New to Marineterrein Amsterdam: AHK LearningLab

28 February 2021

For some time, arts education has been known as a ‘fun extra’ to complement ‘more important’ subjects such as maths and languages. However, schools and cultural institutions are increasingly realizing that arts education is of vital importance to inspire a critical view of the world. The new AHK LearningLab in building 024 at Marineterrein Amsterdam was created to make arts education more accessible to a broad audience and to research new forms of education. 

Three voices still reverberate in the empty lecture-rooms and project rooms in the AHK LearningLab. The coffee machine gurgles and whirrs for a few minutes before a glass is finally filled with a café crème. ‘If such devices are not kept powered on, then you need to wait a while for it to warm up.’ While the location may be quiet at the moment, in the future the LearningLab will become a hotspot and meeting place for lecturers, artists, and students. 

At the table sit lecturers of art education, Melissa Bremmer and Emiel Heijnen, and quartermaster of the Centre of Expertise Kunsteducatie (Arts education) Anne Nigten. If the enthusiasm with which they speak about their area of expertise is a sign of the research and education to take place here, then everyone will leave this place bursting with inspiration and new ideas. ‘That is desperately needed, with regards to arts education.’ 

The LearningLab wants to train arts teachers and offer them continuing education, and more. What is the significance of arts education in your view?

‘Art has existed as long as mankind has.’ ‘Some say that a society without art has lost its core.’ Art is everywhere, ranging from a priceless Rembrandt to graffiti and rhythmic beats in discos. It plays a hugely important role in our society and that means it is important to provide arts education to children.’ 

‘Furthermore,’ adds Melissa, ‘artists are good at asking critical and ethical questions. For example, by visualizing utopian and dystopian imaginings, they can offer new perspectives. By having children discuss and create art, you teach them to adopt a critical and transcendent view of the world. Our society is changing at a rapid pace, meaning it is important for people to continually be aware of themselves and their environment while also asking questions where necessary.’ 

‘Artists work with people or in a community,’ explains Anne. ‘Art goes further than the world of art and offers the opportunity to discover complex questions “in real life” while also creating a connection with what is happening in the environment. That is truly needed in the times we are in.’ 

Anne Nigten (1964) studied at the Rietveld Academy and the University of the Arts London. Since 2020 she has been a quartermaster of the Center of Expertise Art Education.

Many lecturers will also struggle to provide arts education in an already crowded curriculum.

Melissa answers, ‘That’s true. That’s why arts education shouldn’t be just “another addition”, but rather it should be better integrated into the current educational package. The LearningLab is our way of creating meaningful teaching materials that may not specifically be used to turn students into artists in the traditional sense, instead we concentrate on skills such as fostering the open and critical view that is part of art. For example, when art enters into a dialogue with science and technology, great things are created. Our ArtScience Database website lists a number of examples and suggestions for lessons based on collaborations between artists and scientists while also illustrating what can happen when art, technology, and science are brought together.’ 

‘This is why interdisciplinarity is so important,’ explains Emiel, ‘and that is one of the LearningLab’s two main themes.’ ‘At Marineterrein, all six schools of the Amsterdam School of the Arts (AHK) work together and create possibilities for new connections and applications within the arts as well as connections between art, science, and technology. Within that interdisciplinary context, we focus on the educational aspect: how can we make use of one another’s knowledge and what can we learn from one another where providing good art education is concerned?’

Emiel Heijnen (1970) studied at the University College Catholic Courses and the University of the Arts Utrecht. He has been a lecturer in Art Education at the AHK since 2016.

‘For the second main theme, social engagement, we focus in particular on the search for connections outside of the AHK,’ explains Anne. ‘Inclusivity is an important aspect of that. For example, people with limitations have little access to arts education. Can we come up with teaching methods or solutions that make arts education more accessible to them? For example, major strides can be made for people with autism. Approximately 16,000 students stay at home because they cannot find their footing in regular education and this includes students with autism. They urgently need a different type of education and we think that innovative forms or arts education can help in that regard.’ 

What will happen in the LearningLab when the doors open in the near future?

‘In contrast to the situation now, it will be crowded with interests at that point,’ laughs Emiel. ‘During the daytime hours, Master’s degree programme students of the AHK work on their research projects. There are areas where, for example, students from the neighbourhood can do projects. We have spaces for lectures and workshops and continuing education is offered to teachers who wish to further professionalize in arts education. Additionally, this will become a place for research into new forms of education. The name “LearningLab” says it all, really: it is a place for experimenting, researching, and learning at all levels.’

Melissa Bremmer (1972) studied at the Conservatory of Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam. Since 2016 she has been a lecturer in Art Education at the AHK.

Anne continues, ‘As quartermaster of the Centre of Expertise, my task at the LearningLab is to strengthen our connection with the surrounding area. Arts education and research benefit from looking further than what is going on within the programme department and from knowing what the external demand is. Whether it concerns the needs of the neighbourhood or complex societal issues, our goal is to bring people and ideas together to come up with solutions. Thanks to its community of innovative organizations, Marineterrein is the perfect staging point for this.’ 

‘The LearningLab is open to everyone who has good ideas,’ explains Melissa. ‘We know how to get the right parties around the table and to get the added value from that interaction. We hope that this approach will generate an influx of new people and parties to shape the arts education of the future. Our goal will have been achieved if our approach contributes to arts education becoming accessible to everyone and ensuring that every group in our society can participate in that society.’