opportunity and art

This post is written by Lexi Earl about her recent visit to Archbishop Tenison School in London.

On our recent visit to Archbishop Tenison, Becky and I had a conversation with the Y13 art students. It was clear that they were taking advantage of the various opportunities they had been offered that connected them to art organisations and experiences outside of school – some were involved in Tate Collective, others in the October Gallery Youth Collective, and some had done work experience at Universal Studios. They supported each other’s efforts by attending events and going to exhibitions together, forming and creating their own art community.

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By contrast, the Y10s were not yet involved in the arts community around them. In conversation I asked them whether they visited museums or galleries, either by themselves or with their families. They said no. They went on to say that it was likely that the only way they would visit such places would be on a school trip. This was interesting because ATS is a school in central London. The Tate is within walking distance. But these young people do not necessarily feel that they can access such places on their own.

Opportunities to become part of the art community, to participate in it, and to take up work experience do not happen by osmosis. The engagement of the Y13s in comparison to the Y10s is part of the work of Hannah King, their art teacher, and is an example of the role teachers play in connecting their students to wider opportunities and experiences within the arts and cultural organisations, either on their doorstep or more broadly in their communities.

Hannah explained the process through which she connects the students to opportunities they might not otherwise be able to access. She runs through her own personal contacts – friends and acquaintances working in a variety of industries that might be of interest to her students. She checks what opportunities might be possible with the organisations and businesses where she has contacts, looking at what is doable and realistic. She takes these opportunities to the Head of Sixth Form, to check whether the school can support the students to take advantage of an opportunity. Finally, she offers the various opportunities to the sixth form students – not only the art students, but anyone who might be interested. For example, students who are interested in the business side of arts organisations can also take advantage of these opportunities.

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Hannah knows her students interests and future ideas, and is therefore able to tailor opportunities for them that will help them in the long run. As Hannah told us, it is not just the opportunity to gain work experience somewhere like Universal Studios, Apple, or Ministry of Sound. Having to put together a CV, and write a cover letter gives students practical life skills. This then supports their potential UCAS letters, and ultimately helps students once they start “thinking about how you apply for jobs”.

Teachers like Hannah King play an incredibly important role in connecting young people to the arts, widening the opportunities they may have, and exposing them to new ideas and people that they might otherwise miss.

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TATE ambassadors

Talking to young women at Grey Coat Hospital School about their involvement in the Tate Collective was a brilliant start to my three day visit. A striking aspect of the discussion was their articulation of the way their involvement in the project changed their engagement with art and galleries. One student vividly described her anxiety about going into a gallery and looking at art, feeling that she just was not confident that she could interpret the work. Through participation in the project the students felt that they could now trust that their own interpretation had value and that actually the art may have more than one meaning. This is a lesson they clearly felt also helped them more broadly in their academic studies. They felt they were more able to interpret ideas rather than thinking of subjects, like History, as being a set of facts set in stone. Another interesting impact was linked to the Tate Loud project which the students enthused about. They also believed this changed the way other young people felt about galleries, making the space vibrate with music. The links to contemporary exhibitions of work had also importantly impacted on their own arts practice. As artist teacher, Clare Burnett, commented:
The students are so lucky to be at school right in the middle of London, surrounded by international-quality art.  We see open minded students who are prepared to take risks and are confident in expressing their contemporary viewpoints visually.
The school also supports students who have chosen to be Tate Ambassadors, creating displays and raising other students’ awareness of the galleries on the school’s doorstep. These students wear yellow tags as pictured below, created by the DT department. These signal that the ambassadors can share information and enthusiasm about current Tate exhibitions to their peers. This experience clearly pushes the ambassadors into thinking from the point of view of artists, curators and gallery staff in order to achieve their goals and therefore helps them understand the range of careers associated with galleries and wider creative industries.

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Tate Ambassador Tags at Grey Coats Hospital School