Burren College of Art Time, Space & Inspiration

Ex-Centric symposium - Four Stories

5th Aug 2014

Four Stories of ‘Ex-centric’ Alternative approaches to Higher Education

Four leaders of ‘Ex-Centric’ models of higher education were invited to share their stories in a process called Collective Story Harvesting. Storytellers included: Uffe Elbaek of KaosPilots, Denmark; Mary Hawkes Greene of Burren College of Art, Ireland; Tracy Meisterheim of Blekinge Institute of Technology, Sweden; Brian Butler of Black Mountain College, U.S. Each shared their story for 10 minutes, while participants listened for specific themes in each story. After the stories, there was a listener’s harvest of the key nuggets, followed by small group dialogues over lunch to continue the conversations with the storytellers.

The listening themes were:

  • Creating the conditions for transformative learning/creativity: What elements are necessary for transformative learning? What creates the conditions for creativity?
  • New forms of leadership/new ways of working: How is leadership being described, modelled, transformed? What can we learn about different ways of    working/collaboration?
  • Design innovation: What is innovative about the learning design? How does that contrast to the model you are working in?
  • Who is taking part in learning and why? What inspires people to show up? What invitation is being made? Why do they show up?
  • Creativity & leadership: What new possibilities can be heard in these stories for the next level of art education? How could universal creativity be a core competency for the future? For leaders? For others?
  • Leadership capacity development & support: What are the skills, capacities and talents that are critical for innovative leadership? What support is needed to increase and develop personal/professional capacities?
  • Witness: Support the storyteller with your attention. Witness what happens between the storytellers and the audience. What happens for the storytellers? What happens within you?

Four Stories Harvest
Questions that emerged from the Stories [see the photos for more harvest]

KaosPilots, Uffe Elbaek

  • [“Hey guys, are you up for it?] What provocation do you need to move to the next level?
  • What simple, straight-forward idea could open the door to transformative shift? What kitchen table conversation could bring hope and action for the future?
  • When can large scale change happen?  What education is needed?
  • What education do young people need to embrace the future that is coming?

MSLS, Tracy Meisterheim

  • How can the container be created to hold the chaos of difference?
  • What supports the “wild child” to expand creativity and meet challenge?
  • What training is needed to meet complexity, challenge and uncertainty?
  • What is the balance of content and container (mental models, frameworks, boundaries)?
  • What are the boundaries for health, ecology, diversity and practice?
  • How can we hold people well in the groan zone?
  • Who can host and facilitate the conditions for learning to happen?
  • What ‘learning spiral’ (learning loops) could be the most helpful?
  • What metaphor can music offer to learning/art education?
  • Who is the most potent “expert” (stimulus) to bring in at this moment?
  • Which disruptive events are necessary to create play space and learning?

Black Mountain College, Brian Butler

  • How can our organisation be democratically run?
  • How does the work we’re doing create citizens?
  • How can we create both isolation and proximity?
  • What role can craftsmanship play in education?
  • What innovation could become a driving force for transformation? (the lesson of summer institutes)
  • How can brief moments of “hot house” explode out into the world?
  • What return to simpler form is needed now?
  • When is it time to practice conscious closure?
  • How does decay also support “the golden age”?
  • What do people need to be exposed to/experience to transform their practice?

Burren College of Art, Mary Hawkes Greene

  • What comes organically from place?
  • How can you realise you’re in a special place? What would you do to protect it?
  • How can we create a “giving back” relationship with place?
  • What repeating patterns can be reinforced for transformation and growth?  (in the Irish tradition the old forms of druidic learning, then the Christian heritage, etc)
  • What is the foundation stone for the future? (Michael comes in with a stone in his hands and “best little art school in the world on his mind) [Michael:  clear vision/pure motivation/ not burdened by education] How do you help people get out of their own way?
  • How do you clear the way to source?
  • Where do you need to look outside your current environment/routine/field/place?
  • What is the optimal size?
  • How do we help people to return to their core and push the boundaries?
  • What are the elements of support and stretch?
  • Where do creativity and leadership intersect?


  • Four Stories - Black Mountain College
    Four Stories - Black Mountain College
  • Four Stories - Burren College of Art
    Four Stories - Burren College of Art
  • Four Stories - MSLS
    Four Stories - MSLS
  • Four Stories - Kaos Pilots
    Four Stories - Kaos Pilots
  • Four stories - indepth discussion
    Four stories - indepth discussion
  • Four Stories - indepth discussion
    Four Stories - indepth discussion
  • Four Stories - Question Harvest
    Four Stories - Question Harvest