self-expression and reflection

This post is written by Lexi Earl on her visit to Ark St Albans Academy in Birmingham.

On my visit to Ark St Albans Academy I had an inspiring talk with a group of Year 13s. I was struck by the way the students talked about how involvement in creative activities had taught them how to reflect on their own lives and places in the world.

St Albans has worked with the RSC, who guide schools on rehearsal room approaches to study Shakespeare, in Drama and/or English. The Y13s I spoke with had benefited from these approaches to teaching Shakespeare in their English classes. They had also taken advantage of work experience with the RSC that had been offered through their school. But what became clear is that these experiences were not limited to understanding Shakespeare; they affected how students were able to understand the world, and express their opinions about it.

The students said that learning to express oneself and one’s opinions is an important skill, particularly in the current political climate.

[…] but even before he [Donald Trump] came in, it was still corrupt and you know it’s just going to get worse by the end cause of the way the system’s set up and everything. So if you have these young adults not knowing how to express themselves, not knowing how to go on 

Not knowing how to deal with it, the only focus in life is get good grades, get good grades, go to uni, get good grades, go to uni. For what?

Especially growing up in the inner city as well. I think it’s really important to get self-expression otherwise you can get dragged into so much stuff which I think people like us have so narrowly escaped.

And the thing is when you look back on you’re like whoa

The students linked the ability to express oneself with the ability to evaluate your actions, and the way you react to situations. They reflected in particular on life in the inner city, and the way people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not necessarily given the opportunity to develop this reflective skill.

I feel as though it also stems from like the fact that you’re not really evaluating, not, not given the chance and not evaluating why it is you do what you do. And through art you do that. Through art you look around. […] They need that art because it allows you to stand back and look back and think why am I doing, why because to be honest they’ve probably realised the first most important thing that, not the most important thing but that why am I going to uni and they’re probably like well there’s no point.

And art is definitely a way in which they can [express themselves]

This understanding of art as a form of self-expression became even more apt when one of the students talked about her own goal to represent people that are not necessarily often featured in the arts – people who come from particular religions, or backgrounds. The student argued that promoting art and self-expression was hugely important in changing the way ordinary people can relate to art.

And also the art that is promoted is probably art that comes from middle-class society where it’s art that represents white people in really heroic roles. You know it’s not for the main stream people which is like one of the forms of art that I try to do is like representation like painting Muslim women who aren’t depicted in art at all. And like to stamp their place in history to be honest. But that’s you need more artists who can portray a lifestyle that we live so that there is representation out there as those people can relate and if the art isn’t promoted then that’s just not going to happen.

These students’ experiences with the RSC, and the way they have learnt to express their opinions, has enabled them to reflect on their places in the world. They identified the ways that creative school subjects can help people understand the world, and told me that this has ultimately, enabled and emboldened them to express their opinions.

They were a truly inspiring group of young people and I left my visit feeling a little bit better about the state of the world.

displaying and sharing art

This post is written by Lexi Earl, on her time at Welling School in Kent.

When I arrived at Welling School in Kent, I was immediately fascinated by the ‘mini gallery’ space in reception – a tall glass cube, filled with objects. It displayed work by Year 8 students, responding to work by American artist Judith Scott. These were vibrant, colourful balls that used thread and textiles to create new art from found objects. The wall next to this mini gallery was filled with posters advertising the school’s ‘alTURNERtive’ prize – a yearly art competition for students.

 

Welling is an art specialist school and there is a lot of opportunity to partake in art of various kinds, but what struck me in the first few moments was the clear importance of sharing and showing students’ work. In my few months on this project, I have noticed how students talk about sharing their work, and how comfort with sharing appears to develop over time – younger students tend to be more cautious about sharing their developing art works, whereas their older peers are sharing on social media and engaged in conversation with other young artists.

Students I spoke to clearly knew that their school valued the arts, their art in particular, and showcased this in various ways.

Art has always been very big in the school. I just think that it is appreciated.

They have an awards ceremony as well. The alTURNERtive prize they do that every year cause we have a gallery downstairs. And we have a lot of stuff around the room, like everyone’s work is displayed. Like last year, everyone’s final pieces will be up on the walls.

It’s one of the main things that attracted me to the school [the way it values art]. I used to go to [another school] and they’re into art as well but I thought that this was even more into art cause its what I want to go into so it felt like this was the right decision to come here.

When I asked how the school’s value of the arts made them feel they said:

It makes us want to do more big stuff and show it off, cause we know we can.

I feel less restricted cause you can make big stuff in this school.

