sexism and decolonisation in art schools

Good practices

By engagementarts

There is sexism and racism in art schools. The seven things an art school can do to help with this are: 1. Employ more diverse people in the art school 2. Teach with local artists of colour with a migration background 3. Have clear and honest exams and juries 4. Trust your students 5. Have a code of conduct 6. Have a good complaint procedure 7. Have a diversity plan on all levels of the school

Art schools realise they have to take more action against potential sexism. What to do about their white tradition? Different schools in Belgium initiated projects or decisions to create more awareness. We asked four of them to present their initiative in order to inspire others. As an artist-led movement tackling sexual harassment, sexism and power abuse in the Belgian arts field, Engagement shares some concrete proposals for the teachers, the directors and the policymakers of art education.

Seven hints for art education


Pillar of democracy: every community has the right to see itself represented in public institutions. The future of art education will not be white or male, so changes have to be made rapidly. If a school is too white or too male, insert quotas for both teachers and the student body. The lack of diversity in a student body is directly linked to the absence of role models in the teacher’s body. Recruitment programmes in preparation for the yearly admittance exams is one proposal. Employment procedures should become more transparent and include affirmative actions.


Break the canon! We need to go beyond the art context we are familiar with and use a broader frame of reference. Schools should organise hands-on work groups where teachers can inspire each other and discuss common shortcomings in relation to teaching. We don’t always have to look internationally to find successful artists with a different background. Invite local artists of colour or artists with migration backgrounds for lectures, juries and studio visits.
Instead of organising discussions around diversity, invest in mandatory training to directly affect teachers’ approaches.


Art schools have to invest in transparent and honest evaluation methods. Precisely because of the subjective quality of art, extra attention should be given to the importance of constructive feedback. It is the responsibility of the school that as many students as possible graduate. Failure to obtain a degree can have lifelong consequences for students, especially those with precarious backgrounds.


Establish an environment of trust for all students. This means redefining what is considered the norm as we do not all share the same cultural habits and sensitivities. Dig into methods of teaching that are culturally responsive, meaning ‘in tune with difference’. Instead of organising discussions around diversity, invest in mandatory training to directly affect teachers’ approaches to these challenges. This will also help with recognising implicit biases.


Establish, in conversation with students and teachers, a code of conduct. Discuss what kind of daily behaviour is needed to create a safe learning environment that supports all students. Discuss some basic agreements on how to deal with conflicts. Define together with students the meaning of terms like racism, sexism, discrimination and harassment. How are complaints followed up? Do they lead to concrete changes?


Re-evaluate the current complaint procedures. Do students and teachers know where to go when something happens? Are these procedures safe enough for students? How are complaints followed up? Do they lead to concrete changes? Is extra attention afforded to the most precarious students (e.g. students in poverty or who have a visa)? When proper procedures are in place, make sure the information is clearly visible and known to all faculty.


Make a diversity plan that tackles all levels of the institution, including the very top! Define a clear vision and link this to a series of goals and corresponding strategies. Set a clear timeframe (short/mid/long term) so that actions can be evaluated and adjusted if needed.

Lees hier de Nederlandse versie: