Reflections from 2012 InSEA European Regional Congress

Marjan Prevodnik, Slovenia     -    "There exists three ways of organizing InSEA congresses, but, (un)fortunately, no one knows which they are”- Marpre... I would firstly like to warmly thank our colleagues, art educators from Cyprus and the organizers of the congress. The congress was very well organized; everything ran smoothly and in a motivating and friendly atmosphere. It was through the hard work, motivation and creative efforts of Gianna, Victoria, Kypros, Efi, Fotini, Ioannis, Lakis, Maria, Melanie, Tereza and many other colleagues, that we were able to benefit from the event. The theme of the Congress “Arts Education at the Crossroads of Cultures” attracted many professionals from around the world. We found the congress fulfilling, invigorating and rejuvenating us, as art educators and artists. This congress provided an excellent opportunity to make the case for art(s) education, especially visual art education, a bit stronger in Europe and other parts of the world. 

The purpose of our InSEA congresses is to present newly acquired knowledge, experiences and art techniques, meet and know people, make friends, develop new networks and so on. But if we as organizers want to achieve these purposes, then we need to provide participants with a variety of program dimensions: (a) academic topics (for our keynotes, panel discussions, and paper and poster presentations), (b) practical workshops and (c) time for social and cultural events and activities. These three dimensions are both the basic and the winning criteria for a successful congress. Our dear colleagues from CySEA, who organized the congress, expanded these dimensions and offered us much more! Personally, I especially liked two of their additional ideas. The first was about having three artistic works that included painting on canvases and creating mosaics. These workshops gave me an opportunity to create my own painting during the congress and “to think a bit differently for some hours” compared to what it is during other congresses. The second one was the continuation of the idea of ArtExchange Initiative and Exhibition, which motivated me even more.

The ArtExchange Initiative: The InSEA ArtExchange initiative was conceptualized by Glen Coutts from Scotland, Emil Gaul from Hungary and myself. It was first realized at the 33rd InSEA World Congress in Budapest,with the help of Nóra Kiss, a Hungarian art education student. I was very pleased and motivated that it found its place in the Cyprus congress as well. The organizers had made minor changes, however the basic purpose of the ArtExchange was the same, i.e. (a) to encourage InSEA art educators to make their personal artworks, (b) to foster (Inter)national friendship and networks, that can promote cooperation between individuals and groups, (c) to share new ideas that can potentially improve different art educational contexts in the world, (d) to advocate for visual art(s) education and (e) to have fun! In both congresses, artworks made by participants were exhibited during the congress and on the last day, artworks were exchanged amongst the participants of the ArtExchange. For some fun, artworks were exchanged through a casting lot. The theme of the Budapest ArtExchange at the 2011 Budapest congress - "I am an InSEA Artist; therefore I am" -  was rephrased from the famous quote of philosopher René Descartes, saying: "I think; therefore I am." The theme of the Cyprus ArtExchange was “Inspiration and creation through the influence of my culture”. While the idea of ArtExchange was again successful and fun filled, a new idea of a Group Gift was also realized for the first time at the Cyprus congress.

The Group Gift Initiative: The purpose of the International Society for Education through art (InSEA), as written in the constitution (Article 2), “is the encouragement of creative education through art and crafts in all countries and the promotion of international understanding…” This purpose is “to be achieved through several means, including organization of conferences”. The Cyprus 2012 congress was one way of achieving our aims. Everyone, who has experience in organizing conferences/congresses, knows how demanding a task it is and what an enormous effort it takes. It was indeed an enormous and demanding task for our CySEA colleagues, who tried to achieve the aim and objectives of (inter)national art education by organizing this congress. This leads me to the question: Do we ever think enough, how and when to thank our organizing team? One possible way of course, is through the Group Gift initiative in which congress participants can volunteer and bring art educational materials such as printed or digital books, art education manuals, catalogues with children/youth art work, research texts and magazines from their respective countries. These materials can then be put together and given to our congress organizer as a gift to show our deepest appreciation for their work, which in some cases take several years of work!

