The research project Art.School.Differences - Researching Inequalities and Normativities in the field of Higher Art Education examines inclusions and exclusions using the example of Swiss art schools.

In international research the art school domain has been described as a “preserve of the privileged” (Malik-Okon 2005) with a tendency to reproduce social inequality. Several studies show that “the study of the ‘liberal arts’ must still be regarded as a privilege reserved above all for ‘well-educated’ EU nationals from the economically prosperous classes” (Holert 2010). The pilot study undertaken by the Institute for Art Education, Making Differences: Swiss Art Schools, examined the relevance of these hypotheses to Switzerland by means of quantitative and qualitative surveys at three Swiss art schools in Bern, Geneva and Zurich.

The pilot study revealed a complex and differentiated picture of inclusivity and exclusivity in this specific sector of tertiary education, which, while in no way only mediating “art for a few” (Burke/McManus 2009), does, however, doubtlessly engender and reproduce significant asymmetries and exclusions. Contrary to their promise of social mobility, the Swiss art schools in particular appear to be clearly characterized by processes of social closure. The results of the study indisputably indicate that – despite valiant efforts and measurable changes – the legally enshrined equal treatment of various social groups has yet to be fulfilled in the domain of the art school. The same applies to “gender equality” and, in much greater measure, to other disadvantaged social groups, especially candidates with immigrant or non-urban backgrounds.

A cooperative endeavour of 3 art schools

The research project Art.School.Differences builds on these insights. Three Swiss art schools, the Geneva School of Art and Design (HEAD – Genève), the Geneva School of Music (HEM Genève – Neuchâtel) and the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK) are cooperating in its implementation. Its objective is to explore the complex configurations of inequality in art schools in more depth, to understand them and to institute changes. It takes into account both the transformation of the art school as an institution within the European university landscape, and the effects of globalisation and a migrant society in the context of inclusivity and exclusivity.

What distinguishes Art.School.Differences is that research and practice are enmeshed into the conceptual design of the project; i.e. practitioners are actively involved in the research process. This means that the project, from the very outset, is designed to integrate participatory research and the necessary methodological setting. Thus, various major players in the domain – teachers, students, artists – cooperate as co-researchers. Art.School.Differences desires to incorporate protagonists into the institutions with the aim to, on one hand, establish a sustainable debate about inequality, and, on the other, to elaborate a methodology for further participatory research relevant for other universities and institutions of higher education.

Art.School.Differences thus is one of the few projects implementing a participatory research-model in the field of higher education with the aim to develop social equality. We indeed believe that art schools inevitably take profit if striving for more equality, plurality, heterogeneity.



Research project information


German, French, English

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Diversity labels:

Gender, LGBTIQ*, Age, Race, Class, Intersectionality, Migration, Health




Research project