it is called upon to perform? Sometimes it is necessary to reconstruct the institutions we have or, maybe, create new ones, in a form that is both appropriate and capable of taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the global age.
I am not suggesting that InSEA has had its day, but I do believe we can re-visit some of the original intentions, review the achievements, recognise weaknesses and look for new opportunities. For example, membership numbers are still similar to the early years. A well-organised and well-attended congress boosts membership for a year or two in that region. How can we account for this? Perhaps InSEA does not have enough to offer the classroom teacher? But is that beginning to change with the launch of the InSEA web site? Does InSEA have at last a relatively cheap and immediate means of communicating effectively with members and prospective members? Another intractable problem that concerned InSEA from the outset was membership subscriptions. How to set a fair rate when faced with the inequalities of teachers’ salaries in different parts of the world and currency restrictions that often prevented payment in ‘hard’ western currencies? Electronic transfer of money is helping to solve the problem although, depressingly, the gap between the richest and poorest countries shows no sign of closing.
The original intention of InSEA's founders was to create an International Federation for Art Education and an ‘International Institute for Information and Research in Art Education’ both of which were expected to have the ‘…full co-operation and financial help of UNESCO’.20 A few years ago, Bill Barrett, the New Zealand representative and last survivor of the 1951 seminar, reminded me:
Another focus not yet realised. The idea that InSEA needed a permanent base as a research centre, a clearing house and a place for art educators. ‘A hub of the wheel’, as it were… Maybe this should be revisited?(21)
In recent years the Society has had semi-permanent homes with the National Society for Education in Art and Design (NSEAD) in the United Kingdom and with the Dutch Institute for Educational Measurement (CITO) in Arnhem. But these are dependent on individuals and the goodwill of the host institutions. I agree that a new initiative should launched and although a physical base is needed for the secretariat, the research centre, clearing-house for information and ‘a place for art educators’ might best be located in cyber space at www.insea.org.At the outset it was fully expected that UNESCO would fund the organisation on a permanent basis, or at least until such time as its future was secure. The founders’ shopping list include the launch of an international journal, although as an interim measure they expected UNESCO to sponsor ‘…a popular inexpensive illustrated bulletin devoted to the furtherance of art education’ while supporting a range of other publications and the necessary translation facilities. It seems that ‘the interim’ was destined to last for half a century, but now at last the Society is about to launch a peer-reviewed academic journal.22 Although UNESCO has supported some InSEA activities from time to time – the occasional publication grant and more recently some support for the new web site – the reality is that UNESCO backing has never been consistent.
Some of the initial aims have been realised; for example, the exchange of exhibits, often in association with congresses, and the international interchange of teachers and students. Although the latter exchanges are extensive, they develop as a consequence of informal links between those members that have an opportunity to meet, often on a surprisingly regular basis, at InSEA and other international events. InSEA has sometimes been accused of being an international travel organisation for rich art educators – although that excludes most InSEA members I know! Time as well as money was a factor – when Bill Barrett attended that 1951 seminar in Bristol he relates how at that time it took six weeks to travel from New Zealand by sea, or, for the privileged, nearly two weeks by flying boat. Today travel problems are lessening in an era of increasingly mass travel and tourism. Even so, the accusation of exclusivity contains more than a grain of truth seen from the perspective of classroom teachers from many parts of the developing world.
Up to now InSEA has succeeded in establishing a relatively small but often influential community of art educators. But we may be on the brink of establishing – in fact it is already happening – a virtual network of transcultural art educators. For example, we can have on-line seminars, virtual galleries of children’s art, on-line research databases and Internet portals to a vast range of teaching and learning resources. These include access to the majority of the great and less well known museums and galleries world-wide or to a host of curriculum materials such as those available for example from www.nsead.org or the Getty Center for the Arts. One of the Society’s future roles should be to try to bring some order, or at least to map a way to navigate the plethora of art and art education sites that are springing up on the World Wide Web. A very modest start has been made but InSEA must not be caught unawares. For good or ill growth in use of the web will continue to expand exponentially. Giddens points out that it took forty years for radio to gain an audience of fifty million in the USA. By contrast, only four years after it was made available fifty million Americans were using the Internet.(23)
Ziegfeld held the view that Herbert Read's ideas on education would become more relevant as time passes rather than less so. He believed Read saw in clearer and more humanistic terms than most, the nature of what they both perceived as a profound cultural crisis. Ideas for the resolution of this crisis are at the core of Education through Art, a book that Ziegfeld believed:
… is a distinctly prophetic work dealing as it does with what the nature of education should be. Furthermore, Read, during the last several decades, has 12 been almost the sole world figure who has spoken out on the place of the arts in all of education. Indeed, Sir Herbert's ideas on education may well be his most important legacy, not only for Americans but for all art teachers. The fact that they are not yet clearly understood is a testament of their ultimate validity and proof of the fact that they require basic changes in the outlook and the values of modern man [sic]. The fact that the world organisation of art teachers has incorporated into its name the basic idea of Read's educational views is proof that they have a universal, rather than a national or regional validity.(24)
I believe that InSEA is needed now more than ever provided it is capable of adapting to the challenges of ever-changing global circumstances. We have to realise, ’Globalisation is not incidental to our lives today. It is a shift in our very life circumstances. It is the way we live now’.25 My experience of InSEA has confirmed my belief that we should strive for truly idealistic and humanistic forms of art education that at their core value diversity. What emerges from interaction with art educators from other countries is not just the realisation that we share many concerns, but appreciation of the rich multiplicity of ideas and solutions worthy of consideration. One of the key qualities of creative individuals (but one seldom shared by organisations) is the ability to tolerate ambiguity and to forestall closure – to keep a range of possibilities in play. If art education is to avoid atrophy we need to cherish multiple visions of teaching and learning about, for and through art. In his book 'Celebrating Pluralism: Art, Education and Cultural Diversity', InSEA colleague Graeme Chalmers, draws attention to the need to accept and respect the ‘… co-equality of fundamentally different frames of thought and action characteristic of diverse cultures’.(26) This, I suggest, should be a fundamental tenet of all InSEA’s actions.