Welcome to the website of Susan M. Coles, Artist & Arts, Creativity & Educational Consultant.

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Last summer in 2013, I attended the InSEA European Congress in Canterbury. On this occasion I was giving a presidential speech on behalf of NSEAD and then was able to enjoy many of the presentations highlighting work and research from around the globe. Shortly after this I joined INSEA as a member. I have enjoyed being part of the group and using their online/social media forums too. For me, being part of and also seeing a whole worldwide picture has opened up my thinking.

So, when I read that the InSEA World Congress was going to be held in Melbourne in July 2014, I rather spontaneously decided to start saving my pennies in a jar and decided to go.

Now, I know it’s a long way to travel but you realise often that life really is too short not to take interesting opportunities and explore them. I sent in an abstract for the following presentation: Continued Professional Development through the use of online collaboration which, to explain in more detail, was about TEA (Thinking, Expression, and Action) the national CPD (for secondary art and design educators) programme set up and facilitated by the National Society for Education in Art and Design (UK) and the Campaign for Drawing. It was important for me to share this project with a wider audience and to let them enjoy some of the inspirational visuals that are part of this. I am happy to say that the session was well attended and got a very positive response from people, who were intrigued by the collaborative nature of some of our mail art projects in particular. The link to the TEA resources is here:

Marian Strong, President of Arts Education Australia, vice chair of InSEA and chair of the organising committee, also asked if I would chair and present in a panel. This panel, which also included presentations from both Doug Boughton and Graeme Sullivan was called “Art Education-international trends.” The title was up to me so I decided on “Small country with big issues-the current state of art craft deign education in the UK.” With an international audience, context is important so the spotlight was on all the changes that had happened since the 2010 arrival of our Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove. I also illustrated the success of the online collaboration that brings art educators in the UK together, our Tweets, our Facebook forums, our blogs and our face to face opportunities. Similar to my NSEAD Conference speech, the ending was positive; “Michael Gove HAS damaged art craft and design education in the UK but he has not broken it. You simply can not break it. We can and we shall repair that damage. We do this for the children who deserve those opportunities. We do it for them because they are what count. Not politicians. Politicians come and go. Children are the future. It will take years to repair the damage- but it will be done.”

The four day Conference was so well organised, offering a menu which was hard to make choices from, as there were so many interesting topics and speakers. Keynote presentations from speakers like Dennis Atkinson, Susan Wright, Maree Clarke, and Ian Brown, set the bar high for contextualising and supporting the Conference theme of Diversity Through Art. Artist Patricia Piccinini really did set the gathering on fire with her very personal presentation about her art work entitled “What it means to be human in the present day.” If you don’t know Patricia’s work, sit down and enjoy some at this link.

We were also introduced to the new InSEA Council members, a veritable collective of great Art education advocates, and saw the inspirational Rita Irwin hand over the INSEA Presidency to the very capable Teresa Eca.

On the Wednesday afternoon, we were able to make cultural visits and I went with a small group to look at indigenous art in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. We were guided by a most lovely and knowledgeable lady called Marg Stephens. I learnt more about aboriginal culture and art in that afternoon than I have in a lifetime. It was engaging, fascinating and (at times) moving. It’s a beautiful gallery too- large spaces which are well curated and that eclectic mix of contemporary with traditional, which always appeals to me.

I enjoyed many sessions during the Conference, from people as far apart as South Korea and Brazil and was able, in particular, to add to my knowledge of digital technologies expanding across the art education world. I am still busy trying to work my way through some of the recommended Apps!

The politics of different countries and their influence and effect of the art education world were a constant focus of conversation too. I just enjoyed talking to people from all over the world. I made many new contacts and happily renewed others. (I dare not start to name check in case I miss people out!) Social events, such as the welcome reception and the Congress dinner, allowed time for this. The lovely lunch breaks brought us all together too. I have to say that the catering and the food were astonishingly good- even Earl Grey tea was available! In fact, Australia as a whole knows how to make a good cup of tea!

