María Acaso, the arts education catalyst
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
How can we think outside the "think outside the box" box? And how do the arts and education play into that? In her recent book, Art Thinking: Cómo el arte puede transformar la educación (Paidós), María Acaso shows us how.
María is perhaps one of the most prolific writers and leaders in the field of arts education. She has published extensively on the topic of advancing contemporary educational practices and continues to introduce revolutionary concepts, like disruptive education, to an international following through her blog. Prestigious education institutions across the world, like Colby College, NYU, Harvard, Stanford, Culturgest, the Autonomous University of México, and the Medellín Museum of Modern Art, have sought her expertise as a speaker and as a researcher. After having worked as a professor at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid for over fifteen years, María now finds herself as the Director of Education at the Reina Sofía Museum. She furthers her involvement in the field as a founding member of both the Pedagogías Invisibles collective and the Escuela Perturbable, while also serving as president of the Daniel and Nina Carasso Foundation's Assessment Committee.
Her impact, though, goes even further than her compelling contributions to the international community of arts education advocates. In a country where arts education has been very nearly erased from the national curriculum, María's tireless work to energize her peers in such a way that helps to envision Spain as a hub for innovative thought, research, and practice at the intersection of the arts and education is remarkable. Not only has María sought to incite a #rEDUvolution in Spain and Latin America, but on an even more personal level she has even inspired countless of her students to launch the collective change-making machine, Pedagogías Invisibles. Together her work and the work of those whom she has inspired promise Spain an auspicious future in which arts education is the topic of much discussion, debate, and dialogue.
In between writing, researching, mentoring, and directing (to name a few of her many responsibilities!), María graciously took a break to reflect upon her story and superstar role as a catalyst for art thinking in Spain. Here is a condensed (and translated!) version of what she has to share:
What inspired you to work at the intersection of the arts, creativity, and education? And in your opinion, why is that intersection worthy of our attention?
Shortly after I finished my studies in fine arts at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, I realized that going forward I would be working quite separately from the rest of society. If I wanted to participate in society, I would need to divert my attention to education. And so I sought a grant to study education at the Fine Arts School of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, which is actually the only fine arts school in Spain to offer a focus in education... Usually studying education as an artist is not really "sexy," you know... However many years later, it is interesting to me now to think about where art ends and where education begins... Arts education is worthy of our attention for many reasons, but above all else it is worthy of our attention because of the benefits that artistic thinking give to society. This type of thinking enables us to think critically about ourselves, society, gosh so much. And this type of thinking is incredibly important in our society. It enables us to be better, active citizens... Now a days, children grow up and consider culture to be Netflix. Receiving an arts education is relegated to the brief time, if any, spent in a museum, an art classroom... Right now I am working to advocate for more arts exposure, more than just one hour in a museum once in a while.
Through your writing, who do you hope to reach? And what ultimate goal do you wish to have?
I come from a family of people who speak in public and write. And so for me writing is like an art practice. Although I studied painting, I feel even more comfortable writing... Writing about arts education in Spanish is important to me. When I started to study and write about arts education in 2000/2001, there was nothing written on the topic in Spanish. Where did I have to go? I had to go to Harvard. To Stanford. To Getty. I had to bring all of the texts to Spain. It is not that we were not doing the work, we were just not writing about it. And so what I do it amplify the materials, the resources of arts education in Spanish. I try to inspire cultural agents. Teachers... Parents... Artists... Curators... The end goal is to work in arts education and create more active citizens.
What is the best part of being an arts educator and what is the most difficult part?
My favorite part is the creation of networks... Also the creation of schools. For example, at the Reina we have three schools... The part that I find most difficult is the administration. It is necessary and important, but it challenges me.
Superstar Snapshot: María Acaso
Superstar strength: catalyst-tastic / communicator-tastic
Superstar secret talent: ability to connect people (like a matchmaker!)
Superstar noteworthy quote: "educar es como dar lo que no tengo" (adapted from Elizabeth Ellsworth's Teaching Positions)
(photo credits: Jesús de Miguel)