Culture and antiracism in adult education: An exploration of the contributions of arts-based learning

Clover, D. E. (2006). Culture and antiracism in adult education: An exploration of the contributions of arts-based learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 57(1), 46-61.

Abstract:

This qualitative comparative case study investigates the value of arts-based programs in facilitating cooperative learning with the aim of addressing pertinent issues within communities. The researcher examined the practices of three different community-based art programs across Canada, and found a number of common threads present in the work at each site. The programs all addressed challenging universal issues such as sexual exploitation, prejudice, and racism, and found that through a variety of collaborative arts-based exercises participants were able to build bridges to greater understanding and tolerance. The study demonstrates the value of the arts as a significant strategy for collective exploration of sensitive issues.

Key Findings:

This study identifies characteristics of arts-based learning that support cross-cultural learning:

  • Versatility and diversity. The arts provide many ways for participants from a variety of backgrounds to come together and create.
  • Universality and familiarity. The universal nature of the arts helps open new cross-cultural conversation.
  • Connective imagination and creativity. The creative process fosters a blending of interests and new understandings.
  • Visibility, anonymity, individuality, collectivity. The arts can provide a sense of collaboration and, at the same time celebrate individual voices.
  • Duration and reflection. The creative process takes time and this allows for reflection.
  • Risk and challenge. The arts provide safe spaces for risk-taking.

Significance of the Findings:

These findings identify the unique characteristics of the arts as significant strategies for fostering cross-cultural learning. The data illuminates the value of learning through arts-based collaborations, which creates a platform that highlights and values diverse perspectives, encourages dialogue and cross cultural exchanges, and leads to mutual respect and value. The data also shows that collective creative work contributes to the development of a community voice.

Methodology:

In this qualitative comparative case study, the researcher examined three different arts-based community programs that work with collective art-making as a means to address social issues in different locations across Canada. Methods included a series of observations and analysis of fully transcribed, taped interviews with 24 project participants and six artist educators. Feedback was also gathered from the public in conjunction with the exhibition of finished work. The first program was a collaborative quilting project in British Columbia, which explored the issue of sexual exploitation. The second program offered a series of jobs-focused courses for at-risk youth culminating in the creation of murals in Vancouver, British Columbia. The third project incorporated drama, storytelling, and visual-art-based workshops in which participants addressed local issues of prejudice, mistrust, and isolation that were prevalent in their community in Toronto, Ontario.

Limitations of the Research:

Although the inclusion of an arts-based activity was present in all of these programs, it is difficult to draw deep connections between the work that was being done, because the programs were serving such a wide range of different socioeconomic backgrounds and age groups and using a wide range of art forms to explore a wide range of issues. Although the study draws out the value of the arts across programs, it is hard to evaluate the validity of a comparative study that draws from such a diverse set of variables.

Questions to Guide New Research:

How does arts-based collaboration benefit a specific socio-economic or age group within a community? How do the characteristics of arts-based programs affect the explorations of specific issues or communities? What differences and similarities unfold depending on the art form used? How can programs of this nature be measured and documented in multi-faceted ways to convince policymakers and funders of the value of arts-based community betterment programs? How do the characteristics of arts-based work specifically affect attitudes about culture and racism?