Art, Play, Risk and Resilience in an unknown and rapidly changing world.

28 May

Roderigez3Roderigez 4

Reflections on a weekend at Dartington Hall to celebrate Marina and Carito Rodriguez,Who came as refugees fleeing the Spanish Civil War to become much loved teachers at Dartington Hall School.

I recently attended a weekend at Dartington Hall to commemorate two refugees, two sisters, Marina and Carito Rodriguez, who had come over to Southampton from Bilbao on the Havana to escape the Spanish Civil war in 1936. The weekend focussed on the two sisters, on refugees and the current situation of refugees in the UK. In addition, as part of the weekend, we also considered the future role of the “arts” in education at Dartington, which forms the subject of this blog.


The context and ethos of Dartington Hall School is very relevant to the thoughts and feelings that I had during this conversation about the arts. As I understood it the school was run on a principle of freedom for the individual, but only in so far as that freedom did not impinge on or curtail the freedom of others. Interestingly to me, it was claimed that this freedom was enriched and extended through co-operation, whereas it was impoverished and diminished by competition. My perfect world! Implicit within this concept, of course, is the fundamental concept of play, a place where you can discover your own freedom and how that is enhanced and frustrated by the freedom of others.


The discussion about arts in Education was led by the newly appointed Director for this new branch of Dartington activity. In thinking about the curriculum and structure of the course he was very keen to learn from the Alumni present what they remembered as being most important in their Dartington experience and how this might impact on the course being proposed.


The memory that was most universally spoken of was the role of play in the audience’s memories of being at Dartington Hall. It came up time and again. I think that the influence of being at Dartington, the ethos of the place and the experience of the weekend stimulated my thoughts and imagination and slowly I realised that there was a deeper message that I felt needed to be expressed. A message that went to the core of education in the crises that surround us in the 21st century. After a little encouragement from my wife, Jessica I aired my thoughts as follows:


If there is one thing we can be reasonably certain about it is that both we and our children face an uncertain future. A future that will see change unimaginable and on a scale that we have never seen before. I fear that I am speaking as an old man and reflect the thoughts that old people have expressed for centuries, but I cannot help but feel it is more relevant today than ever before. We don’t know what these changes will involve, the climate, flood, famine, drought or mass migration.


There seem to me to be two alternative responses to this predicament and little in between. We can either batten down the hatches, bury our heads in the sand and put up the barricades or we can embrace the changes, turn our anxiety into excitement and open ourselves to the risks and challenges of a new world. If it is the latter to which we subscribe, then education will be pivotal in preparing us. Let me be clear here, I am not talking about physical risk, although that may be part of it, nor team building courses. I am talking about anarchic creativity, emotional, physical, audible and visual and Dartington is one of the few places where such an affordance could be offered.


I suspect that creativity has to be at the heart of this process. To be creative must entail a pleasure in taking risks and to be open to new ideas and perceptions, open to criticism, flexible in belief, passionate in application. If ever there was to be an ideal platform in education it must surely be in the Arts. From the moment that you put a mark on a piece of paper, or stand and perform in front of an audience, you are making yourself vulnerable, you are taking risks and you are committing yourself to unknown territory, and I would suggest that it is through play that you begin to learn and experience this process. The sort of play that was at the core of Dartington’s vision.


The outcome of such a playful and educational process would be the resilience needed to respond positively to the challenges that lie ahead and I would suggest should be at the core and essence of any new arts programme at Dartington, which, it seems to me, is uniquely placed to contribute to this process. We must lead where others fear to tread.


It would perhaps be the most fitting memorial to the sisters, Marina and Carito Rodriguez, who inspired this weekend and who showed such courage in coming here as refugees in 1967. It might also contribute to our response to the current crisis of migration and refugees in the 21st century.






5 Responses to “Art, Play, Risk and Resilience in an unknown and rapidly changing world.”

  1. Richard Woodcock May 28, 2018 at 2:39 pm #

    Well said, Robin – a powerful, convincing argument.

  2. grumpysutcliffe May 29, 2018 at 9:06 am #

    Well, that’s a relief!

  3. bernardspiegal June 12, 2018 at 7:56 am #

    Great read, Robin. Regret coming to it late. Love this: ‘ turn our anxiety into excitement’. I shall use it (and attribute, of course, and resist temptation to steal!)

    • grumpysutcliffe June 14, 2018 at 8:54 am #

      Thanks Bernard, you’re very welcome and it might have even more credibility coming from you!

      • bernardspiegal June 14, 2018 at 9:02 am #

        Nonsense! Credibility rest with precisely the right person. Best wishes, Bernard

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: