The primary goal of the research part of the PARTGO project between 2020 and 2021 was to lay the foundation for the project and to help reflect on the created concepts and pilot courses. The research itself became a part of the pedagogical development, it functioned as pedagogical action research, as our artist colleagues who led the courses themselves participated in conducting the research: defining the commonly used concept of PA, creating the questionnaire and interview questions, preparing the interviews, and as interviewers and often as the subjects of the interviews. All of this gave the PARTGO team the opportunity to reflect on their own work and to continuously incorporate new experiences into the programme.
The first stage of the research, the creation of a common concept shared by the collaborating partners, took a long time. This also reflects the process and debate that has been going on for decades around the social role of contemporary art and especially public art. In this part of the study, which summarizes the research, we do not go into the art-theoretical examination of this, but a summary of the results of the research also shows that the concept of Public Art is currently an evolving and hot topic. This is reinforced by the ongoing social events. The Black Lives Matter movement happened at the time of the PARTGO project, which fundamentally questioned the permanence of historical monuments.
We experienced the period of the Covid-19 pandemic, which pushed social activity back to the online space. This, despite all its difficulties, provided an opportunity to redefine the digital space as a public space and to achieve a high level of creativity in the digital space, both in terms of tools and forms of collaboration. These effects are also expressed in the opinions of our interviewees, thus giving an account of the change in artistic and institutional practices.
The definition of Public Art in the PARTGO research
The lessons learned from the definition of the concept, based on the research, are as follows. When defining the common concept, it was important to identify the designated dimensions of PA. This is also the basis of pedagogical development. The planned development can be effectively implemented by precisely defining the learning objectives. Based on the research these are the most important elements: the dimensions of space/place and time, the interpretation of public space, the tangible and intangible media of PA, the identification of stakeholders and determination of the relationship between creators, the artwork, and audiences. According to reflections on these in the survey and interviews, it seems that PA can be realized in a diverse combination of identified elements.
Based on perhaps its most important dimension, the relationship of the work to the public, PA has now become a spectrum concept. The interpretation of public space is a central concept. Traditionally, monuments have characterized the works of art created in public spaces. According to the opinion of the interviewees, however, in the current sense, the level of contact with the audience can be much more intense. The work is not only the material expression of communal memory (often that of power), but also a display of the issues of contemporary society. Materiality itself is no longer a condition. Intangible works created in the public domain of the digital space are also increasingly common forms of PA. The living relationship with social issues also exposes these works to the dimension of time. Temporality is more characteristic than creation for eternity. These changes follow from dialogue with society. However, the level of audience involvement and the degree to which the artist relinquishes his own authority can be very different.
Several interviewees mentioned during the research that this search for direction is also indicated by the constantly changing names of the contemporary appearances of PA: community art, socially engaged practice, participatory art, etc. Based on the answers, however, PA is still not only a tool for reflecting social issues and political activity; the works can also differ significantly in terms of aesthetic and activist functions, and we find works at all points of this spectrum. By the end of the research phase, the artists participating in the PARTGO project came to the opinion that contemporary social relevance and some degree of engagement are important elements of the interpretation of PA in the PARTGO project.
The place of Public Art in the Curriculum
Since the research was carried out with the aim of preparing pedagogical development, a significant portion of the research questions related to how the representatives of European Higher Art Education see the presence of the development goals and contents designated by the concept of PA in the above sense in their institutions.
In the survey phase, it was revealed that PA courses or projects out of 35 were implemented in 28 institutions. For the majority of them (16 respondents) this happened at BA level. However, the answers to the interviews conducted with 19 people revealed that the content corresponding to PA is present in the institutions in a very diverse way and at different levels: at BA and MA level as theoretical and practical courses or individual projects, possibly as a module in a course, BA+ ‘transition’ year, as an independent MA programme, as a collaboration between majors or universities, or mostly interdisciplinary.
The respondents also listed the advantages, opportunities, and difficulties of the various implementations.
At the BA level, they typically get to know the theoretical and social context of art for the first time. This theoretical introduction seems particularly important from the point of view of contemporary PA, in addition to technical and technological knowledge. They need to master the concepts and vocabulary of PA, not only at the level of theory, but also for manageability. They must gain experience working with the actors and the process in a well-managed, safe environment. Learning from mistakes is also useful. At BA level, the independence of the students is mostly even less. Here, they work in teams more often and the complexity of the projects is often lower, but typically some practical work is expected. The end result can be a concept, mock-up, realized product or participation element. According to some respondents, this phase is also characterized by a fresh perspective from the students.
