Sarrouy, Alix Didier: Art as a tool: complexities of symphonic orchestra programs in underprivileged territories

This paper presentation will focus on the use of art as a tool for personal and social development, rather than as a sole esthetical goal. Following-on qualitative methods (Charmaz, 2006; Geertz, 1973; Lamont & Swidler, 2014), I propose to bring results from extensive research on symphonic orchestras created in socioeconomically deprived territories of Venezuela, Brazil, Portugal and France. Students start at the age of 7, spending several afternoons per week in specific music schools, called “nucleos” – firstly created by the world-renown El Sistema (Venezuela). Its results and reputation have spread in more than 60 countries, including Sweden, France, England, Spain, Portugal, Greece. Finland’s Kuopion Konservatorio also seems to integrate some of its art-education principles.

These situated cases make it possible to better analyse the physical and symbolic power of specific objects – musical instruments (Callon, 1986; Small, 1977). Along with the neighbourhoods and the involved social actors (i.e.: students, parents, teachers, directors), music and its instruments create an social ecosystem (Park, 1936), in which the quantity and quality of interactions is key to develop artistic citizenship (Campbell & Martin, 2006) for marginalized youth in large cities.

The social effects of arts are very much related to a large number of actors, human and non-human (Latour, 2006). Ethnography reveals the complexity of the chemistry between those actors. Paradoxically, what seemed to be the worst contexts socioeconomically, can be transformed in the best “turf” to generate attachments (Hennion, 2004) towards a better future of its youth. In conjunction, I will also discuss the tension between a need for artistic excellence in the teaching process, and the negative repercussions this requirement might cause.

The final aspect I wish to articulate is the fragility of all the cultural mediations (Caune, 2006) that are consciously and unconsciously put in action by all the involved actors. Their effect depends on time and place (Abbott, 1997), in which art-education propositions might better “resonate”. Therefore, I will argue that the set of skills required from the teachers goes well beyond artistic ones, which also creates a “tension” between artists and social workers.