It seems to me that given the current scale of the debate about alternative arts education we should be as clear as we can be about what we are, what we do, our educational objectives and broader agenda. So here’s my shot at at that:
Free School in a New Dark Age is a small scale, no-cost, non-hierarchical arts education initiative (with an associated online debating forum).
Free School in a New Dark Age has gone through three defining phases: an initial ‘Consultation’ phase during the New Dark Age show, the second ‘Open Proposal’ phase and a third ‘Protests and Occupations’ phase.
Free School in a New Dark Age began during the exhibition A New Dark Age curated by Dean Kenning in 2008. John Cussans proposed a series of guest lectures in no-cost spaces called ‘Towards a Free School in a New Dark Age’, partly as a response to the increasingly prohibitive cost of MA level art education. It was intended to demonstrate that education of a less exclusive and more horizontally organized kind can be done with little or not cost.
After the show it was decided by consensus by those who had regularly participated that events should continue according to these simple protocols: anyone can join the mailing list; anyone on the list can propose an educational event; proposers are then responsible for finding a no-cost venue, doing publicity etc.; details of the event would then be sent to the list.
There was a decision at this time that The Free School in a New Dark Age did not need a web presence. The ethos of Free School was very simple and modest and didn’t need to become a discussion about itself. We decided not to be an overly-instituted organization and to keep the format and organizational structure as simple and open as possible.
(Between the ‘Consultation’ and ‘Protests and Occupations’ phases there were several Free School events. This was also a period when other organizations started to show interest in what we were doing in the light of wider discussions about alternative educational models. This is when the ‘representation’ issues began. Calling a Free School event is one thing. Representing it to outside organizations something else. But I had no qualms doing this at the time. And nor did Dean, I assume, given that we had been at all the events and participated in all the discussions about it. Jon Trayner also took the initiative of representing Free School at this time. This was also the period that we began making independent issue-based publications as Free School projects. From my perspective nothing has really changed from the ‘Open Proposal’ phase in terms of the ethos and mechanism of our Free School. The main shift has been engagement with the wider movement of alternative educational initiatives and the political-ideological debates surrounding them in light of the cuts).
Participants of Free School have been involved in the occupation weekends, have proposed and spoken at most of the recent teach-ins in London art museums, some of us consulted on the website put up by Jon Trayner and produced an anti-cuts Fact Sheet in response to the Direct Weekend organized by Arts Against Cuts.
(For me we have been most compromised by our engagement with ‘art’ contexts where the intentions of Free School have been extremely diluted. I am also a little concerned that an informal ‘executive’ emerged during the creation of the blog without any consultation with the wider group. This happened precisely as the third phase began in the wake of the student protests. I know that the mailing list was never intended as a decision making group and it doesn’t work in this way. Also there was a perceived urgency about the current situation that demanded working outside the list mechanism. So that’s fine. But I think we need to be clear between ourselves as to why it happened then and how the objectives of the blog differ from those the ‘Open Proposal’ mechanism.
What needs to be clarified internally is the role and function of the blog. It makes sense that participants in Free School in a New Dark Age can have a forum in which to discuss the political, philosophical and theoretical aspects alternative educational initiatives in light of the current situation. But perhaps it should identify itself primarily as that and let Free School carry on working in the way it was (Open Proposals), which it is.
The blog seems to work best as a ‘Free School in a New Dark Age’ side-project to discuss education, arts and politics in a wider context. It should not be confused with the basic operating protocols of the initiative in its ‘Open Proposal’ phase.
I think that once this is clarified the issue of representation will be simplified and we will be able to make clearer statements about our Free School initiative.