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Plymouth College of Art Sustainability in Curricula Conference

by Chris Smith, Author of The SITE

The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted that The SITE is being developed by staff at Plymouth College of Art with backing from the PCA Research Commitee. The SITE is just one of a number of research and curriculum initiatives around sustainability issues presently underway at PCA, including a recent conference held at the college .

The 'Embedding Sustainability in the Curricula' conference was held on Monday 25th October in the Lecture theatre at PCA. It was attended by over 50 academic staff with some representatives from other areas of college life. The focus of the conference was essentially on three main questions - "What are the opportunities and imperatives for sustainbility in curricula at PCA?", "what are we doing already?" and "what else can we do?"

The day itself was highly successful and seemingly both well enjoyed and appreciated by the delegates. A mixture of speaker presentations and discussion workshops were hosted throughout the day: The two keynote speakers were Dr Paul Micklethwaite (Senior Research Fellow, Kingston University) and Ben Brangwyn (co-founder Transitions Network). Although the conference itself was specifically about sustainability at PCA, the two keynote speakers brought an outside perspective on sustainability initiatives in both design education and global communities to the conference. The five other speakers (Malcolm Ferris, myself, Ian Hankey, Alastair Fuad-Luke and Mary Loveday Edwards) were academic staff from PCA; each described sustainability projects that they had been involved with both within and outside the college curricula. My own presentation included a description of The SITE and an invitation to delegates to use and contribute to the SITE resources. Although a range of different aspects and approaches to embedding sustainability in curricula were presented by the speakers, a common theme throughout the day was that that of the exciting opportunities for innovation in creative practice and education that 'sustainability' presents us with.

I am currently writing up a more detailed summary of the speaker presentations for which I will shortly post a link for on The Site

The Break Out Discussion Workshops were held in two AM & PM sessions. In the first session, delegates were divided into 8 separate groups in which they discussed their responses to the presentations so far, and also discussed questions such as: What are the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities of sustainability for us?

The afternoon's break out discussion groups were organised around different discussion topics. There was an opportunity also for delegates to propose their own discussion topics. The topics discussed were:
• How can Wellbeing and emotional intelligence fit in with sustainability agenda at PCA? (subdivided into two groups)
• New Curricula ideas
• The role of ILT in sustainability (incl. Virtual study; opportunities for distance learning)
• How do we balance needs to keep up with industry/technological advancement and sustainability
* The role of the artist in consumer society - 'maker of stuff' or 'creator of experience'?
I will shortly be writing up the notes and flipchart mindmaps made with these discussion groups into a document to which I will also post a link to on The SITE

After each group briefly summarised their discussion to the rest of the delegates, A plenary rounded up the day. Many of the delegates expressed an interest at this point in the conference debates being continued outside of the conference in some way; the immediate plan resulting from this is for me to create a sustainability page on our college intranet 'Moodle' site. This page will host discussion forums, useful links, news and feedback opportunites about sustainability at PCA which can be taken to the colleges Environmental Sustainability Working Group (ESWG). Members of the ESWG will supply the page with news, surveys, links etc.

Quite what the impact of this conference on sustainbility will be has yet to transpire really; whether the delegates take forward some of the ideas into their practice, whether staff and students interact with the Moodle page being developed; all these are questions that will be resolved in the near future I hope. I think it is fair to say that the conference demonstrated at least 4 key things;
1) That the college has already seen some excellent initiatives for sustainability in curricula and research which can be built upon to further encourage sustainability at PCA; it proves that we are already 'on the right tracks' to some extent.
2) There is a widespread support and interest in sustainability being further embedded into all aspects of the institution of PCA
3) Sustainability presents art and design practitioners and educators with exciting possibilities for innovation.
4) Delegates agreed that that sustainability will become an increasingly crucial aspect of future education

My hope is that PCA can make the transition to an establishment that really has sustainability at the core of all it’s planning and practices. Maybe, just maybe, this has helped us on that journey!