Artsmakers

Following on from a research project where I and four other arts consultants were invited to interview local schools to find out how the Artsmark has made a difference for them, this Friday the Royal Opera House Bridge held its Artsmakers event at its wonderful building in Covent Garden.

Throughout the day there were some great talks from teachers and others about how they make arts work within the school enviornment. Everyone I spoke to throughout the day said how inspired they were. A chance to talk and hear from peers is something that all professionals welcome in my experience, and this was a wonderful chance for teachers to talk and hear about other people’s work.

All of the speakers were great, but there were a few key quotes that stood out for me that I wanted to share with you.

Paul Jackson, who used to be head of Giffards School in central London and now Executive Head Teacher – Primary Phase from Burnt Mill Academy Trust said several things that stood out for me, namlely that we shouldn’t be asking

how can we afford to teach the arts, but how can we afford not to teach the arts?

He saw the arts as fundamental to the mission of the school – all of the curriculum was taught through the arts. One thing that made me smile was he said that as the children walked from assembly to class and back again they would chatter, but he changed it so that all class movement through the school was done while singing. He spoke about having your plan and making the budget fit the plan rather than the other way around. All children were given the chance to perform, not just in class, but at lunchtime and after school concerts and all children learnt a stringed instrument, alongside their class teacher.

Image taken from @rohbridge twitter feed
Image taken from @rohbridge twitter feed

Paul made it very clear that at Giffards school bringing in the arts to such a fundamental role did not happen over night, but was a fifteen year project. He spoke about how you have to be brave and stay strong to your beliefs and a key part of this was making the right choice, not the easy choice.

Kayte Judge who heads up Culture Challenge in Bedfordshire had a lot to say about reaching out to artists and that they are available and there to talk to you, just ask! For me the key point that she raised was

If you value the creative arts please value creative artists, they are professionals. Find a budget and pay for them.

At this point I wanted to shout YES! Artists should be paid for their work, they have spent years training, developing and honing their skills. They may only be delivering a day workshop for you, but they will have had to plan for this workshop and it is a distillation of their skills and knowledge.

roh 3
Image taken from @rohbridge twitter feed

Finally to end on a lighter note Sophie Gregory who is Subject Leader for Dance at Colne Community School shared with us a little Edward Monk poem

If you gave it
half a chance
what potato
would not dance?

This little ditty stayed with me, Sophie talked about how she keeps this pinned above her desk where she can see it every day to keep her inspired.

It’s true, dance is fundamental to our souls, it is part of our history! Dancing, drumming, singing – we have been doing these for as long as we have been human. And even if we are a little potato like there is still that within us all, even if it is buried deep.

There is a Storify of the day here.

I really enjoyed the day, there was a lot of really interesting information being shared among everyone. The ROH Bridge has its big conference in June Ahead for Culture, which features Kirsty Wark, and some very exciting speakers. I am very disappointed that I can’t go as I am away. If you are part of the ROH Bridge region, Essex, Thurrock, Southend, Beds, Herts and North Kent/Medway and you work in the cultural sector do take a look here and think about attending.

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2 Comments

  1. This is a very synchronous post for me to read, as Armaitus and I were just this last Thursday-Noon discussing memories which touch on its subject matter directly

    In both our experience ‘Drama’ as most performing arts were bundled at our nightmare Comprehensive was not a positive thing. On any given week we both tended to sub-divide the time at school in to mental categories of lessons which bore a greater or lesser chance for horror. This was principally of course psychological and physical bullying, mixed occasionally and most distressingly with outright sexual harassment in a somewhat counter intuitive girl-on-boy way. ‘Art’ as a period was always very ‘high risk’, as was ‘Music’, ‘P.E.’/’Games’ of course and even occasionally ‘Science’. Worst of all though, beyond any doubt was ‘Drama’. There was something about that lesson which unerringly became a focus for misbehavior and abuse. Perhaps it was to do with the frequent lack of direct supervision, to work away from the teacher’s – complacent, more often than not – gaze in groups. Whatever the case I would say a frighteningly large percentage of the trouble I experienced at school occurred or began in ‘Drama’. Moreover this created a confounding, active deterrent which undermined the whole purpose of having the lessons in the first place. The necessary self-expression and required creativity were a gold-mine to those so inclined for ridicule, a literal invitation to bully. During absolutely any lesson, but especially and tragically in ‘Drama’ any enthusiasm, any imagination or individuality were brutally and delightedly seized on as a weakness and exploited accordingly. All too often there was a “now then, go away in these groups I have just forced you to form and work together on this…” Rather than the idealism that the ‘bright stars’ would somehow encourage and levitate the less interested, what really happened was a feeding frenzy of physical and psychological violence. I accept totally this could well have been a phenomena unique to our secondary school, but I suspect it is not.

    I think the teachers who run ‘Drama’ classes and the professionals from external groups and initiatives like ‘ArtsMakers’ who often become involved must not only consider the substance of their lessons, but also the environment that surrounds them. Yes, you must absolutely encourage creativity. That is a vital human trait to foster – imagination and original thought is perhaps the single most important potential the human race possesses. However you must also ensure there is a classroom setting where those goals can be nurtured and flourish. Hopefully ‘ArtsMakers’ and other future programmes will overcome, or at least consider and work to minimize these problems. To encourage creativity and imagination in all our people, no matter their age or specific interest is critically important.

  2. It’s taken me a while to respond as I wanted to think this through.

    I am sorry that it was such a nightmare for you at school I can see why that would put you off of drama and the rest

    In all my experience of teaching drama and creative subjects the focus has been on creating a supportive environment for everyone, otherwise it is difficult for anything to be created in anything other than a trusting environment.

    All of that behaviour would not be tolerated in any drama teacher’s class these days. I am just sorry that this has not always been the case. What you experienced was completely unacceptable in all circumstances

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