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First look at Compound 13 Lab

Having just returned from Dharavi, my head is full of the sounds and sensations of Mumbai - it was good to meet the ACORN team and visit the Lab*. The music workshop facilitated by Sandeep immediately showed how the informal learning context invited engagement and participation. It was exciting to see hand-made drums alongside state-of-the-art technology in the hands of the young people. I also witnessed the intensity of the self-organised recycling industry in the narrow streets and informal settlement of Dharavi. The conditions were extremely challenging, sometimes overwhelming, but the resilience of the community in Dharavi was inspiring. This 'story of waste' will undoubtedly expose narratives that challenge received notions of disposability.

With this in mind, I have been reflecting on our shared purpose, to build a creative, shared space for experimental design and learning – the lab - for exploration and dialogue, situated within the politics and policies of a 'global city'. In this context we focus on the resources of the recycling industry, re-thinking plastic waste and creating a space for young people to explore issues of sustainability and ecological design. We want to develop innovative, entrepreneurial solutions led by Dharavi's young people to the challenges that they face, and build creative skills, both in their lives now and for future employment.

Compound 13 Lab will explore how learner-centred, participatory methods can best engage young people and invite this sense of creative agency. Democratising access to knowledge and valuing expertise gained through experience will also be a vital means of implementing the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Together we want to develop a ‘living’ curriculum for the Lab for young people using the principles of creative, inclusive and innovative pedagogy. This emergent curriculum may also provide some insights into the future of art and design education in India. The Art 1st Arts Education Roundtable in Mumbai, at which I spoke about the work based on these principles that I lead in and around Bath, UK,  has already started this conversation.

At the heart of the approach in the Lab is the image of young people as creative and competent, valuing relationships and giving time, space and attention to supporting individual learning in a collaborative context. Working alongside experienced artists and designers (4 from India, 2 from the UK*) young people will explore issues of waste, work, education, survival and sustainability in Dharavi, imagining alternative futures to build their hopes and aspirations. This approach will inform how young people can develop an understanding of their lives now and be empowered to determine their own futures. If emphasis is placed on young people’s ideas through interdisciplinary creative learning experiences and collaborative working practices, there is potential to transform their life chances. I can’t wait to return.

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