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June 21, 2021

Miranda Blaak holds firm

Studying Fine Art and Design in Education whilst “definitely not” wanting to be a teacher – is that a good idea? Or can you interpret the term ‘teacher’ so broadly that there is always a form that suits you? Miranda Blaak held firm and is graduating with a project about art in public spaces. “In public spaces there is a lot to be learned about what it means to be a citizen and live together. To me, that's where the educational value lies."

Miranda was always scribbling and making things from a young age. She loved ‘art’ but didn't yet realise you could also make a living from it. So she tried other things first. She played sports fanatically and studied physiotherapy in Groningen. But there was still something missing. "That's when I started thinking about art again." After a few more detours, she eventually chose the Fine Art and Design in Education course. “But I always had that conviction that I wouldn’t go into teaching. I got the opportunity to do an internship at the Tropenmuseum Junior, and my next internship was at a creative day centre where they challenge different target groups from ages 19 to 79, each in their own way. I still work there and I really love it. I would like to use my teacher training there."

Not in front of a class

For Miranda, the course was something of a bumpy road. All around her she saw fellow students who were all keen to teach. Which is not surprising, obviously, for a teacher training course, but that's absolutely not what Miranda wanted. “I wanted to do more with my art. The funny thing is, the students I am still in touch with all say they want that too.” Coming at it from that angle made the course very challenging for Miranda. Because there was a constant nagging question: ‘How can I be a teacher if I don't want to stand in front of a class?’ Nevertheless, she is glad she chose this course. "Otherwise I would never have ended up at the day centre. For the academy it may be awkward at times, because I like to think outside the box, but they do allow it."

Only one public work of art 

Another example of Miranda thinking outside the box is her graduation project. It's about art in public spaces, in particular in the village where she lives: ’t Harde. "I discovered that there is only one public work of art here. Wherever you go, you see more than one, but here all we have is Het Hardense Reetje.” She looked into the issue of public art in ’t Harde and discovered that there had been a committee that managed to free up some money for art in the village between 2013 and 2019. “I investigated how they did that and why they stopped. I really delved into it. At the same time, I tried to foster support to make space for a work of art in the village square. I had so many conversations with so many different people, and I think that had an educational value in itself. Because it makes people start thinking about how they want to use the public space."

Only a pedestal 

During the first six months of the project, Miranda tried to get a permit for a pedestal for a work of art. “That was already very interesting, because why would you want a pedestal if the work of art isn't there yet? So I tested it out: how easy is it to get a permit, who do you need for that, how does it work?” Eventually, she got a permit that in essence stated that what she was doing was breaking the rules, but that they would tolerate it.

Amending the zoning plan 

Once the pedestal was in place, local media immediately took an interest. They asked passers-by what they thought should be on it. Above all, this was an exercise in generating support. “But now I've gone right back to the zoning plan. Because it says nothing about art. And so I want to talk to the local council to get them to amend the zoning plan." What happens then is still uncertain. But she's keeping going. It's no accident that her project is called Voet bij Stuk (‘Standing Firm’). 

Funny correspondence 

The project yielded an unexpected bonus: a book is to be published containing all the funny correspondence Miranda has collected. “For example, an e-mail to the council from someone who was on the original village committee, asking whether I would now get all the money they had secured years ago. I find it funny to see how that all went." She didn't just receive e-mails, she also kept all the letters for the permit application, responses she received, stills from a video, residents expressing their opinions about the pedestal, and so on. “I wanted to use all that correspondence to reveal the ins and outs of this kind of process."

Here and now

“The Fine Art and Design in Education course is currently working on new learning pathways", explains Miranda. “I've been asked to contribute to that, which I consider an honour. I actually felt quite insecure straying so far outside of the established frameworks. I would like to share my experiences, for example I am open to supervising other students who want to go off the beaten track like I did." Once this whole project is finished, Miranda will be ready for a gap year. She wants to explore her subject in more depth with a master course, but as yet she has no idea whether she wants to do that here or abroad. On top of that, she is thinking of opening her own day centre at some point in the future and wants to continue making art. "I want to carry on dreaming and get all that I can get out of it. I live from day to day and I am able to really enjoy the here and now. Earlier on my course, I really thought, ‘This is what I'm going to do, this is my goal, this is what I have to achieve, nothing will deflect me from my path: go for it!’ But I have come to really value the process. I don't know what the future will bring. I now see life as being about experiencing, discovering. I don't necessarily need to know everything. Which is a good thing."

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