This work is the result of an open questionnaire sent to each of the 13 associations of Mus-e Italia network. The questionnaire was turned from each local location to various people involved in the Mus-e workshops, from artists to pupils, from teachers to school headmasters, and systemized by each local and artistic/educational coordinator. This was done in order to have a choral and polyphonic consideration on the unique and unstable period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To keep a broad look at the response dynamics of the people involved in the Mus-e project, and make it more effectively in a concise report, Mus-e Italia relied on the work of an external professional figure: this is how I was entrusted with the task of doing a socio-anthropological analysis of the many pages derived from the questionnaire questions to write an article to share with International Mus-e network. I used ethnographic survey techniques to account for the complexity of opinions of children, artists, teachers and coordinators: the text I drew from it comes from the convergence of opinions that focus on the implementation of technological instruments, digital know-how, in the world of teaching and consequently of Mus-e, to continue the educational, artistic and inclusion mission started by Yehudi Menuhin in a world that can suddenly change. The solutions to continue and improve the Mus-e project are there, provided that we are careful to collect and synergy the ideas and needs of those who adhere to it, and can be implemented effectively, telling the fundamental usefulness to potential investors.
The impact of the health emergency on schools and the education system in Italy
The school has been an area that has been greatly affected by the health emergency caused by this wave of SARS-CoV-2. In Italy It’s been one of the first sectors to be physically closed and one of the last that will open. A paradox has been opened up about the school and its educational function: while it is undeniable that it is one of the systems at the base of the whole society, on the other, impacting with this pandemic, it has revealed all its shortcomings due to low investment.
As Mus-e Italia we are a reality present in the school system in twelve cities (plus a pilot project in Lecce) from north to south, and, as a project that combines institutional training with education of various artistic activities, we involve in our work, in addition to the students and pupils, also the teachers of their classes and the school directors. As Mus-e we have an internal and an external look at the school so we have a position that can be privileged in detecting the post-pandemic condition, the reactions to this long and sudden school closure, and therefore the problems of the educational system and the multiple potentials that can be put in place in the period of reform and school reformulation that now opens. For these reasons, we created and circulated a questionnaire (open-ended) on school quarantine and the future of pupils, and we had colorful answers resulting from the thoughts and experiences of the whole set of people involved in the Mus-e projects, from the gaze of girls and children, to the opinions of teachers and school leaders, and from the reflections of the artists, to the observations of the coordinators of the individual Mus-e offices in Italy.
The most obvious highlight of the use of Distance Learning (DL) is an accessibility problem: since we could no longer go to school, and having to attend lessons on digital platforms, social/economic inequality among pupils has been accentuated. That is, in terms of the availability of their families, pupils need a dedicated space, a computer or tablet and a sufficiently fast connection to follow a lesson remotely. So the effect unfortunately is that the school system of children, made to be made available and accessible to all, in the sudden transformation of lessons in DL has increased the distances between less fortunate and luckier girls/boys. The cause of this was first and foremost a lack of investment in technological instruments: there were no funds to equip the pupils, who lacked it, a device and a fast connection. In addition, on the merits of the relationship between school and new technologies, DL has also highlighted how digital skills on the part of the teaching staff are often lacking, as well as paths to mature computer knowledge for pupils. If the school is to be a place to develop and implement a renaissance, without obviously neglecting the fundamental dimension of vis-à-vis learning and physical contact between pupils, there is a need to find more economic investment in order not to be more unprepared for DL. Therefore, in the opinions we have identified, there is a structural dysfunction in the school system, where the solutions for an appropriate and fair functioning are new economic revenues and a wise model of investment.
Issues of artists and the cultural sector during the pandemic
We can assert it, without fear of being denied, that there were systemic problems, even before quarantine, in the cultural sector and in the work of artists: since the artists who work with Mus-e Italia are about two hundred and expressed a certain discomfort with respect to their work very
often anomalous, poorly structured, occasional and precarious; a job position found therefore at all levels, from macro to micro.
During the full pandemic emergency, these problems in the cultural sector were exacerbated because, first of all, every show and artistic event was deleted and, moreover, the world of artistic work remained rather “invisible” in government discussions and of the various technical and scientific committees. Therefore, counting that even at the moment the reopening of the quaternary sector of the economy (the cultural and creative economy) struggles to restart, the suffering of those who do it by trade is acute, having seen the possibilities of work collapsed totally. This, as Mus-e’s work is based on artists engaging in the world of training, can harm us because some of them, if the situation did not improve in Italy and were at the same time more advantageous elsewhere, could move abroad. It is also for this reason that the rethinking of the organizational and communicative modes of artistic and creative work, which has already been inevitably implemented in Mus-e (as in theatres, art galleries, cinemas, etc.), must be conveyed in the future, through a flourishing exchange of ideas and opinions, in a process that leads to continue what were the missions of their pre-emergence work in the new and unstable current horizon.
