The steps we are taking to transform Tate Learning

16 August 2013

We are pleased to have Anna Cutler as a guest blogger this month. Her piece talks about the complex and wide ranging process Tate undertook to look at the place of learning and education in their work.

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(Image courtesy of Tate)

We think there is real potential for more arts and cultural organisations to consider how to put learning, education, children and young people at the heart of what they do – and this can have really exciting consequences for the creation and presentation of art as well as for the wider public.

We would love to hear from you about your experience of how to catalyse change with cultural organisations.

Anna Cutler - Director of Learning at Tate

"We recently launched a small publication called Transforming Tate Learning. It's pretty much what it says on the tin - a poke around the things we have done (and are doing) to make changes across all sites at Tate in terms of how we go about setting up conditions for learning in the museum.

In doing so, we had to take a good look at how the world is changing and how experiences and expectations of the public are changing. We had to consider how our programme could and should respond to the shift in ideas, artistic practices and cultural values.

It's been a hard slog and demanded some serious questioning of all of us involved and what we do, as well as a dose of 'taking it on the chin' when we have invited critique or we have formed our own. But it's also been incredibly valuable, as it's given us space to recalibrate our collective minds, test out programme ideas, re-think our approaches and change our structures and systems accordingly.

In my experience, if you do what you always do - you get what you always get. If we want to 'get' something different then we need to change what we are doing, how we do it and most importantly figure out why we are doing what we do at all. What is the purpose? What is our project? What values do we bring to this and why does it matter?

The publication is an example of how we are trying to work through these questions at Tate, and make sure that we are able to account for what we do, authentic to the changing conversation we have with our many publics. We recognise the complex relationship between 'being' an institution and wanting to open it up and out.

The question of how to take a more collective responsibility with our publics is a hugely complicated matter, but one that all of us in our various roles needs to consider because this is what is changing around us. The ugly truth is that no one is going to do the changing for us, it isn't just going to happen. No magic wands, no pixie-dust. Looks like this conundrum is up to all of us to actively work out. We went back to our values to see what we could do to change. We welcome your responses.

A link to the publication is available through the Tate website here.

Thanks to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation who supported the Transforming Tate Learning project and all those who have generously given time, thought and comment."

A New Direction: what can the sector learn from this process?

At A New Direction, we think there are interesting lessons to be taken from the Tate exercise; four of these sit around the way that work is conceived and undertaken:

1. Having the courage to attempt work that actively challenges existing or established practice
2. Making on-going evaluation and research a fundamental component of all work, rather than an afterthought
3. Only developing projects that directly address clearly identified needs
4. Resisting the temptation to disproportionately programme around one-off projects shaped by external agendas (even if it means doing less)

Two relate to who needs to be responsible (clue - everyone!)

5. Ensuring that senior management understand and commit to the central role of learning in an organisation's mission...
6. ...But that each team member is also empowered to shape and take ownership for the work

And the last two explore how to utilise external practice and expertise:

7. Always taking the time to stay aware of, and learn from, excellent practice elsewhere in the sector;
8. Being confident enough to allow external 'critical friends' (including professionals from other settings) to respond to, challenge and help refine the work

So, in response to these, we'd love to hear your thoughts on:

  • What these ideas might mean for your practice;
  • How you're already applying them in your setting;
  • Or – even better! What additional/alternative steps might you, or are you, using to enable your cultural education delivery to evolve?

Please leave your comments, ideas and questions below