One student explained about her experience in The alTURNERtive Prize:

So they choose a couple of people from Year 11, 12 and 13, art that they’ve done and they put it in the gallery and it’s like a show. Everyone comes in to watch it. And they choose an overall winner. […] It’s fun. It’s a good experience. You feel quite involved in everything and it feels a bit more real. And you feel like you get rewarded for the stuff you do, so it’s quite nice.

And what did everyone say when they came in and saw all the artwork?

It’s like not a community but like everyone’s joined together and everyone is like ‘oh, your work’s nice’, ‘and your work’s nice’ and you all give each other ideas. It’s a nice thing to do. It’s a good idea. It works.

Sharing art work at Welling was not only confined to formal gallery spaces or competitions. The teacher’s classrooms displayed student work, and the corridors of the art block were full of posters, art, photographs and notice boards showcasing recent plays or information on exhibitions students could visit.


At Welling I began to think about the role the school and teachers can play in creating spaces where students can share work in a gradual fashion – anonymously in the glass cube, with friends, family and other artists in the school gallery space, and eventually, on social media and in other public spaces. And through doing so, empower students to share their work with the world.

keys to the city

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My research conversations with GCSE and A level art students from Upton Hall School FCJ quickly revealed some in depth knowledge and engagement with the galleries and public art in the centre of Liverpool. On further enquiry it was clear that this relates to an annual summer homework which invites the students to visit a specific exhibition and then choose a number of other venues and galleries to visit and to document this in their sketchbooks.For those students who have taken art through to A level, this means they will have undertaken this activity four or five times by the end of their courses.

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I looked through the documentation the students had created after their visits which varied in design and content considerably. Each journey the students had taken reflected their personal responses and affinities with particular spaces or exhibitions. Many of them used a mapping design aesthetic, adapting the materials from the galleries such as logos and directions and plotting them on the page. This gave a strong indication that the students felt a degree of ownership or connection to the key cultural institutions in their city, despite living a long bus journey outside the city centre.

 

unspecified-4I asked the students if they ever felt that the galleries were ‘not for them,’ a comment students from other schools have made in the course of the project. They strongly rejected this idea, stating that Liverpool was ‘not posh’. One student also suggested that the staff at the school had high expectations of them and this included things like visiting galleries independently as well as through school visits and projects. Others talked of the summer homework as something they did with friends, describing it as an enjoyable and memorable experience. The students talked about the art they had engaged with and how it had influenced their own work, citing different artists as well as shared experiences.

Ann Spears, Head of Art at Upton Hall School FCJ, described the rationale:

We consider familiarisation and a sense of ownership with galleries and museums to be pivotal to the success of the GCSE and A Level courses and that the pupils’ cultural development is an absolute entitlement for our pupils. Their experience outside the classroom energises learning. Our aim is to support the development of eloquent and confident students, whatever their backgrounds, who can embrace contemporary art and innovative ideas to inform their own practice. Students regularly undertake workshops with artists in residence both at the galleries and at school and benefit enormously from the interaction.

Funding can be an issue but initiatives such as the Arts Council and Curious Mind’s SLiCE Fellowship has enabled me to work collaboratively as the Lead School with Cultural Partnership organisations in Liverpool and by adopting a Systems Leadership approach has enabled 3 other schools to benefit from the enriching experience with a series of 4 workshops based on the current exhibit Open 2:Pieces of you at the Open Eye Gallery.

The key aim of this year’s research project is to measure the impact on literacy of a Pupil Premium cohort by tracking pupil progress over the academic year after their involvement in the project.

first school visit

Becky reports:

This month the TALE project’s first school research visit took place at Thomas Tallis School in Kidbrooke, London. The school has a long history of art and creative education and it was fascinating to see the ‘TALLIS HABITS,’ developed with researchers for Creativity, Culture and Education in 2012 (reported here), so strongly in evidence in school lesson planning and visibly around the school.

 

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Figure 1: Tallis Habits

The habits were clearly important to the young people I spoke to too. It was interesting also to hear about the young people’s own arts’ practice being discussed and shared in the school and indeed the corridors being fully utilised as studio space.

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Figure 2: Tallis students at work

Lots of rich data was collected and dynamic discussions entered into with staff and students.

IMG_1159And more great work by Thomas Tallis students  can be viewed on Flickr.

 

 

arts council peer learning

Emily Pringle (Tate), Becky Parry and Pat Thomson (University of Nottingham) attended the first peer learning day for the eight research projects funded by the Arts Council. Every project gave a brief presentation of their work.

We were very pleased to meet with our colleague researchers and hear about some shared concerns, particularly around ethics and impact – things that we will no doubt be thinking about a lot in the next two and a half years.