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That's Edutainment


The second text I would like to share with you is a draft outline for how a UK manifestation of the 1848 project might be and this is underpinned by a question relating to the issue of how we might measure usefulness and how we might measure aesthetics.

If we believe in the idea of usefulness and if we believe in aesthetics (in its widest conception of the reception, communication and processiing of the senses) as the how and why of art and society - how do we measure these things, as Sam provokes, without damaging the object of study?

The New Mechanics

The New Mechanics is a touring concept and a project to develop youth citizenship that is delivered over multiple venues across the England. It is being developed with three UK art institutions and Grizedale Arts.

Project Overview

The New Mechanics is designed as the UK component of a larger international project 1848: The Uses of Art, an ambitious 5 year project, conceived by Grizedale Arts and developing six major European Musuems and two Universities. This pan-European Project aims to reintroduce the idea of Use Value as a central function of art and to develop the civic future of museums and galleries using the concept of the Mechanics Institute.

At the heart of this endeavor is an ambition to use art, artists and art institutions more effectively in civic society and to build a form of citizenship based on creativity and social responsibility.

This process would involve a drive to reshape museums and art, based on current socially oriented art practices and revisiting the Mechanics Institute as a mechanism for social change – working with a more comprehensive, expanded constituency, reaching and building new audiences and developing a model of art that is valued more widely, beyond the current conventions of economic and personal impact.

The consensus of opinion that has grown around this project (particularly the idea of the usage of art) has formed from a new generation of work by artists and curators that aims to be effective outside the performative frame of art – that is understood for how it works, not how it is consumed.

This project was initially formed out a synthesis of recent work by Grizedale Arts around a rethinking of John Ruskin, the 19th Century Mechanics Institutes and Liam Gillick’s current work around European revolution in 1848 and grown with interest from writers such as Barbara Steiner, Marie Jane Jacobs, Jeremy Millar, Simon Critchley, Tom F McDonough and Stephen Wright. It will consist of a long term programme of activity (a touring concept rather than a touring exhibition) built around three key themes:

1. Education: the use of art and creativity as an educational and developmental tool

2. Land: The role of aesthetics in social and ecological change

3. History: Rethinking the story of how art can be used in society

The New Mechanics in the UK will primarily focus on education and rethink how art is presented within an art institution. This is envisaged not as a stand alone project, but one that will emerge out of existing relationships forged through the Plus Tate Learning project and create content for and inform the larger European Touring programme over the next five years.

This project addresses some crucial questions around the role of art, artists and art institutions:

  • What does the art institution of the future look like and how can we shape it with the new generations who will use them?
  • In a era of de-development what forms of institution are best suited suit help society adapt to change and how can the younger generations direct this process to their advantage?
  • How do we more actively engage with our constituencies, particularly young people as the future users of culture, who cannot use the resources of museums and galleries?
  • Can we work with these groups to develop better ways to operate more meaningful programmes that are clearly valued for how they can be used by the public, rather than increasing cultural capital?
  • Working with the project participants, what kind of new institutional forms could be developed which would increase the civic, social and cultural function of our organisations.
  • How do our institutions create programmes that are valued by a broader population? And as a reference point look at the Mechanics Institutes as a public resource that were valued enough to support a subscription membership, over and above public subsidy.
  • With the participant groups, can we test the institutions to fully synthesise the educational and curatorial programmes?

Existing work

The participating UK venues of Grizedale Arts, MIMA, Tate Liverpool and Ikon Gallery are currently working together via the Plus Tate network on a JP Morgan funded programme re-thinking young peoples’ learning programmes. This project consists of each Institution developing learning programmes though residential trips to the Lake District with their respective youth programmes. This experimental research stage culminates in a conference with all 18 Plus Tate partners in December 2012. Rather than seeing this as an end, we would like to think of this as the start of a durational set of evolving relationships that comes to fruition with active projects in The New Mechanics, expanding on the work already undertaken, drawing on education as a way of thinking about institutions and how they engage with audiences and communities and in particular young people.


The Mechanic Institutes of the 19th Century are a neglected model for how culture can work effectively in society today. The Mechanic Institutes sprung up across Britain as places of education, social reform and where the growing working class could develop with the new skills of the age. Much like a cultural centre for the working man, the Institutes provided educational instruction in technical subjects - including the arts - and access to literature and learning in a variety of different fields and trades via a small subscription. The Institutes were built around a holistic and altruistic programme of arts and sciences and social, collective action.

Proposed Activity

This project proposes that the art gallery today should be re-viewed, much like the Mechanics Institutes were used in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, as a place for learning and public interaction. The principal is to develop a programme, across all four venues, of artist commissions, events and activity focussing on young people as an emerging generation of civic participants, who will build the next generation of institutions. The programme will be developed by all partners to draw on their education and social programmes as the central activity, to enhance their existing work but to find linkages and cross programming to interact with the other sites. At the core will be a range of young people focused art-based projects that attempt to reinstate creativity to the centre of civic society. Using the Mechanics Institutes as an inspirational starting point the project will open up how an art gallery is used and perceived by their visiting audiences and the wider constituency.

The programme, as with the methodology of the wider European project, is not a touring exhibition but a touring concept, creating an active network of discussion and development for young people to reshape the institutions for the future.

The key to this will be to develop large scale projects for each partner with their constituent youth groups, working with an artist or artists whilst ensuring that the young people are genuinely empowered to drive the project.

The project is conceived over a long timeline of 12 months to ensure strong relationships and meaningful evolution. Each project is initiated in April 2013 on the back of the research and findings of the Plus Tate programme.

It is therefore not a one off project, but the nexus of a continuum of thinking and activity that will work to re-establish the fundamental role of the Institution within society and make it fit for purpose.

Four venues will work together to develop an artist brief with their locality in mind however there will be a relationship between all partners to establish core principles and keep a coherency across the project – as the aim of the project will later be manifest in the European touring project as exemplars of effective practice. It is hoped that the six key partners of the European project will advise and contribute to artists selection.

Throughout this process opportunities will be created for exchanges and collaborations between projects and people.

Where appropriate activities will be integrated into the galleries ongoing curated programme, with the full participation of the curatorial teams, who will see this project as part of core programme, not that of the outreach nor education departments.

There will be encouragement for the young people to take over gallery resources for the purposes of the project. We will be commissioning artists to work with the gallery and young people to develop projects that embed the activities of the gallery back into the fabric of their everyday lives, pushing the idea of active citizenship for both young people and the host institutions.

Beyond the 12 month period of the project in 2013 the 4 projects will feed into the expanded European project with the potential to develop the idea of a ‘touring audience’ to work in international partner venues.

The project would be centred on a research question, which comes from the groundwork undertaken in the current Plus Tate/JP Morgan project between Grizedale, Ikon, MIMA and Tate Liverpool. In turn this question should in effect come from the participant groups of young people and look at changing the way the sector works.

The project is aimed at challenging the established ways of touring programmes. It is a large scale and important body of research, which aims to genuinely find strategies that work for each partner and to genuinely fulfil the goals of public funding and government agendas. In this process there should be an emphasis in learning from each other, given the range of contexts, experience and scale of operations.

As a consequence it has to be experimental and, to certain extent, open ended in nature: although it is thought that a reasonably prescriptive brief is drawn up for the artists’ projects.

Within the process there will be a series of conversations around sociology, the role of culture and growing institutions in relation to current thinking beyond the art sector for example, economics, sociology, wellbeing, history and so on.

Posted by Alistair Hudson on 24/07/12 at 14:22