On Paulo Freire

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, written by Paulo Freire, elaborates on Freire’s revolutionary (at the time) position towards the (mis)conception of education, while proposing a new structure of pedagogy where teacher and student are equally important members of the system of education and are capable of both teaching and learning from each other.

Tom Finkelpearl is the commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. His work shows an interest in finding a balance between the arts Institution and the community through community- based art projects in order to improve their social circumstances.

The interview to Freire presented in his book Dialogues in Public Art explores community-based art through concepts like ‘students’, ‘teacher’, and ‘school’ and their parallel art terminologies ‘public’, ‘artist’, and ‘museum’. Freire’s project of using a new methodology called ‘problem-posing’ intended to create a dialogue between the educator and educand where both become responsible for their process of learning. “The aim of Freire’s educational program was to stimulate critical consciousness, help the local residents to gain understanding to the political, social, and economic conditions they lived within, and by taking their input seriously, to help increase their self-confidence.” (280)

One of the criticisms that this method has had is that it does not work within the social Institutions. It states that a change of consciousness is not as powerful as a change of political structures. Another criticism is that it depends on THE teacher, a person who has a higher rank of power than the one of his students. However, it is important to acknowledge that a change of consciousness will always have a great impact in the shaping of a community’s mind whether it is the result of an Institution or not. Also, Freire is very clear about the problems of antagonizing intellectual theory. He talks about valuing the community’s stories but also valuing theory as a way for the community to question itself rather than using it as an imposition of one type of knowledge over another.

Nevertheless, Freire’s strategy of process-as-product is just one strategy to create public art. Finkelpearl is very clear about this when he refers to successful art works that had had no process of dialogue behind them, but were still able to create “sites for dialogue”. The objective of this method is to engage critically in a project that can be any type of project. It works as long as we can initiate a dialogue about it. This way, Freire says, we will eventually unfold ideas that go from superficial topics to deeper notions in order to question what is presented to us and how we consume it.

After reading about Finkelpearl’s own (CultureAID) project it is clear to see the impact that Freire had on him. Finkelpearl, as part of the art Institution, is developing social interventions that work through collaboration between the city and the community. He recognizes the capacity of change that art gives to a community as well as the importance that art critics and curators have here (the process of doing and reflecting that he talks about with Freire in his interview).

Finkelpearl’s transcription of the interview has a friendly tone and Freire’s ideas left me with a sense of compromise and possibility. “We learn when confronting difference” is one of the most powerful phrases that I found here and, although he uses it to recount a personal story, it is evidently the heart of his entire pedagogical project.

More on CultureAID https://news.artnet.com/art-world/tom-finkelpearl-promises-to-make-new-york-livable-for-artists-103182

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