At the MA level, students work more independently and more often in real-world projects. In this case, the question of responsibility and trust, as well as the development of continuous self-reflection and critical thinking, are increasingly important. There is more individual work and greater creative independence. This is also a difficulty in the sense that a socially committed PA project assumes strong cooperation with the target group and often the targeted social problem also requires cooperation with other creative areas and the participating audience.
Courses – ‘Meta-curriculum’ / cross-curriculum
PA is an important part of contemporary art, so it is mostly discussed everywhere as part of theoretical studies, although not necessarily as an independent course but rather as a module of art history and art theory classes. The importance of this is not only historical, but through it the students learn the language of contemporary art, critical thinking and topics related to the social context, as well as important ethical questions that often arise in the case of post-studio art, in relation to projects taking place in ‘real life’.
But other parts of PA also arise in practical courses. In addition, knowledge about the managerial, legal and security issues in artistic work, which affect artistic work outside the studio, appears scattered across various courses. The possibility that a ‘meta-curriculum’ (cross-curriculum) can be created by consciously organizing this ‘hidden’ knowledge, which provides PA knowledge without appearing as an independent major or course in the curriculum, was raised in several cases during the interviews.
The art project can be a typical and effective form of learning at BA and MA level, implemented at different levels of independence and complexity. Project-based learning is a particularly suitable form for learning key competencies and general/transferable skills. It gives you the opportunity to experience working in a team and with an external partner. It also happens that different departments of universities with several faculties or neighbouring institutions cooperate in PA projects.
With the ‘learning by doing’ method, one can experience the challenges of real-life work in a protected environment.
The difficulty is that serious projects cannot usually be realized in the short training period (and often not for budgetary reasons either). At the same time, there is a great responsibility towards the community in PA, as stated by several interviewees.
There is a long preparation time while the (civil) partner and the university get to know each other. The university must prepare this before starting live projects with students. This also requires extra work and responsibility from the instructors, which may mean learning new skills for them as well.
Mainly at postgraduate level or in shorter forms of training (e.g., 1-year MA training), it is worth thinking about joint programmes with different institutions, because there may not be enough dedicated interested parties within one institution. On the other hand, it also follows from the nature of PA that it is created based on the cooperation of many actors, so an integrated course connecting several institutions and training can be particularly effective. This specialized training in PA can bring together those who are already really committed to PA and want to work permanently or temporarily in this field as an artist or curator/commissioner.
Contemporary challenges of PA in the Higher Art Education curriculum
Many interviewees mentioned that in fine art courses, students increasingly prefer individual work as their artistic identity strengthens. It is difficult for them to let go of their creative authority. The teachers themselves were trained in this way, so it is difficult for them to motivate students to work in teams, partly because of the traditions of art education and partly because they are less familiar with the tools and methods that serve new types of pedagogical situations (e.g., the development of cooperation, the transparency of teamwork formation, evaluation of teamwork).
In the concept of public art defined by the PARTGO project, which was shared by most of the interviewees, however, there is a great emphasis on the social relevance of art, the values related to it (ethics, empathy, responsibility), as well as cooperation with co-creators and various stakeholders.
Since the Covid-19 Pandemic, the digital space, as the space of the public, has become even more important than before in relation to PA. Many other advantages of this are also obvious; for example, in terms of sustainability and wider cooperation opportunities. At the same time, according to the interviewees, this presents new challenges to the universities as well. Students' media use must be turned into a useful, conscious tool for their profession. However, many art institutions do not have the resources for this, and a good number of older (often senior) colleagues are afraid of change, which particularly affects collaborative learning.
Recommendations for pedagogical implementation
The opinion of the participants in the research is unanimous regarding the fact that contemporary PA responds to questions in society and maintains an active relationship with it. This is confirmed by the extensive agreement with the concept and the answers given in the interviews. The interpretation of the concept of the public fundamentally affects ideas about the context and social role of PA. Due to the societal role and cultural determination of PA, it is worthwhile not only to rely on already well-known Anglo-Saxon and North-EU PA models, it would also be useful to carry out further research in order to learn about models that are outside the English-speaking area and therefore unknown so far.
Regarding the role of contemporary art, an important aspect in general is social involvement. Due to its specific qualities, public art seems to be an area that makes such projects in higher art education suitable for preparing students for society's expectations regarding contemporary art.
It helps to develop skills that enable the artist and their art to be actively connected to contemporary social challenges. Tasks related to public art in the curriculum are particularly suitable for the practical acquisition of the key competencies and general/transferable skills expected from today's artist (collaborative skills with various stakeholders and co-creators, empathy, ethics, managing art projects, writing tenders, security and legal issues related to works etc.).
During the research, it was stated by the participants that it is important that decision-makers and politicians understand the role and value of art better. Like design, art can also contribute to solving social problems. It has long been recognized, for example, that soft skills that can be well developed with the help of art are increasingly important general competencies for everyone, which help social coexistence.
