You may have noticed these charming heritage buildings in towns throughout Australia and thought "oh look, it's an old art school." But do you know about the history of the School of Arts movement in the 19th century? The unity of art and technology defined these early innovation hubs, as centres for collaboration and design thinking of the day.
This is Bundaberg School of Arts, founded 1888.
The early industrial revolutions created a need for the technical education of workers. Society was changing and there was also a growing interest in science and technology.
In the spirit of enlightenment these grand structures called School of Arts were built in our towns, for public lectures and diffusion of the latest knowledge and skills to a rising middle class. Out of these humble voluntary operations developed the local public library, the modern neighbourhood centre, and formal systems of adult and technical education.
"Underpinning the movement were the ideas that industry and society would benefit from a scientifically educated artisan class and that a new breed of inventors would arise from this class."
Now we are moving from Fourth Industrial Revolution, characterised by interconnectivity, automation, machine-learning, real-time data and internet of things, into the cusp of the Fifth Industrial Revolution. New and converging technologies are continuously changing how we work and how our entire businesses operate and grow.
We are also leaving the cities.... forming digital villages where individuals can work remotely. We contemplate how we may become more self-empowered with all the new technologies. We're aware of the changing economic landscape of digital currencies and how a self-sovereign identity system can let us become our own "bank" with blockchain, cryptocurrencies and decentralised finance. Although most individuals and businesses are familiarised with cloud technologies, few have moved into advanced technologies or recognised that the skills required in the workplace are evolving. How will our local economies adapt to these changes? How will our business innovators and entrepreneurs compete on the world stage?
Automation and blockchain are creating new roles to maintain the systems that are appearing, just as technologically driven opportunities came out of the previous industrial revolutions.
...So, how can we best position ourselves to take advantage of these new jobs? Especially in non-urban regions where we have a bigger digital inclusion gap and a steeper learning curve?
At Digital Playhouse, we are inspired by the School of Arts Movement and are taking a page from history to envision a "School of the Future" for our regional town.
Preparing for the future - Industry 4.0 to 5.0
Even if we're still catching up with what the Fourth Industrial Revolution is all about, it pays to keep an eye on the future. The Fifth Industrial Revolution is evolving from a concentration on the digital experience to one where humans are back in charge.
From a manufacturing perspective, Industry 4.0 focuses on the interconnectedness of machines and systems in order to achieve optimum performance to improve efficiencies and productivity. Industry 5.0 is touted as taking it a step further and refining the interaction between humans and machines.
Whether we are coming from traditional white collar or blue collar jobs, the next wave of industrial revolution needs us to learn how to perform strategic tasks, and to define how we collaborate and how we define the rules between human and machine interaction.
Parts of society might feel left out due to the perception that jobs are being taken away by automation and immigration, or because they lack the skills required for the newly created jobs. However, Industry 5.0 should not keep people from getting jobs. If anything, Industry 5.0 is about the importance of including and elevating human beings in the process. In this advancement of humanity, we also cannot overlook exploring the potential of Bitcoin and blockchain technology in the shift to a new economic system.
A brief history of the School of Arts Movement
In the early 1800s, with the advent of the industrial revolution, society was changing. Technological advances required a more educated workforce, but with universities restricted to the elite, the working class needed a new model for adult education. In response to this need, wealthy citizens of Edinburgh established the Edinburgh School of Arts in 1821. The institute offered its working class members lectures on chemistry, electricity, mechanics and steam, as well as a library and recreation rooms. The Edinburgh School of Arts proved successful and within 30 years, the school of arts concept had spread throughout the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and South America.
The many Mechanics' Institutes or Schools of Arts in Britain from the early 1800s were intended to assist self-improvement and to promote moral, social and intellectual growth, by providing lectures, discussions and lending libraries to a rising middle class. At the time there were no free public libraries and books were expensive, so access to books by borrowing as subscribers provided an important service.
The first School of Arts committee in Queensland was established in Brisbane in 1849 with the aim of "the advancement of the community in literary, philosophic and scientific subjects". As towns and districts became established, local committees were formed to set up schools of arts, which became one of the principal sources of adult education. The government recognised this by making land available, subsidising books and assisting with building costs.
From 1889 the Bundaberg School of Arts offered technical classes in a variety of practical subjects including drawing, shorthand, bookkeeping, typing, dressmaking, millinery, chemistry, dairy work, manual training and carpentry. However, in 1908 the Technical Education Act shifted responsibility for provision of such classes to the government, a factor in the demise of Schools of Arts generally. Membership of the School of Arts was by subscription and membership numbers were never large. Running the institute was largely a voluntary affair and those involved in the work included many prominent local people, a number of whom were mayors. Even during the Depression when the cessation of government subsidies to Schools of Arts spelt the end for many, the Bundaberg institution continued to do well.
In Sydney, a Newtown Workingmen’s Institute began meeting at St George’s Hall in 1899 and became Newtown School of Arts in 1911. It functioned primarily as a public library and arts and recreational community centre, built by the community, and nowadays the building is still used for performing arts events.
The Chile School of Arts and Trades ran from 1849 to 1977. Initially taking an artisanal direction, the Chilean movement took on an industrial character in the twentieth century, helping to contribute to the development of the country—mainly in the formation of a large workforce that entered the productive sphere at various levels.
Arising initially as an educational alternative for the “sons of honest and industrious artisans", the institution saw the presence of the middle class in its ranks increase, and the background of its students diversified as a result. A gradual increase in civic awareness among students and graduates, combined with a growing demand for social recognition of their work, fuelled aspirations of the students to become professional educators.
The development of this civic sense in successive generations of graduates thus cemented the conviction that they were a community designed not only to “move the country” or to form a workforce, but also to play a role in the country’s construction and its future.
Could these old buildings be re-purposed as Schools of the Future?
At Digital Playhouse, we just opened in a commercial shed to get started on a prototype and we welcome community input and direction.