This was the basic idea of the Group Gift that we realized for the first time at the Cyprus congress. A few days before the congress, we contacted all the participants including those in Cyprus, through email and invited them to join this initiative. We asked them to bring any of these materials that they could and hand them over to Glen Coutts and myself, which we put into boxes.  It was an ideal gift to present to the organizers, as a sign of respect and also a kind of group library that can help them further in improving art education in Cyprus. We also invited participants to include their business cards that can be useful for promoting communication and cooperation. I am indeed thankful to everybody from 15 countries, who brought “art education gifts”, that were nicely painted and gift wrapped and finally given to the organizers at the closing ceremony. 

Conclusion: There are not enough words, photos and documents to describe everything that happened in Lemessos. There remains personal stories, new friendships, discoveries of Cypriot cultural heritage, tourist sites, new acquired knowledge, new artistic skills, new ideas, warm feelings from the congress, new encounters with local artists, knowledge of the local cuisine, minutes from the world and regional council meetings and photos from all around. I hope to see us all, and more of us, especially teachers and students from all around the world in the next InSEA congress. 

Fotini Larkou, Cyprus     -     It was a great honour for me to be a member of the organizing committee of the InSEA/CySEA European Regional Congress 2012. The whole process of making this Congress a reality was an exciting experience that demanded dedication and enthusiasm. The CySEA committee worked closely with the European Regional Council of InSEA and a group of people that included art educators and volunteers to ensure the success of this conference. Although the last few days of the preparation, just before the congress were really intense, we were all excited to welcome the congress participants in the Limassol town. The participation of many distinguished delegates from all around the world provided an opportunity to share new ideas and expertise. What I enjoyed most was the chance to meet all these people inside the congress venues, as well as outside and engage in lively discussions. The presence of my supervisor and some of my friends from my PhD studies in the Congress was a heart-warming experience. I hope the InSEA/CySEA European Regional Congress 2012 in Limassol, Cyprus was a productive, worthy and an enjoyable experience for all the participants.

Seija Ulkuniemi, Finland    -    (Courtesy: Marjan Prevodnik)-My thoughts are about the ArtExchange initiative at the InSEA Cyprus conference. Having a common theme for the exchange was very fruitful. For me, it started a process of thinking about my roots and what is essential for me in terms of my Finnish and Lappish identity. I was also lucky in the lottery as I got an artwork made by an artist and art educator whom I have known for many years through the InSEA Congresses, whose personality I admire a lot, and who is also close to my heart. I can now look at some of his personal traces in his artwork. In future, I hope more people will participate in the ArtExchange initiative. It would be nice to get an idea of what types of works InSEA participants want to make and share. I would recommend that we start with a given theme as it can contribute towards enhancing mutual understanding amongst people from different parts of the world.

Marina Chernyavskaya, Russia/Germany    -    (Courtesy: Marjan Prevodnik)-The Cyprus congress was emotional, warm, beautiful and perfect! I often look over my photographs taken at the conference.

Marianthi Kalafati, Greece    -    (Courtesy: Marjan Prevodnik)-It was the second time I attended an InSEA Conference and hopefully not the last... Although new in this ‘family’, I already feel like a part of it. The conference was very well organized, excellently situated and focused on very interesting themes relevant to art education. I enjoyed all the academic and social events. I also felt that the initiative about participants’ Group Gift was very creative. Most importantly however, it was an honour to have met all the amazing educators and academics, having the opportunity to discuss and exchange experiences and ideas about our work. I cherish those wonderful memories and I hope to see you all soon.

Konstantinos Kalemis, Greece    -    (Courtesy: Marjan Prevodnik)-These thoughts are for Mrs Theoharous, all the staff of the conference committee and the conference delegates – it is my great pleasure and honor, to take this opportunity to write all that I saw, and felt and lived at the InSEA 2012 conference in Lemesos - the warm welcome, professional atmosphere, smiling faces, and happy and warm people. I can really say, that the day at the InSEA conference was the most positive day I had, and felt, and lived so far in 2012. I convey a ‘great thank you’ to all for that unique feeling you offered me. I wish to see you all very soon.

