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Report Symposium Decolonise the Arts Curriculum

2 December 2022
Report of the Symposium Decolonise the Arts Curriculum in Secondary Education 28 oktober 2022 at VU Amsterdam.

'I wasn't presented with any art or artists at school that appealed to me, and I didn't know that such a broad field of work with art was possible, so I couldn't look for which art programme suited me either'

The high attendance, the discontinued registration procedure due to too much interest and the heated discussions during the meeting showed a high level of commitment to this topic. The decolonisation of the art curriculum in secondary education is perceived as urgent by students (with a bicultural background) and by teachers, both in secondary education and in higher art education.

Twenty-five secondary school teachers, 21 teachers  from higher education, six university teachers, 11 representatives of art institutions such as arts professional association VONKC, museums, method makers, the Board of Examinations and 44 students were present. Participants came from universities of the arts like ArtEZ, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, Minerva Academy Groningen, HKU Utrecht, Breitner Academy, and from universities like Radboud, University of Amsterdam and VU Amsterdam.

During the meeting, Dr Ismintha Waldring spoke about research on belonging among students at VU Amsterdam, which shows that recognition in fellow students, teachers or in (individuals from) the course material is of great importance for students' well-being.

Saïda Franken then spoke about her experiences in Islamic education and the teaching materials she developed (salaam art). Prof Em. Kitty Zijlmans pitched about art in a global perspective, both in university education, and for the arts professional association VONKC (KiMP). After lunch, Marian Duff joined six Oscam staff members to talk about their experiences, after which participants broke up into three groups (undergraduate/graduate/higher education & university).


Teachers in both secondary schools and universities of the arts in particular indicate a lack of knowledge on the subject. They also indicated that they felt uneasy to start the conversation, especially in a group with students from different cultural backgrounds. Many participants also said that they found this symposium 'brave'. Teachers indicate that this plays out in many more subjects. [1]

Students indicated that they would have liked information on making art your field of work, especially in the applied arts, they would have liked examples of this, such as fashion, design, music, theatre, media. In the lessons, both in secondary school and in (art) education, they missed the information about the field of work; they mainly expressed a preference for the applied arts and indicated that there is (too) much focus on classical painting.                                     

Students in art education feel compelled to look for sources of inspiration and artists who fit their own cultural background, with whom they can identify. Surely, the adage seems to be the closer to my own background, the stronger the recognition/identification. (Art academy) students remarkably often indicate that they are looking for their own identity, more so than students with a (Dutch) monocultural background.

Two teaching tips

  • A teaching tip from a lecturer at Minerva, where first-year students are instructed to literally bend art history to their will and buy an old Honour & Fleming book and cut it up into their own version of art history.
  • There was a teaching tip/suggestion (from a secondary school teacher) to involve students in the material by asking them to come up with works of art, styles, or artists from their own cultural background. However, in the discussion with students from bicultural backgrounds (including from Oscam), a majority indicated that they did not realise at all that their interest lay in art in secondary school and were therefore unable to look for art or artists to go with it. Also because they were often unfamiliar with the field of art at home, where they mainly had experience with more practical professions (e.g. care).

[1] 'I also teach French and there the method says, for example, that a child goes to Paris with his parents: my students do not go to Paris. '

Gaila Jehoel
22 November 2022