Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Towards a Memorandum of Understanding of Kids' Guernica

In reference to the discussion paper Bernard Conlon has prepared for the conference in Gent, some additional remarks need to be made, in order to understand the context of discussion.

Bernard Conlon departs from the protocol he wrote after the Kids' Guernica meeting in Tallahassee, Florida. For Gent his question will be where does Kids’ Guernica stand one year later? That question will lead on to some answers as to how Kids' Guernica shall evolve for the next 15 years.

As this is clearly a matter of clarifying on the basis of what organisational principles Kids' Guernica shall evolve, it is proposed that the Gent conference strives first towards a 'Memorandum of Understanding' of Kids' Guernica and then proceeds to a White Paper on Social Communication of Kids' Guernica.

As Rosa Naparstek points out a White Paper needs careful deliberation, something not to be done within one day. However, Gent should set the premise for this.

So far Kids' Guernica exists with one key person acting as international coordinator, namely Takuya Kaneda, while there are as well members of an International Committee who span with their experiences and inputs the 15 years of existence. Together along with various local coordinators they have upheld so far the international character of Kids' Guernica.

As indicated by the international website anyone can initiate at local level an action, provided the painting action is done with a canvas which has the same size as Picasso's Guernica (7,8 x 3,5 m).

In the meantime, Kids' Guernica has vastly expanded throughout the world with many children, youths and adults having participated. Linked with each local action are some coordinators who are mainly artists but not only. Between the core and the broader participations some linkage has to be perceived as a poteantial in need to be developed further. For this purpose Bernard Conlon proposes an active and a broader definition as to who belongs to the Kids' Guernica Community world wide.

He did mention as well that several actions in the recent past provoked further going questions. As a matter one of the most crucial questions was not resolved in Florida, namely what constitutes a mural painted by children? The question can be reformulated when comparing a mural done only by children with a mural having been painted either under the tutelage of adults or even by an adult taking the images of the children and making out of this his or her own version of a mural: how to safeguard the reputation of Kids' Guernica if linked to the claim all the murals have been done by children or youth after having entered a collaborative learning process?

The difference is significant since Kids' Guernica claims to be doing something for peace insofar as the murals painted by children can help adults to emancipate themselves by becoming like the children once again free in their imagination. It is thought by freeing the imagination adults can develop once again empathy for the other(s) and begin to understand their needs as well as fears. Thus there would be no point if adults impose upon children their own version of peace or their vision of the world since not the children, but the adults need to be emancipated in their imagination. That follows also the insight by Picasso pertaining to children being free while adults have to learn to become again as free as children.

As this is not merely a matter of what pedagogical method to apply when doing a Kids' Guernica action, but touches upon how children are free to discover themselves human values or are made to adopt to the values of adults, learning out of experience to pass on memories of war and conflicts to the next generations becomes an integral part of how Kids' Guernica works. This practical field work in what is often described by academics as memory studies is what characterizes Kids' Guernica. The work done by Alexandra and Sylvain Zanne in Gezoncourt by taking children first to Verdun, the battle ground of First World War, and then letting the children paint on the canvas to the thematic question of 'the other: enemy or friend?', exemplifies precisely that. For this reason Kids' Guernica is an ongoing learning process about the question how to resolve and prevent war, conflict and violence.

Adults live more or less successful in a world they helped to construct but also to destroy. The question can, therefore, be taken further. Will Kids' Guernica if need to support children if in opposition to the adult world or will Kids' Guernica take up a position of mediation? There is always at risk in the way Kids' Guernica actions are organized that in the final end it does mean a siding with the authority of the adults. Afterall they take responsibility and thus can easily impose their will.

Artistically and aesthetically speaking, there is a difference between what children express and what artists create and what can be done when adults impose even if only that the painting process must be done in an orderly fashion. The latter risks taking away from Kids' Guernica its very outstanding quality, namely of being an informal rather than a formal learning process. It must be added that the informal process should come very close to what children learn by themselves in the streets or in nature, that is outside institutionally imposed rules for learning. It means also to let children enter such processes which are playful and as such never completed even when the paint has dried for every canvas can be painted over or else something can be added. Important is only that the outcome is a a surprise for everyone but this is only possible if the whole image is not predetermined.

A key principle of Kids' Guernica has to be safeguard the free expression by children and youths. They should be left to express their imaginative wishes of peace as what their imagination tells them. All too often they hesitate especially when already a bit older, in their adolescence. This is due to the interference by over zealous adults!

