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'The College': A new angle on education
bristol | community | press release Monday April 18, 2011 11:45 by Patrick Sharkey patrick2.sharkey at live dot uwe dot ac dot uk
A seemingly, and until recently, derelict building has begun to spring new intellectual life. “The college” is a grass-roots education centre for the exploration of an organic and self-evolving cause to share knowledge, wisdom and skills. Though somewhat anarchic, there is an administrative body which concerns itself with its running and tries to uphold an ethos of freedom, though within sensible parameters. Anyone can come and give their expertise and anyone can come to listen.
The list of features includes:
Kung fu/martial arts (Shaolin)
Philosophy as a Way of Life
Nature and Nurture: Exploring Humanities Essence
The Director of this College goes by the name Alex Harvest and to best get an idea of the functioning of this new revolution of an evolutionary institution we shall be asking him a few questions so we may hear first hand the inspiration and the direction of his ideological love child.
Where did you get the idea to do this?
I spent the better part of twenty years working in and being educated by a variety of state educational institutions and wondering why they were not more fun and inspiring places to be, it seemed that in general, with some notable exceptions, neither the teachers, the students, or even the buildings for that matter, were having much fun, this seemed like a missed opportunity for all concerned. While I did my level best to maintain enthusiasm during my time in these institutions, I came to realise that perhaps the odds were weighed against me. I think learning should definitely contain an element of challenge, but I have never understood why work and education have to be a difficult or punishing experience for anyone, being that we are all born as curious, vibrant knowledge seeking creatures. So perhaps the idea was born from my frustrations at working in these institutions and a feeling that the whole educational process had become unnecesarily burdened by bureaucracy and endless examinations. It is my understanding that humans have been learning from and teaching each other since we first appeared on the planet, my aim is to create a safe space where this process is able to happen in a spontaneous and natural fashion, with the minimum necessary formalised structures.
How did the opportunity come about?
I had the great good fortune to meet the Invisible Circus and Artspace Lifespace team in March 2009. These two Bristol based companies had been collaborating to fill empty and abandoned buildings with circus, theatre, music and art for some years, and had developed a reputation for being able to take on and effectively manage large scale projects. The Homes and Communities Agency, who are essentially the landlords of the College site, were put in touch with Artspace by the wonderful Ruth Essex who works for Bristol's Neighbourhood Arts team. Ruth had played a key role in helping to establish Artspace and the Invisibles in Bristol, including helping to set up the Bridewell Island project in the centre of town, which gave birth to, among many other things, the epic Carny Ville productions. I started working with Artspace in September'09 as part of their events team, and became steadily more involved over the next year. When the College was presented to Artspace as a possible new site, I was in the right place at the right time, and with not a little trepidation, offered my services as the project manager. The Artspace team have been kind enough to let me and the College team run with it.
What is your inherent philosophy towards this process?
I think human beings are capable and highly intelligent creatures, that given the right opportunity, space, time and support are able to do astonishing and wonderful things. For many of us space and time are hard to come by for economic or social reasons. Many people spend 40 hours a week working to secure only a little space that they call their own, often doing jobs that they do not even enjoy. This seems to me a terrible waste of potential energy that could be spent doing much more productive, creative and socially useful things. As Artspace we are in the fortunate position of being able to make space available to people, that would otherwise be sitting empty and abandoned.
Our working processes are collaborative and self-organising, encouraging self-intiated learning and non-heirarchical structures. Everything we do here is up for discussion, and up for being challenged! Rather than having a fixed idea of what exactly this College should do, or how exactly it should function, we are attempting to allow it to become the best College it can possible be.
Where would you like to see it go?
I hope that we are able to nurture the development of a strong creative learning community here, and over the next year or two fill this building with colour, creativity, passion, learning and laughter, in the process becoming a living demonstration that given the right conditions humans are able to come together happily and create wonderful things. One of our key goals is to create working transferable systems that allow the project to continue long after we have left the building.
Do you have any advice for those who would want to do something similar?
I have been well advised that it is good practice never to give anyone advice, with this in mind I would say, go for it! And please let us know, if we can be of any help at all we will.
It is in it's early days as of yet, but this seems to be a movement towards a different way of learning, a way in which people are able to freely exercise their own expertise and where people can learn what they see fit for themselves. Still, because it is zygotic as of yet, it needs support. It can only grow with the help of the city and the people in it. If you have ever wanted to teach, or ever wanted to learn anything in this kind of environment, or simply just chill with a series of lovely and interesting people, this is the place. There will be another open day soon. To keep posted on what is happening for it look to 'The College” on Facebook. Alternatively, visit the website at www.artspacecollege.com.