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‘An open experiment’ at Tate

The 18th edition of international arts communication conference Communicating the Museum, organised by Paris-based cultural communications agency Agenda, will take place in the French capital from 19 to 22 June 2017.

‘An open experiment’ at Tate

Three hundred museum professionals will gather for discussions around the theme The Power of Education, analysing trends and sharing best practices. Anna Cutler, Director of Learning at Tate, which launched its pioneering Tate Exchange programme in 2016, is one of the featured keynote speakers, and took the time to answer a few of our questions leading up to the conference. 

Can you tell us about a defining professional experience for you in terms of your longstanding focus on learning-oriented activity?

In 2002, 15 Creative Partnerships Directors (of which I was one) were invited to set up a three-year programme in our regional areas in England (mine was Kent), aimed to create conditions for creative learning with artists and arts organisations in schools for the benefit of children.  Something in me asked the question of why I was doing this and my responsibility to those involved. I started reading a lot about creative learning, I talked to local artists, organisations, and head teachers and I went to look at what was already happening in the political and social arena of our locale. I tried to figure out how we would go about this programme and how we would assess what was happening. All my instincts told me to slow down, be experimental, take educated risks and authentically find out what was going on. Most importantly I felt compelled to do this with others and to go on a journey with the expertise that they brought to the table. Effectively I recognised the need for me and for all of us to learn and do things better; not just to transmit, tell, inform or insist on what we already ‘knew’. A whole new realm of possibility opened up. 

In this I had to be resilient. Every month a chart would arrive with all the numbers of projects and programmes up and running around the country. My area (Kent) had a big fat zero of activity appear practically for an entire year. I’d get a call every time to ask me about it and I’d explain that we were training, working together, embedding ideas, thinking, having conversations, reading, structuring, planning and learning. Now I look back and realise how brave and trusting those above me were: they let me invest in time and people.

The approach turned out to be highly effective, and in the following years the work in Kent really took off, and the artists and schools made extraordinary interventions, innovations and meaningful creative learning experiences for all involved. For the first time I felt that I had sight of what conditions create what kinds of learning experiences and why creativity, the arts and creative learning are so crucial to human development – socially, emotionally and intellectually.