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

Posted in Hope for the Future

When I first started writing a blog in 2010, I wandered aimlessly around topics. Now I have more focus and more reason to write. I have a message and I usually have a story to tell.

Anyway, let’s diversify for a moment or two. I was listening to the radio last week and I heard that Robert Mugabe had declared himself President of Zimbabwe for life, which made me sigh, but for the fact that he’s getting on in years so they may not have to endure him for too much longer. So, that’s what we have in common I guess, we are both Presidents. Although, mine’s certainly not for life. I’m just about to end my Presidency. (I’m sure most people wish Robert Mugabe would end his).

It’s an interesting story as to how I became President of the NSEAD (National Society for Education in Art and Design), so read on if you wish. Otherwise, go and make yourself a cup of tea. Well, here it is (the story, not the cup opf tea)….. I was one of a small group of people from another organisation called A4 (aka the Association for Advisers and Inspectors in Art and Design), who were brought together to explore the possibility of that organisation joining up with NSEAD to make one subject association for Art and Design. I was a fairly new member of A4 at that time by the way. We did eventually bring about the important merger between A4 and NSEAD. Then an art teacher and colleague (Bev Attwell) nominated me for election to the NSEAD Council and I took up the challenge. I don’t think I would have thought about it without Bev’s nudging. At the very first Council meeting I found that I had also been asked to sit on the newly formed FGP (Finances and General Purposes Committee) and that led to me becoming one of two vice-presidents. It really was a case of I didn’t really know how it had come about, I think I left the meeting for a few minutes, and when I came back it was a done deed. This was the start of a great (and steep) learning curve, finding out who was who, how the society operated, how the boards and Council worked and where I might fit in.

So, did I fit in? I wasn’t sure to begin with. I didn’t share the history of either A4 or NSEAD, and NSEAD was also in a transition phase with the planned retirement of the long serving and influential General Secretary, John Steers. But, I enjoyed the collegiate atmosphere and started to understand the philosophy, the context and the many achievements of NSEAD. I was also able to recognise where there were gaps. During this time, we had an election in the UK and found ourselves faced with changes at the Department for Education which were going to have a huge impact on art, craft and design education, and on the arts in general. We were also presented with my own personal nemesis, The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove. What a present that was. I would have taken it back if I could find the receipt.

My blogs since May 2010 record the many events and campaigns and stories which relate to those changes, and to our continuing efforts to promote our subject in educational policy, including the Rainbow for Mr Gove campaign. Please feel free to back flip and read some of them. I won’t repeat them here.

Going back to the story though, when John retired, Lesley Butterworth took over as General Secretary (at this point I was still vice-president) and I was asked by several people if I would consider standing in the 2011 election for President. I was a little surprised but also intrigued. “What could I bring to the presidency?”, was the burning question in my mind. My feeling was that I shouldn’t really be anything other than myself. And “myself” is the person I have always been, passionately committed to the teaching of art craft and design and rather noisily communicating the value of the subject to everyone around me. One of the best compliments that I ever had when I was a full time teacher (from a head teacher) is that I was very good at being professionally subversive. (Thank you Charlie Watson).I decided to accept the nomination and was duly elected as President elect (it is a four year cycle you see, one year as President elect, two years as President and a final year as Immediate Past President). It was a commitment that I was ready to take on, alongside my normal work commitments and busy life.

It’s been quite an experience too, being part of a transition in terms of people and the organisation. A downsizing in staffing had to happen at NSEAD, because of the lack of support and funding from government bodies and associated organisations, a challenge in how funds were spent and where cuts could be made. All of this financial upheaval and balancing act was superbly handled by Lesley and Anne Ingall, with the support of past President (and now honorary treasurer, John Childs) and the other members of the FGP. Lesley has also created a 21st century vision for NSEAD, which has developed from consultation with members, and has followed it with strategies to drive this forward. The council has been transformed, with the addition of new members from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, replacing some previous members, who had completed their terms of office. The Boards have also recently taken on new chairs and members. I still need to remind people that all of these important roles in Council and on boards and on the FGP are voluntary. As is the role of President. Art educators are a wonderfully dedicated group of people who willingly give up their time and share their expertise and knowledge, to both support and defend the subject. The work done by these people, to support Lesley and Sophie in their roles, has been superb.

