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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Public Libraries as Sites of Collision for Arts Education, the Maker Movement, and Neoliberal Agendas in Education


In recent years, the concept “making” has been claimed by “The Maker Movement.” While making offers great potential (and resources) for art integration in informal learning sites, maker discourse is often intertwined with a neoliberal mission. For example, movement leaders glorify Steve Jobs and hark on the myth that hobbies can be transformed into wealth-generating endeavors. As art-making activities in informal learning setting across the U.S. intersect with the maker movement, prominent learning theories that contradict this neoliberal philosophy may be repurposed or disremembered. Constructionist learning will require a continued commitment to a notion of learning by doing, “rather than acquiring theoretical precepts for subsequent application” (Ingold, 2013, p. 52). This article examines research from a multi-year empirical study of a Public Library system’s arts-based maker program. It provides a rich example of how discourse around making fits into learning in arts education, showcasing instances when neoliberal ideology collides with contradictory theories regarding how and why people learn and make. First, this paper will introduce the reader to the maker movement in education and review literature on making, learning, and neoliberalism. Secondly, I analyze the discourse of public librarians who implement the arts programming and suggest possible implications for how learning through the arts can be undermined by neoliberalism. And, finally, this article proposes a view of making that does align with arts education that embraces dispositional, constructionist, and post-modern/new materialist approaches to learning: Making as the reciprocal relationship between maker, material, tools, skill, and intention.

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