But art as research is also suitable for the detection of various social problems and the search for solutions. Art can contribute to the formation of the atomized mass of mediatized society into communities. Especially at the local level, it can help unite the fragmented interests of individuals and induce joint action. Public art can also contribute to the spread of community-driven decision-making.
By subsequently analysing the impact of artistic interventions, we can gain even more knowledge about possibilities. It would be important to carry out such research.
It is worth starting PA education at the BA level. Developing the attitude of an active artist in society is an important task of higher education from the very beginning. It also helps later specialization if the student already encounters this approach during his/her BA studies. At the MA level, students may encounter challenges that require greater complexity and greater responsibility.
Already at the BA level, it is essential to get to know the context and language of PA and its constituent elements.
But in addition to imparting theoretical knowledge, it is worth providing as many practical opportunities as possible to develop the practical skills required for PA. For this, it is recommended to issue tasks that ensure teamwork for the development of cooperation skills. Project work in a team is a good form of this.
In addition to knowledge and skills, it is important to develop the values and attitudes necessary for PA. Cooperation with co-creators and stakeholders requires great responsibility and empathy. The responsibility of social interventions raises many ethical questions. Dealing with them requires a great deal of independence and a significant critical and reflective ability from the artists.
The results of research like the current one should be used in the creation of a PA curriculum, for the systematic planning of the necessary knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and the development of independence.
In connection with the research on the integration of PA into education, two topics particularly stood out in both the questionnaire and interview stages. These are the development of cooperation skills and the evaluation of the results of teamwork. All of these are connected to the challenges of project-based learning in terms of both teacher and student role changes.
Developing the ability to collaborate
Both the questionnaire and the interview research phases proved that PA requires a multi/interdisciplinary approach. And the artist's social role requires good cooperation skills with a variety of partners. This means that not only must students from different fields cooperate, but so also must their teachers. Due to the educational tasks that respond to the challenges of real life and are often project-based, this does not only mean the parallel delivery of educational content. Organic cooperation is needed. This is unusual based on the traditions of higher art education. The development of this requires awareness among the teaching staff as a whole on the role of institutions and instructors. The project work requires a lot of independence from the students. Therefore, the teacher's role is less about direct control and more about facilitating processes. On the part of the teacher, this type of teaching method requires the preparation of theoretical and practical learning and continuous, developmental evaluation and reflection.
Evaluating the results of PA courses is not easy. It is mostly team/groupwork. According to the interviewees, one of the tasks to be solved is how to evaluate the individual performance of the participants. Several solutions have emerged for this, but the topic requires further research.
The other issue concerning the subject of evaluation is that during the project work, the students do not always fully realise the final product, the intermediate processes must also be evaluated. What is the ‘product’ in this case? How do we evaluate the process?
In both cases, it is important to increase student autonomy and their ability to reflect. Regular developmental evaluation during the process is necessary in order to implement corrections. This can make it possible to learn from mistakes but also to make the final product and concept as successful as possible. The goal is not certification, but to help learning and increase autonomy.
The possible place of Public Art in the curriculum
There is a strong consensus that the knowledge and skill development required for PA should be present in higher art education. At the same time, its introduction as a compulsory subject may, according to many, bring dubious results. If public art courses are integrated into the curriculum, there are challenges as not every student might be interested in working with public art. This can be helped by starting freely selected courses and projects that ensure multidisciplinary cooperation. An independent PA specialization is thus probably more realistic at MA level. At BA level, it is important to give this a handhold so that the later choice is well-founded. On the other hand, the key competence system required in contemporary higher education includes many elements that are well connected to PA, and tasks in the field of PA could well develop these basic skills, which are also essential for today's artist.
PA as a form of contemporary art can also be present in training as a meta-curriculum. This can ensure that students gradually acquire the knowledge to implement PA projects during their studies. It is important to identify the elements necessary for this, but these can appear at several points in the curriculum and add up to the necessary knowledge, values, and abilities. A consistent review of the meta-curriculum is essential so that the goals of PA can be realized throughout the training and the necessary content and skill development opportunities are present.
The opinions of the participants in the survey and interview research confirm the initial assumptions of the PARTGO project.
The teaching of public art and its inclusion in the curricula of European higher education institutes that educate professional artists is at very different levels.
Nevertheless, public art is a visible and acknowledged way to experience art and culture in everyday life. It is also accessible to everyone, not only the traditional art audiences. Public art is a way to make a living for many artists and the money spent on it is comparatively large. Therefore, it should be included in the curricula of all art colleges in a versatile manner because making public art can be profitable and rewarding for both the artist and the public. The professional methods of co-operation and public engagement are important development factors in making public art meaningful to all parties.