The termly NSEAD AD magazine has also flourished, and has been there as the flagship for the value of art craft design education. Sophie Leach, the NSEAD Assistant General Secretary, is the driving force behind this and other communications. Sophie has a positivity which pervades all that she does. Her editorial eye and ability to connect allows NSEAD to find, showcase and share the very best practice. I’m already eagerly anticipating the January 2015 edition of AD magazine.

I have thoroughly enjoyed working with Lesley, who is “Maw Broon” to my “Oor Wullie” (and if that’s an analogy which is lost on you, I can always send you a copy of my 2014 NSEAD Conference presentation), and with Sophie and the FGP team of John, Ged Gast, Marlene Wylie and Peter Gregory. NSEAD is also ably held together by the impressive administration team of both Anne Ingall and Pat Burnell, at our Corsham HQ.

So, what did I want to achieve as President? Well, I really did want to get out there and be in touch with our members and supporters. I wanted outreach and presence for NSEAD. Bottom up, as opposed to top down. I wanted to see less of a north/south divide too. That’s why I have been at the centre of our social media platforms and strategy. I see this as an invaluable support for so many art educators across the countries, and as a response to the way that I believed the sharing of ideas and professional development could happen. I’m sure we are still learning about all of this, but watching (for example) the TEA programme (see previous blogs) flourish through social media has been remarkable.

I knew I would have to make speeches on behalf of NSEAD and have since done this at regional, national, European and world congresses and conferences. This was new to me, and not as frightening as it may sound, because if you can communicate in the classroom then you can do it in a hall full of people. To be honest, the trick is to actually have something that you want to say! I really wanted to avoid the style of speech where the President just read out a list of events and achievements. I wanted them to have themes, messages, visuals, humour, focus, and yet be serious by reaching into the hearts and the soul of those dedicated art educators. A president’s role demands some gravitas, and I have learnt to do that with more restraint. Although I did struggle with chairing my first AGM, and had a fit of the giggles when Lesley reminded me that I needed to turn the page over to cover the remaining points when I’d already declared the meeting over. There isn’t a handbook for being a president you see.

Which is why I know that Ged Gast (President of NSEAD 2015-2017) will make his own mark as he steps into my shoes. (Except my shoes won’t fit Ged, and neither do they need to). I have known Ged for eight years now, his commitment to the subject is exemplary, inspiring and relevant. Ged is one of the cleverest and wisest people I have ever met. He will bring so much to the role and will guide and support Lesley and Sophie and NSEAD. Ged will make a great chairperson, an important part of being President. Goodness knows what May 7th 2015 (election day) will bring to us all and to NSEAD. Who will then be making decisions about educational policy? Whatever happens, whoever is “in charge”, NSEAD must be on the ball with all new developments. I know we will be.

And, Ged, don’t forget that you have to wear that rather large and unwieldy chain of office too, fortunately only now and again! How strange to think that our names will go onto that one day, a little place in the history of art education.

And there isn’t a handbook for life is there? You must do what you believe is right. I have so much to thank the visual arts for, for giving me a voice in my school years when I didn’t really have a physical one. For allowing me to develop my imagination and creativity, which is such a strong force that it sometimes keeps me awake at night as my head generates even more ideas for something I want to do. For letting me succeed in something which wasn’t about learning a body of knowledge and then regurgitating it in an exam room. For letting me weep unashamedly in front of works of art when I saw them for the first time, away from the pages of a book. For realising that the impact of humankind can be measured in more ways than the ones that are lauded in our own society.

I’ve always admired and empathised with the thoughts of Karl Marx on art. The creation and existence of art, in Marxist thought, is most definitely a manifestation of human desire and imagination. This means that art is a route by which the individual can break through the debilitating miasma of “false consciousness” (a phrase first used by Frederich Engels). Art can create a state of conscious-altering in a society which can then initiate a revolution. We, (the avant-garde), can then rise to protect culture against capitalist forces. By encouraging people to think outside of the limits to which their thoughts are regulated by the systems of power, art will serve to destroy the demystification present in our increasingly capitalist society. You cannot, and will never, destroy the artists. This is why I never give up.