Heidi Wirilander, Finland    -    (Courtesy: Marjan Prevodnik)-I write my congress reflections, greetings and thanks form Helsinki, where I am a PhD student in Museology at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. I attended the congress as a poster presenter. There were about 18 poster presentations all together. The handout materials of the posters were kept in a workshop hall for others to easily access them, and the abstracts for the posters were also published in the congress catalogue. I received many interesting viewpoints about my PhD research from congress participants and learnt new perspectives through congress presentations. It was a privilege to have valuable discussions with numerous art education professionals. 

When I left Finland it was a cold and a rainy summer Sunday morning. The best welcome that a Nordic person could have had after this kind of a summer morning was the very warm and sunny weather of the beautiful eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The congress programs were planned with a good choice of presentations and cultural events. The organizing committee made every effort to make this a successful congress and succeeded in their endeavor. Participants were also presented with many events and activities that showcased the local cultures in Cyprus. I would like to warmly thank the organizing committee in Cyprus, and express my gratitude to all those people and organizations that supported and enabled my participation at the congress. These include my PhD supervisors, Professor of Art Education, Pauline von Bonsdorff and Professor of Museology Janne Vilkuna, at the University of Jyväskylä. The organizations that enabled my participation include the Hyvinkää City museum, Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, Alfred Kordelin Foundation and Department of Art and Culture Studies at University of Jyväskylä.

Anastasia Fakidou, Greece    -    (Courtesy: Marjan Prevodnik)-I am a school advisor at the University of Thessaly, Greece. Cyprus - also referred as a “golden leaf thrown into the Aegean Sea” and the “island of Venus”, located at the crossroad of the marine roads and cultures of the southeast Mediterranean Sea, corresponded perfectly with the theme of the congress, “Arts Education at the Crossroad of Cultures”. From June 25 to 27, 2012 many art educators from across the world met in Lemesos, and exchanged ideas, proposals and experiences. The Cypriot Committee made use of many cultural resources to give us a taste of the Cypriot culture and make this congress an unforgettable experience. The opening ceremony started with a performance by students from elementary school, which was inspired by the sun and the sea, with many colors, sound and motion. Then a youth choir sang traditional songs, followed by a traditional Greek dance “Goddess Aphrodite and her brides” performed by danseuses from a dance school. I have special memories from the welcome gala dinner that was hosted at a place near the Medieval Castle.  

There were so many social events that I felt, I needed many days to reflect on them. There was (a) a welcoming ceremony by the Lemesos Municipal Philharmonic Orchestra, (b) a short musical program that was a combination of songs from different periods and different styles, with theatrical and dance movements accompanied by instrumental music, (c) exhibition of visual artworks made by students from Cypriot schools from the nursery to higher education levels, (d) a music and dance performance by secondary students inspired by the paintings of the Cypriot artist Adamantios Diamantis, (e) a representation of the traditional marriage ceremony in Cyprus, (f) a performance by Estonian visual artist Tonu Talve who created two paintings simultaneously, combining live music played by the M.L.L. Jazz Octet, a live model and audience response, that was a live and novel experience, (g) traditional dishes in the museum’s restaurant, (h) a photography exhibition by Cypriot  photographers in the pedestrian zone outside the museum and (i) some other traditional dances. 

At the closing ceremony, there was a fabulous fashion performance by graduate students of the Frederick Institute of Technology (FIT), a contemporary dance performance and a vivid traditional Greek song and dance performance. But there is more… there was a memorable beach party with marquees, torches, candles, cushions for an evening relaxation, cocktails, finger food, music and dancing by the warm waters, a village fiesta, picturesque wine village where we tasted local drinks and delicious food and an excursion to Pafos where we saw the ancient mosaics. By the end of the congress I had an intense feeling of abundance in every mode. I saw them all, and I tasted them all… During the flight back home I wrote two lines inspired by the legend of the Aphrodite's birth from the foam of the seashore, “Close in your hand a stick of cinnamon, and my whole body will arise from your fingers”.

