In the Know

, 17 May 2011

With the radical cuts to local provision for social and cultural programmes, it is not entirely surprising that art galleries and artists have been getting involved in community education lately. Hauser & Wirth is the latest gallery to educate the masses and, to that effect, they have opened the Picadilly Community Centre. In these times of economic turmoil, it is not without irony that they took over the Former location of the Midland / HSBC Bank in Picadilly Square.

You might wonder why a commercial contemporary art gallery that specializes in avant-garde, highly marketable artists the likes of Martin Creed and Louise Bourgeois would want to suddenly organise dance salsa classes for seniors. Well, I would reply that they are merely catching up with the zeitgeist. Indeed, their reaching out to various charitable organisations such as Open Age to provide educational services to the community is merely happening in the wake of the Serpentine Gallery‘s Edgware Road Project: The Centre for Possible Studies and it’s opening just before the Hayward’s plans to transform their gallery space into an alternative Summer art school in 2012.

The Centre for Possible Studies on Edgar Road

With university fees deemed to rise up to reach an obscene £9000, there is real need to wonder what education means in the UK and where we can access knowledge without having to sink deep into lifelong debt. One strategy that appears to be popping up all over the place is the collaborative approach and the arts have long been at the forefront of reaching out to other disciplines to get tools, ideas, methods and networks as needed.

The turn towards education is simply the latest instance of the collaborative tendencies of contemporary art. Artists are learning from education, unabashedly borrowing aspects of pedagogy, discursive and participatory strategies at will. The results are often interesting and demonstrate a real involvement within a community that changes both the artists and the group of people who get involved with them. Such is the case for Christopher Robbins’ ongoing Ghana Think Tank and Martha Rosler’s If you Lived Here…

(an extract from one of the works done @ Free Cinema School in 2009)

So what should you expect to find at the Piccadilly Community Centre? Neither a degree nor a transcending work of art… but, with a bit of luck, you will have a brilliant time and you just might learn something or meet someone interesting. When I stopped by, I was offered free food and witnessed a dance class in progress. On any given day until July 30 (any Tuesday to Saturday from 10am till 6pm, that is) you could partake in fencing, knitting, embroidering, praying, eating or painting so go with an open and prepare for a giggle. Who knows, it might even become a refreshing alternative to your local “Working Men’s College” and, by the end of the Summer you might find that you are adept at Brazilian Zouk dancing or laughter yoga.