Most of our lives are controlled by others. With art, we have our freedom. Treasure it.

I still have an important role to play in NSEAD, as past president and as a member of FGP, Council and the Professional Development Board. I will continue to be secretariat to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Art Craft and Design Education and work hard to re-form the group after the election. NSEAD’s Where Have All The Boys Gone CPD day continues its UK tour next month and I’m thoroughly enjoying facilitating that course and taking part in such illuminating conversations. 2015 offers many oppportunities and the focus on Sketchbook Circle and the 2015 exhibition is one I am particulalry excited about.

Many, many, thanks to all of you who have supported me in my two years as president. Thanks to all the people I have met, from places as far apart as Gateshead and Melbourne, Huddersfield to Hanoi, from teachers in schools to lecturers in universities, from artists to museum and gallery workers, friendships that have blossomed through common aims. We shall go on meeting and talking. Art is my life and Art is my work.

Anyway, hopefully you all have enjoyed time off from the work scenario this week and will enjoy New Year too. There is absolutely only one way to end this blog, and that is to direct you to one of my favourite bits of musical entertainment. Because, as president, well…. I did it my way……



3488 days ago

Well then but thats truly a good story to read. Pleased that you are not going anywhere as well. Thank you for all your dedication and inspiration. I hope that never ends. Dee x

Lesley Butterworth

3488 days ago

Dear Wullie
A moving and powerful blog that describes a massive contribution to NSEAD and to art craft and design education. I have been privileged to work with you in your role as President and celebrate how much you have done to move us forward
Don’t go too far away!
Love and a million thank yous
Maw Broom

Art teacher

3488 days ago

I have been a member of NSEAD for 20 yrs or more. Ask me to name some presidents? John Bowden and you. That’s it. I’ve pointed people to your blogspot and seen people sign up. Susan, you inspire because you practise what you preach. That’s what we need to see, action not just words. I’ve often thought of walking away from the subject, you made me see again all the reasons why art is important. To me, to children I work with. We need you. We thank you.


3488 days ago

glory glory alleluia. Just keep on doing what you do.

Craig Longmuir

3488 days ago

Thanks Susan, you have fulfilled your role with energy, enthusiasm, humour and insight. I’ve appreciated your support and direction for many years now, and look forward to seeing what you do in the future. Nice one.

Natalie Deane

3488 days ago

Arghhhh you have done a grand job there Susan! Love the blog and have so appreciated your Presidency, you and the team have really moved things on at NSEAD. Vibrancy, forward thinking and endless passion are your game and you play it like an expert. The achievement of having set up the APPG is quite incredible and I really look forward to joining you there one of these days. Xx

Elena Thomas

3488 days ago

In the same way that everyone has “their” Doctor Who, Susan, you are “my” NSEAD president. My involvement with NSEAD has coincided with your presidency. Your style – if I can call it that- is exactly what I needed to lead me professionally, and with humour through a difficult (good and bad) period of my teaching life… And now into my artist lfe. I still teach, of course, and probably always will, but I don’t think ever again in a proper job, in a proper school. But the principles are the same, are they not? Here’s to an amazing 2015, where we both dive into it all and get on with it! Thank you. Exx

Deb Hepplestone

3486 days ago

A wonderful blog Susan to celebrate an incredible time as president. You are an inspiration to many, including myself, and I know that you will continue to be so, in your buoyant, down to earth and occasionally mischievous way! Your work on many levels to link and network people around the Uk and the globe has provided a strong voice and support for our subject. You have led with humour, authenticity and passion. Thank you. Deb xx


3485 days ago

Hellooooo Sue- remember me? You taught me many moons ago and you taught me well and after a career in Design I have gone into teaching and I say to my pupils-ooooh look she taught me Art when I was your age. I hope I have the impact you have had. So, happy memories of art lessons and visits to galleries and talking about what is art? Those great debates we had. You and Marcel Duchamp.Well, you convinced me eventually.
Hope to meet again some day.I am following your adventures until then. :-)

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