Often in formal education the mistake is made to apply strictly only formal principles precisely there, where informal learning processes should be allowed to show the way. These mistakes are made by adults who fear that children could do a mistake and then the paint brush is taken out of their hand or else the adults pre-design the entire outlay and therefore do not allow the children to decide by themselves what they wish to paint together, in various groups or just alone amidst all the others on this huge surface?

Thomas Economacos is of the opinion the role of the adult should be but one who facilitates the process. When is an adult no longer a mere facilitator? What is really a true entry into a collaborative learning process? Should it be for the sake of just making still another experience when painting such a mural?

Another question altogether is when it comes to initiate new local actions. Here the question is if Kids' Guernica should be much more directed like a cultural investment in peace by inching ever closer to larger challenges e.g. bringing Palestinian and Israeli children together in the Middle East or within the peace process of Belfast children from both religious communities?

Two weaknesses have been detected by Deniz Hasirci: the voices of the children go often unheard and the financing of the entire network is not covered since the bottom-up process has not at its disposal a legal entity like a foundation (see here the critical remarks by Shea Howell in Detroit).

Hatto Fischer

Feb. 2011



Foundation Domination
By Shea Howell
Michigan  Citizen, Feb. 6-12, 2011

"The domination of public life by foundations is something very new. Today small numbers of the wealthiest individuals in the world are using their foundations to shape public life. Educational, health, city planning and land use policies are being dictated by wealthy donors who use foundation money, tax exempt status and clout to implement their private visions to address community issues. With a combination of targeted projects, public relations campaigns and selected research, they are determining the direction of how we approach urgent community issues.
Many people see nothing wrong with this. After all, philanthropy has a long history in the USA. Early colonial preachers stressed the social obligations of the rich to the poor. John Harvard, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson gave us our first libraries. Ann Radcliff our first scholarship. The Peabody Fund, the first modern foundation, was established after the Civil War for the free education of black and white students. The great industrialists of the 19th and 20th centuries, Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, and Ford, have become synonymous with charitable giving and support for the arts and civic life.
Of course, these efforts have always been met with criticism. Some, including my favorite American philosopher, Kenneth Burke, talked of this charity as a thinly-veiled effort by unscrupulous men to redeem themselves after a lifetime of exploitation and assault on the dignity of working people. The earliest foundations were so troubling to some people that Congress organized a commission on industrial relations in 1912. Their concern was whether or not the emerging foundations posed “a menace to the Republic’s future” because they concentrated so much wealth in the hands of unelected and unaccountable trustees.
In the last 25 years the philanthropic sector has grown enormously as elected governments have become more dysfunctional.  Fed by favorable tax policies, charitable giving totaled more than $300 billion in 2009. This is fully 2.1 percent of the GDP. Individuals and/or estates gave 83 percent of this total, mostly from a small number of the 3% of Americans with incomes greater than $200,000 and/or assets exceeding $1 million.
In spite of its outsized impact on educational policy, only 13 percent of this total goes to education and about 10 percent goes to the poor. Likewise only 4 percent goes to art and culture. In an analysis of foundation giving, Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, concluded that it is often hard to quantify just where all this money is going, but much of it goes to causes that directly or indirectly benefit the donors.
This new type of philanthropy, sometimes called venture philanthropy, is being fueled by the newly made billionaires of the dot.com world and the sellers of cheap products produced by outrageously exploitive global labor practices. The giant among them of course is the Gates Foundation, closely followed by the Waltons of Wal-mart. While the individual founders are clearly ideologically distinct, they share a neo-liberal view of public concerns. They back free market approaches to the solving of social problems. This means they are using tax-sheltered money to help dismantle the public sector, encourage private, competitive delivery of essential goods and services, undermine unions, shape research, direct debate and dictate development.
In a recent issue of the Atlantic, Chrystia Freeland describes this emerging plutocracy “in which the rich display outsize political influence, narrowly self-interested motives, and a casual indifference to anyone outside their own rarefied economic bubble.”
Today in Detroit we are witnessing our own local expression of this philanthropic trend. Skillman, Kresge, Broad, Gates, and the Community Foundation have all been meeting behind closed doors, deciding the future of our children and our city. They are not only damaging and disrupting the lives of individuals, they are distorting our democracy."


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