Imagine a Conference framed by the stunning architecture that is the Melbourne Cricket Ground if you can. Full of sporting history. Set in splendid parkland. A beautiful and capacious piece of architecture, where the care of the grass every day was a love affair between man and nature. Imagine the Congress dinner under the glass ceiling of the National Gallery of Victoria- the world’s largest stained glass ceiling, designed by Leonard French. Not forgetting the eye catching and hypnotic water wall at the entrance ,which greets your arrival, and is also stunning.

Melbourne itself is a city to behold and to enjoy. The old colonial buildings sitting comfortably alongside more recent additions. The people who are genuinely interested in you and why you are there, and are polite, friendly, happy. A superb transport system operates too, which I was really impressed with.

I was fortunate to be part of a home stay programme and was hosted by Adrian Montana, art teacher and advocate, who I know from his work on NSEAD Council when he lived in the UK. Adrian taught me a lot about the culture and the politics of the country in my short stay and also organised a visit to Philip Island to see the penguins. Due to a change in the weather, this resulted in one the wettest evenings of my life, but a truly unique and happy evening in the company of Marian Strong, Ian Strong, myself, Adrian, Gaby Pataky and Ivona Mandic- in a cabin, in the woods, drying out our clothes and just enjoying each other’s company.

I spent the last two days exploring, on foot and by tram. I really enjoyed the Immigration Museum because it helps you to see how this country grew. I enjoyed just walking through colourful and busy places like Flinders Lane- don’t the Aussies like their food? I also went out to St Kilda Beach, on the most sunny of winter mornings, and watched the world go by, eating ice cream, enjoying the Art and Craft market stalls, fascinated by the garish but enticing entrance to Luna Park…..thinking how the traditions of Australia developed from the people who came here from all over the world, but mainly from my homeland.

So thank you everyone who made me feel so very welcome. Thank you InSEA, in particular Marian Strong and Linda Knight, Conference organisers, and their ever efficient team of helpers who were there every step of the way. I am so pleased to have had the chance to be at the Conference and to feel part of a global movement of art and design educators who are prepared to stand up for what they believe in.

(I also arrived home to the news that Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, had been demoted in a government reshuffle. Karma or what? )


Marian Strong

2838 days ago

Wow! Thank you so much Susan for a brilliant round up of your adventure to InSEA2014. You have captured so many of the reasons why being a part of InSEA is not only beneficial professionally but also offers personally exciting and inspiring possibilities. What a buzz, when 500 professionals from around the world get together and share our passions for art education in all it’s forms!
South Korea 2017 look out!

Graham Nash [Past InSEA Secretary

2837 days ago

Thank you so very much for your wonderful and thoughtful response to InSEA 2014 in Melbourne. When InSEA accepted Art Education Australia’s proposal to host its World Congress there was much to do. Marian Strong and her team did that work and so much more. Your comments are a great confirmation of that work. I know well how far we are from the rest of the world as we travell that distance every time we visit your worlds. Don’t forget to return and visit the lands of an ancient culture that thrives against all the pressures of the modern world. This was Australia’s third InSEA World Congress. InSEA needs other national organisations to show their support by their action.

Susan M Coles

2837 days ago

Many thanks for your comments Marian and Graham. Having once made the long journey, (first time for me), I am certain I shall return. So much to see and to do, so many landscapes to photograph and draw too. Well done INSEA for bringing all those people together.

Rita irwin

2837 days ago

I loved reading your message Susan! I think each of us has had our eyes opened wide at an InSEA congress and we relish the thought of more. Melbourne is an amazing city and the congress was an exceptional event for everyone. I hope you can return one day as the country is breathtakingly beautiful. And thank you for joining and spreading the word about what so many of us are committed to doing! Keep up the excellent work Susan!

Dot dot dot

2837 days ago

Awhhhh Susan- sounds marvellous! What a truly happy professional life you have. Thanks for always flying the art flag. We teachers appreciate this so much.


2835 days ago

It sounds really good. I looked up Patricia Piccinini from the link and wow! I’m really interested to read this article, because although I know NSEAD, I don’t really know InSEA. So, its been good to follow the links and find out more. Everyone seems to be doing a good job across the world. Thank you guys.

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