Imagination and Innovation in Art Education History: December 2-4, 2011 ☆

This December an important Art Education History conference will be hosted at TC by the Program of Art and Art Education, under the direction of Professor Judith Burton and offered as a part of the annual Conversations Across Cultures series.

The conference, organized by Dr. Ami Kantawala, grew out of a course she has been teaching for the past five years. This course introduces students to the idea of “doing” historical research and to major historical events and underlying beliefs, values and practices that influence contemporary art education at all levels of instruction.

In the course of their studies, students of this class encounter scholarship from luminaries in the particular field of Art Education History. It was Kantawala’s idea to invite these star historians to TC to share their unique perspectives and current research, and in December this notion will become reality.

As Kantawala explains, “The focus of the conference is on undocumented histories, international histories and community-based histories, as well as how you go about doing historical research”. She will be presenting a session looking at Oriental Drawing Books from India by Ernest Beinfeld Havell from 1896 and exploring the challenges associated with working with primary source documents. Professor Burton will present, and guest speakers will include Paul Bolin, Jerome Hausman, Christopher Kohan, Mary Ann Stankiewicz and John Steers.

The conference will open with an exhibit in the Macy Art Gallery. “The whole Gallery will be an historical exhibition,” Kantawala explains, with Historical Foundations of Art Education course students displaying their visual histories. What might visually represented histories look like? Although historians use source materials of several types, they are by nature often at ease with written documents. However, a valuable contribution to our understanding of the past is made using visual material as a means of historical inquiry that represents a historical period or moment. This kind of visual representation makes use of forms of visual documentation and display that investigates issues about the past, which like all forms of historical inquiry, raises questions about the present.

What was Kantawala’s motivation to include a gallery component to the conference? “I was inspired by meeting Albie Sachs and encountering his work, ‘Art and Social Justice: Art of the Constitutional Court of South Africa,’” she explains. Sachs, a South African anti-apartheid activist, played a critical role in ensuring that healing and hope were expressed by the architecture and art of the new Constitutional Court building, opened on the site of the notorious Old Fort Prison Complex in Johannesburg. As Kantawala continues, “The art works are grounded in historical moments. If contemporary artists could use history to represent a moment, then historians can work with primary source documents to represent history visually, in a way other than in the written form?”

The conference will conclude with private tours of the Henry Street Settlement and the Tenement Museum, two institutions with deep ties to both their local communities and to TC.

With an expected 60 guests and speakers flying in from two continents, Imagination and Innovation in Art Education History is a large undertaking. Kantawala is up for the challenge: “Research, administration and teaching—all of which I am passionate about,” she concludes.

For more conference information, please contact Professor Kantawala at ak974@tc.columbia.edu.