Marlen Thiermann, Chile     -     First, I’ll share my memories of my big adventure while traveling to Cyprus for the congress. Since I traveled ten days before the congress started, I had to endure some uncomfortable situations before I arrived at Limassol. My 24 hour-long trip started in Santiago in Chile, then I changed planes in Sao Paulo in Brazil, continuing with a stop in Istambul in Turkey, and then to Niscosia in Cyprus, where I reached in the middle of the night. I then took a taxi and passed by the UNESCO strip of the Grecian part of Cyprus, and then I finally made it to Limassol for the congress. My congress participation started with the world council meeting, which we had on a Sunday morning. It was nice to see so many familiar faces again. Each vice-president briefed about activities being promoted by their committees. We discussed new ideas and each committee made some commitments for future. One of theses ideas was to link each issue of the newsletter to two regions; so once a year, each region can be represented and we can all know about what is happening in Art education in each territory. On Monday, our Cypriot organizers hosted the opening ceremony with welcoming words, young students sang and danced beautifully and Rita Irwin gave a keynote speech with photographic illustrations of her works. After the ceremony, the sessions began with a wide variety of interesting themes and presentations from specialists from all over the world.

During the congress, each morning started with a keynote that highlighted a special theme in Art Education, followed by presentations that brought to light different situations, contents and contexts within art education in other parts of the world. My personal impression was that all the presentations were of high quality and very motivating. In my view, this is the way enthusiasm within this field is spread through InSEA. There were also many incredible evening programs, which gave ample opportunity to share and discuss ideas with participants outside the congress. Many cultural activities allowed us to know and immerse ourselves in the Cypriot culture – a culture born from the crossings of many different cultures, which was very traditional and still very alive. The congress also held an exhibition of posters and artworks from art educators in a special hall. On Tuesday morning, we had the closing ceremony with a cultural event: a fashion show with traditional dances. At the end of the Congress, Marjan Prevodnik presented a collective gift to the organizers, which contained a variety of art educational materials brought by InSEA participants from all over the world. Our evening concluded with a party in a very romantic village, where we walked around and had Cypriot dishes for dinner at the main square with live music and dance. I have special admiration for the Cysea board members who organized such a successful congress through their hard work, amazing qualities and great organizational skills. Everything was perfect!

Alex Kimonides, Australia     -     I feel privileged to have been able to attend such a relevant and valuable event. Art educators, practicing artists and researchers from approximately fifty countries worldwide were present.  Most presentations revolved around the theme of the changing nature of our world, multiculturalism, new technologies and the need for educators to be informed of these changes, develop curriculum addressing these changes, and provide an opportunity for both the educators as well as students to understand other cultures. Presentations from both theory and practice papers included examples of specific lessons and school projects from around the world. At the conference, practicing artists could participate in various workshops. One such workshop was about creating a painting with music and referring to minimal drawings that symbolized different parts of Cyprus. Large canvases and painting materials were provided for this workshop. The paintings produced at the workshop were left at the conference, which became a permanent exhibition in Cyprus. I found this workshop quite challenging because paintings had to be made under extreme heat, amidst palm trees out in the open, and finished in two afternoons! The fact that the only paint available was acrylic and it dried as soon as you applied to the canvas didn’t help. However, I am happy I took part in the workshop and although I ran out of time to finish (i.e. to achieve the result that I was aiming for), the painting was not too bad.  Next time I’ll know not to choose the largest canvas available!

Another workshop required participants to paint portraits from specific references. The body of work produced from this workshop became part of an exhibition that has been travelling around the world and new paintings are added in each participating country. My contribution is a portrait of a young girl in watercolour. I like the ‘happy accidents’ that occurred while creating abstraction. I also registered to participate in the Art Exchange program. Before leaving Australia, I made a painting that was exhibited at the convention and then exchanged with a work by someone from another country. The selection process was by drawing out names from a hat. A major requirement of the Art Exchange initiative was that the work had to reflect your country. I am happy to say that a Cypriot now owns my painting, which makes reference to the multicultural nature of Australia. It stays in the country where I was born and which I left when I was very young. I am also pleased with the work that I picked. It's a mixed media work with unmistakable Egyptian symbolism painted by an Egyptian conference participant.  