At the beginning of quarantine, the artists were forced to change their work from a concept based on physical contact to one based on the encounter through video recording or video conferencing platform. This process of transformation and, we might say, translation was neither neutral nor immediate. Entering into the merits of educational-creative work, the problem addressed concerns the communication between the artist and the students: the absence of human contact that identifies “the encounter” as an educational path, where through the decoding and reformulation of reality you create new codes and behaviors, imagine signs, build symbols, acquire functional skills, and therefore learn to “feel good Together”. If it has already been difficult to transpose these objectives into a video-screening, primarily because of the structural problems of the education system we talked about above, all the more so an online art laboratory is going through complex problems, as they involve activities that would require the presence, the body, the space, the voice and the contact with the other: in fact, not all artistic disciplines lend themselves equally to being translated online.
How the Mus-e associations in Italy have dealt with this unprecedented and sudden reality
All these issues, however, did not stop the work of Mus-e artists, who, citing the testimony of a little girl over all, “participated in video-surveys trying to lighten the climate with music and art”. More specifically, the individual Mus-e offices remained in contact with the school principals and teachers and, at first, the artistic-training activity remotely adapted by sending the students proposals to continue with an active participation: these proposals ranged from musical ones, to pictorial, acting, and more; there were different approaches depending on the objectives and the vision that was proposed for the activity; switching to the video there was also a range of aesthetic variations, depending on whether the direction, more mobile or fixed-room, was more or less fundamental to the script. Later, with the help of local coordinators, when and where it was possible, the artists participated live in the lessons by video call. In general, Mus-e’s online activities for classes found in the communicative urgency a key to artistic expression, which looked at the possibilities of remote encounter as social closeness in the moment of inevitable physical
distance. That is, although the approach to the pupils had become necessarily unrelated to the physical presence and mediated by a screen, we continued to carry out our work of cultural training and social inclusion related to the promotion of the expression of the arts, trying to (using the expressions of a pupil after a video school) “to arrive in the hearts of children, because the hearts of children are like music boxes that must be loaded live with the touch of a hand”.
In order to “pop on camera” in the future, in a probable continuation of distance learning, and to train the educational-artistic richness of the pupils, the place of being able to get to all the boys and girls, we must now trace the solutions that make possible a space more suitable for the relationship at a distance, in order to obtain a denser online contact: to be able to take advantage of a video conferencing platform in which to share the screen of their device live and messages; set up a suitable digital training system for Mus-e operators focused on the multiple possibilities of artistic expression remotely.
Directions to be taken in the immediate future
If we are convinced that this health and social emergency is also a great opportunity to restructure the cultural and educational system, implementing its character as an inexhaustible resource to build more sustainable and supportive futures, and if we think that the expression of the arts also filtered by a computer demonstrates its extraordinary cohesive and cathartic strength, it is because we know for sure that with the support of economic investments , on computer instrumentation and technological-digital training, a school can be built in solidarity and just, rich in positive sociality and expressive and tolerant dynamics, which, in this way, leads to a more convivial society, where conflicts are resolved with peaceful confrontations and is therefore greater the psycho-physical well-being of people.
This is because the priority of the Mus-e project remains, even in a form of Distance Learning, to emancipate children and young people towards an artistic reading of the real, positioning itself as a facilitator for each individual, as a social person, to be welcomed in its human and cultural depth, in full respect of the environment of belonging. Every single pupil is read in his socio- cultural complexity and invited, through the acquisition of suitable instruments, to discover new horizons, to a personal reading of the environment near and far, and to create his own spaces on the path to beauty. In addition to the implementation of the technology-digital sector, the need for a closer link between the various arts, as well as close collaboration with the teaching staff, has been highlighted to set up a teaching where the acquisition of skills and abilities is a means, not an objective, functional to socio-cultural growth.
These challenges that we accept for the immediate future, finding the right investment, are more indispensable than ever today to pursue the objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as the economic crisis that has already been triggered threatens to result in a social crisis. Our training work with children through the arts is complementary to the curriculum, and we hope to find the means to expand, as our artistic projects in the classroom move concretely to provide quality education that guarantees freedom and fairness to each one, combating poverty, enhancing and promoting the social and economic inclusion of all people (regardless of gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, economic status or otherwise), and encouraging effective partnerships between public and private in the public sector.
These commitments as an association and our projects are essential today also for a more intimate reason in each of us, all the more so in boys and girls, that is the need to rework this extraordinary and unprecedented experience. We want to emphasize this need with the reflection of a child who participated in our courses, who wrote, with respect to the quarantine period and with respect to the future:
“I think the Covid emergency has confined us to a bubble, that it has affected those who need a presence next to the lesson” and “I think it’s an uncertain future because we don’t know if we’ll go back to school, how we’ll learn, and if what we’ve learned now will serve us tomorrow.” We are sure that artistic expression is an essential practice to share such exceptional and pervasive moments and to reformulate one’s past towards a more serene future.
Domenico Maria Costantini, Social Anthropologist