By Brad Haseman, Executive Vice President of Kadenze, Inc.

Many artists from our Kadenze community would have been packing their bags and heading to Seoul, Korea this week. I am referring to our socially-engaged-colleagues who address the everyday lives of people and confront the challenging issues of our society. They are artists with a passion and practice for arts and activism, the participatory arts and the arts for social change; they are teaching artists and they work around the world. The magnet drawing them to Seoul was to be the fifth International Teaching Artist Conference (ITAC5), set up to explore ways to turn ‘boundaries into new pathways,’ which is the central theme. Plans were put in place, calls for papers were made, travel plans confirmed.

Then COVID-19 arrived…and stayed. Consequently the hosts of ITAC5, the Korea Arts and Culture Education Services(KACES) decided to pivot, and they did, with the elegance of a pirouette. They redesigned the live event into a fully digital one. Yes, like every other arts organisation, COVID has accelerated the move to online conference collaboration and learning.

The new virtual ITAC5 opens on Monday 14th September and it is already possible to see how COVID has affected the form and content of what promises to be a landmark event for the International Teaching Artists movement and for online arts conferences generally.

The conference organizers have had to meet three chief design challenges which have disrupted the form of the face-to-face event. The first has been to seek out conference activities which increase interactivity and engagement. How to ensure that the energy of the live event is not replaced by a series of broadcast-style, bullet-point, talking-heads? Many presenters are now adept with video conferencing tools to communicate across time and space, but how to do it creatively and poetically?  Not surprisingly teaching artists have risen to this challenge, taking their lead from digital artists and new media colleagues. 

The 24-hour world clock presented the second challenge in the form of scheduling concerns. While much has been programmed into a ‘13-hour Seoul day,’ there are always teaching artists awake in other parts of the world. So innovative elements have been introduced. The conference organisers also had to consider how to archive and retrieve presentations. How will people use the Collective Rooms which will be open 24 hours each day?

While conferences are valued for their intellectual and artistic stimulation, we also know the informal conference matters too. The ITAC5 hosts have triumphed in this third challenge, offering imaginative, bespoke opportunities to meet and gather as individuals. An extended Art Project: Drawing Dictation, in the form of imaginary digital soundscapes and lounges, has been enhanced by offering delegates opportunities to join MUCKJA, to meet and eat, HAJA, to play and perform, GACHIHAJA, to call and collaborate, NOLJA, to chill and chat, MOOTJA, to ask and advise and MALHAJA, to discuss and share sessions and workshops. Some truly creative ways to become perfectly remote. 

These changes to the traditional form of the conference have all been made to strengthen and enhance the intellectual, creative and contextual work of the conference. Two years ago the conference planners set the themes which, as events would have it, uncannily prefigured our COVID context.

The first theme, Unlearning, asks, “What do we as teaching artists (and participants) need to unlearn, and what are the most powerful tools for new learning?” In response, the conference abstracts propose new ways to question, examine and analyze creativity for the arts, culture and change. Traditional modes of arts learning are challenged to maximise their impact and to embed enquiry and dialogic conversation in all aspects of cultural life and practice.

The second theme, Local and Nomadic Practices, asks, “What is universal in the practices that we offer to other specific communities and even to other parts of the world—our nomadic potential”? and “What is the dynamic balance between local and universal?” The presentations on offer pick up on issues of sustainability for artists and communities, the conditions and circumstances whereby power and change come about, and what being a nomad means for the life, practice and experience of becoming and being a teaching artist.

The final theme, Peace and Reconciliation, challenges delegates to wrestle with ways they “can facilitate citizens to become the agents of change in their own communities and beyond, by embracing difference and diversity.” In response many instances detailing how arts activism can shape better futures will be shared. Consideration will also be given to what is involved in making better choices for better outcomes for both teaching artists and their communities. Other papers will explore what are the deep embodied understandings and practices which take tolerance from one’s own body to the body politic, or organized groups of citizens.

The three days of the conference next week will be of course strange for everyone who attends. Certainly the artists, arts educators, administrators, funders and researchers from all around the world will be present and together, but also alone and apart. While some will miss the intimacy of the live, others will be comforted by the enabled distance of this virtual conference and relish that they have not had to pack for Korea this September. 

To find out more about ITAC5 click here

To find out more about The Basics of Teaching Artistry click here.

About the Author:
Brad Haseman is a teaching artist from Australia who for over a decade worked in Papua New Guinea developing programs for HIV and AIDS education. In 2014 he co-convened the second International Teaching Artist Conference (ITAC2) in Brisbane, Australia and serves on the ITAC5 Programming Committee.  Kadenze, Inc has strong links with Teaching Artists globally. The Kadenze program The Basics of Teaching Artistry features courses by Lincoln Centre Education (NYC), the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (Brisbane) and Sydney Opera House (Sydney, Australia). Brad is Executive Vice President of Kadenze, Inc.