Barbara Steveni was born in Iran (Persia) and raised in Devon and India. She was awarded a scholarship to study at Chelsea School of Art from 1948 – 1951 and later conceived and co-founded the Artist Placement Group (APG) in the UK, described as “one of the most radical social experiments of the 1960s”.
The idea was to expand the reach of art and artists into organisations of all kinds at all levels, including decision-making, and on a basis equivalent to any other engaged specialist. It began with commerce and industry and then turned to governmental organisations. Its founding artists, working in the emergent field of conceptual art and multimedia of that time were Barry Flanagan, David Hall, John Latham, Anna Ridley and Jeffrey Shaw.
Between 1989 – 1995 Steveni ran the Southwark Education Research Project (SERP) with Southwark Education Department. SERP engaged over 1,500 children and teachers by placing artists in fifteen schools across the London borough of Southwark. SERP created interventions in the schools it worked with, encouraging participants to question the education process and providing new ways for them to engage with the arts. The project created a model for replication across the country by involving the local authority, the inspectorate, teachers and pupils – and in doing so gained recognition nationally and internationally.
In 2018 Peckham Platform revisited SERP’s significance, at a time when the UK’s education policy focused overwhelmingly on measuring attainment through exam results and league tables, and increased bureaucracy coupled with reduced budgets resulted in a reduction in the opportunities for young people to engage with culture and the creative process in-school.
The SERP Reactivated project had two main strands – securing and reactivating the archive of the original SERP; and public programmes at Tate Exchange and Flat Time House, which presented highlights from the archive alongside new material created through collaboration between artists Barby Asante and Barbara Steveni.