According to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, there is nothing in life that is truly free. I won’t get into the irony and implications of DeVos’ loaded statement (a response to Bernie Sanders’ proposal of free college tuition), however, it is explicit knowledge that our higher education system is broken, in part because of the predatory nature of for-profit companies that handle student loans. The conflation of the commercial sector with education is problematic because it disenfranchises scholars from lower income homes, and puts private interests above learning. It models the educational system as a free-market enterprise, where private investors have greater pull than educators. The same privatization has been happening in arts institutions, which dictates many factors including determining what is ‘important’ and ‘stylish’ (a la the art market and auction houses or through exhibitions based upon interests of private donors/collectors).
The artist collective, Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF), founded the Bruce High Quality Foundation University (BHQFU) in order to create an alternative to the traditional higher education model and inspire a framework for equitable learning through the arts. Their curriculum model aims to offer a wide variety of subjects centered around art for free and open to whomever wants to attend. There are several classes in art (both criticism and making), philosophy, science, math, cooking, engineering, writing, etc. Many of the classes offer a cross-disciplinary approach, which is driven by what the public wants to learn as opposed to what the institutions tell them is important/necessary to learn. When a collaborative and liberal approach to education such as this can take place, the institution’s role is reversed and it becomes a powerful medium for both art and education.
Paulo Freire (1970) stated that schools were a major factor in perpetuating a “culture of silence.” In other words, schools were in the service of the larger Capitalist economy and contributed to the domination of the dispossessed. Through a social and democratic structure that is devoid of the larger Capitalist economy, BHFQU is the antithesis of the “culture of silence.”
In an article titled The Learning Public, published in 2010, BHQF stated that the framework of ‘Learning Public’ means that: “1) we learn things from works of art, 2) those lessons can be implemented in the world without duplicating the private sector’s instrumentalization of art for profit, and 3) the result will be art institutions that are themselves works of art.”