Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education (Online)

In/Visibility of the Abandoned School: Beyond Representations of School Closure

Academic journal article Journal of Cultural Research in Art Education (Online)

In/Visibility of the Abandoned School: Beyond Representations of School Closure

Article excerpt

Description of the Project

In/Visibility of the Abandoned School is a practice-led form of visual inquiry whereby knowledge is generated from a closed school because it is a de-institutionalized, de-commissioned, and empty place that has not yet been legally re-zoned, re-sold, or repurposed. The objective of this research is to emphasize the evocative and ambiguous character that a closed school embodies while in a temporal state and to examine its pedagogical possibility. To complete this research I spent four years doing fieldwork photographing closed and abandoned schools in cities across Canada and interviewing principals, students, board directors, faculty, and community members about their experiences with school closure. For the final stage of my inquiry, I projected images of the inside of a decommissioned school onto the outside's physical structure and I invited the community that had experienced the closure of their school to take part in an immersive experience with the intention that they could project their own stories and imaginations onto the artwork. Participants were encouraged to share their responses of the work so that further examinations could be made. Data was acquired in two phases: first, in the production of the work, where I produced a photographic archive on closed schools in their liminal state and second, in the encounter with the artwork, in which a site-specific installation comprised of selections made from my photographic archive were projected onto a closed school located on Vancouver Island, a rural community in British Columbia.

Context

School Closure is not a new phenomenon. In the second half of the 20th century, many Canadian provinces witnessed school closure due to urbanization that forced small community schools to amalgamate into larger schools (Chambers, 2007). Today, Canadian schools are closing for a different reason, namely neoliberalism, a political ideology grounded in the belief that market principles led by private enterprise and consumer choice applied to the public sector contributes to greater efficiency and economic prosperity (Poole, 2007). Ross & Vinson (2013) argue that school closure in British Columbia is a visible example of the financial cuts being made to the public education system as a result of a neoliberal agenda based on educational reform. The government's decisions and policies are designed to maximize profits rather than serve the community's needs (Ross & Gibson, 2007; Ross & Vinson, 2013). Since 2002, the province has witnessed the closure of over two hundred schools that has displaced more than twenty-seven thousand students (BCTF, 2014). The de-commissioned school selected for this study closed in June 2013 just short of its one hundredth anniversary. The decision to close the school came along with five other schools in the district to save a $3.7 million deficit.

Situations like that in British Columbia are happening on a global scale. In the United States, school closure has become a frequent response to underperforming schools since the advent of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in which high stakes testing and accountability are penalizing public schools with closure when they fail to meet uniform standards (Kirshner & Pozzoboni, 2011). Districts in New York, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, have recently witnessed manifold closures where "failing schools" have had their funds revoked and their schools shut down (see Aggarwal, Mayorga, & Nevel, 2012; Ayala & Galetta, 2012; Hursh, 2007; Jack & Sludden, 2013; Kretchmar, 2011; Lipman & Person, 2007). School closings are also occurring in the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand (see Blackmore, 2004; Cheng, 2009; Cheng & Walker, 2008; Egelund & Laustsen, 2006; Haiming, et al. 2013; Holloway & Pimlott-Wilson, 2012; Kearns, et al. 2009; & Walker, 2010).

Tightly woven into neoliberal educational reform are many social, economic, cultural, and political inequalities. …

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