When I received the email regarding InSEA Convention earlier this year, I knew immediately that it would greatly benefit my students, and myself as an educator and a practicing artist. Being in Lemessos, Cyprus made it even more relevant for me. I thank my school, Alphington Grammar School, Melbourne for supporting and facilitating my trip. Apart from the educational benefits of the conference, the social and cultural events were wonderful and kept us entertained with many performances. These included classical, modern and traditional dance performances, a fashion show by secondary school students who modelled their own creations, exhibitions by students, a re-enactment of the traditional wedding, and last but not the least the village fiesta and delicious Cypriot cuisine. The conference also gave me confidence. Knowing that educators from all over the world share my concerns or have similar views to me is invaluable. I also made contacts for ongoing networking possibilities, and thanks to new technologies, this is so much easier and cheaper than previous years. Overall, this was a very memorable experience in every aspect. I am looking forward to 2014 when Melbourne hosts the next InSEA World Congress.

  Artworks made by Adele Flood

Adele Flood, Australia     -    Conference Beginnings:  We are taken on a journey, colour, movement and light;Children dancing... Images projected: Of seas and rocks and goddesses... Cyprus hosts us: History is found at every turn In the present we discuss Art and creativity... From the past we find, Beauty and design... And in the warm sun, We see intense blues Of sky and sea... and the stony reminders of humanity’s passing times in the ruins of memory left behind. (All images created on my iPad)

  Artworks made by Adele Flood

Merna Meyer, South Africa     -     Talking, laughing, singing, dancing, eating, drinking and sharing became part of the sensory experience that characterised the InSEA Congress in Cyprus. Having over 300 artistically inclined delegates from fifty-six different countries spanning more than five continents, under one roof, promised an explosion of all kinds of creative output. Right from the opening ceremony, I realised that we were in for a treat. Issues addressed at the conference were around the theme "Arts education at the crossroad of cultures" – a theme that reflects the complex histories of many countries, as well as their differing stages of development, in art policy and teaching methodology. This theme also served to emphasise the importance with which most people involved in the arts view culture and the ongoing transformation that is defined by rapid changes – globalisation, the mobility of cultures, modern technologies and economic upheaval. As such, the conference organisers held that the aims and practical procedures in arts education should be constantly redefined. Organisers of the InSEA conference identified five broad themes within which workshops, presentations and discussions took place. These included: Arts and cultural identities; Arts and society; Arts and audiences; Learning in and through arts in the twenty-first century; and Education policymaking and arts. Delegates from InSEA and Cypriot artists embraced workshops offering painting with music and practice in making mosaics. This spirit of togetherness between InSEA delegates and Cypriot artists served as a wonderful opportunity to get in touch with our own creativity again. We were all in the same adrenalin boat trying to conquer the waves of abstract art to the tune of sounds from nature. 

All our paintings were kept by the InSEA organisers and are destined for public auction. Proceeds from this initiative will go towards helping to build and equip an art classroom for disabled children in one of the schools on the island. The artwork exchange initiative seems to be a very good exercise of goodwill and creative exchange in which participants produced artwork, which was exhibited and exchanged among the artists on the last day of the conference. My two entries are now residing in Cyprus and Slovenia. Meeting the cadre of art educators, researchers, policymakers, government officials and curriculum planners from five continents, opened my eyes to the many viewpoints and network of opportunities in which we can become involved. Rita L. Irwin, President of InSEA summed it up: “Learning in, through, and from the arts are important conceptions for the design of curriculum experiences in any learning environment at any age level. The arts belong to all of us ... and should be considered essential to a balanced curriculum. After all, schools are places where students can flourish as they realize their full human potential to think, feel, intuit, imagine and act, as they engage in an artful curriculum, a curriculum full of life, a curriculum that embraces what it means to be humanly present.”