Is it co-curating or is it co-creating! Or is it putting up a small display in a glass cabinet? Any one of those would describe my morning at the Beaney Museum and Art Gallery in Canterbury, with the arts lead teacher from Hoath Primary School.
We had pre selected artworks made by pupils, taken from a huge cardboard installation undertaken by the school. We creamed off a couple of small boxes full of card and paper sculptures which we showcased in the Museum in Canterbury.
What was interesting about this is that it had to be spontaneous and the layout arrived at quickly. No clues no plans, just like an executive team building game on an away day. Who’s ideas, what level of finesse or finish, how do we agree what to make and with awkward access in small tight cabinet, where personal space is clearly going to be encroached upon. It was reality TV, but without TV.
All was well except my interpretation of a pupils sculpture of a flying bird. I suggested it was a salmon leaping up the water fall we had created, ‘a salmom ladder’ I said. Then I detected a slight note of surprise in her voice, ‘I thought it was a bird’. She was obviously right once I looked with a little more closely. I nearly replied, ‘I could cut the beak off’, but decided better not. I think the real idea was that this piece needed to be somehow airborne, suspended in space, bird or fish as long as it was in the air. We suspended it using fishing line in the upper story of our two layered display. We had some yellow paper, I thought it could really create a focal point, I didn’t know how, but suggested we use it somewhere. Children always have that quadrant sun in the corner of the paper, that is where I was starting from. She said, ‘The sun…What like the hole at the top of the yurt?’ The yurt was the mother display and this was just a small satellite and I thought that was actually an interesting suggestion. I sensed apprehension or somehow she couldn’t progress with the idea. We were so nearly done and it looked fine. It had been easier than I thought and I wasn’t going to make a song and dance about a yellow detail right at the end. I thought we worked together without any sticky moments and it was actually exceeded expectations. It is interesting being thrown together and how do you get to an unknown finish line.
A micro detail from the larger display ‘The Woodland’ inspired by the Lost Words book.
So: Our brief is to make an art installation with the whole school. We inspire a class of 25 pupils, who pass on enthusiasm and skills to the rest of the school who all contribute to a final work. This installation should ‘pop up’ in a public place and be more of a staged event (not the school hall). When I say we, I am paired with another artist. In this case it is an illustrator, a new member of the of the Animate team.
Our external venue is St. Laurence Church in Ramsgate. Ellington Infant School have been working on elements of the installation for two weeks. We have a day to install the final show with the children in the church. The parish administrator has been very helpful allowing access, things being moved around the church and generally being very accommodating. For 3 days in a row the church hosted our show ‘The Woodland’ inspired by the Lost Words, a book taking root in schools all over the country.
It was a full on day and working with my new partner I can see how patient she is with the children, how accommodating and generally enables them to achieve. She is also a team player and at the end of the day she is really up for the last lap which is to get this ready for viewing, and by 5.30pm we are out. Its refreshing working with new people as inevitably we approach things differently. I would describe our working relationship as chalk and cheese. Our cardboard walk through woodland seems to genuinely surprise visitors to the church as much more than a display made by school children. Feed back comments included ‘get it into Tate Modern’, which made me smile. The children were very excited to see their work and how it all came together. Another neighbouring school brought all their pupils to the church to see the work.
From a personal perspective I feel satisfaction in knowing this show has exceeded expectations from all those involved. The viewers, the schools, the church, the teachers and the pupils. I hope stake holders and funders can see the value of what #artbuilders is achieving. This description is only one of eight art events being delivered in Kent (particularly Thanet) Schools in June.
Today I spent the morning alone in the church and dismantled the whole thing. As I started removing each flower, each bird, each animal. As I took the branches off the trees I could see every leaf, seeing the work in a new way I was reminded of an observation by my partner on this project Esther Coombes which seemed particularly relevant – and she is right to say that it’s the detail. Every element has been created and there are countless dozens, hundreds of examples of little successes, little construction and design problems solved, visions in the minds eye made real. Ideas transformed into tangible models and representations. Little creative journeys depicting things we all know, but they come out with characteristics and quirks that make so many of them charming.
The Big Build Day.
This is the Big Build Day for Hoath and Chislet Schools coming together to create a woodland installation in the communal school yurt. This cardboard sculpture will be a walk through experience inspired by the Lost Words book by Robert Macfarlane.
We had six work stations: these were 2 designated class rooms, the yurt itself and the rest were based in the hall. We had the art leaders divided into 6 groups one at each work station. This meant a consistent team of about 4 pupils were responsible for co-ordinating that stations work. I found my self floating from group to group, but as I had a drill and hole cutting saws I naturally gravitated to the tree station were these tools seemed in higher demand.
I started with the water feature team making a stream which cascaded over a series of rocks. When the superstructure was sound and solid I left the group making rocks and stream effects with corrugated cardboard.
Next, I looked in the two class room which were well staffed and I could see well organised. As soon as I walked in an excited pupil came up to me with a newspaper fox they had made. I was genuinely surprised at how good it was. I left them making animals and went into the Yurt. This was where it would all come together. Me and Mrs Hughes worked with the art leaders to create a perimeter of gentle rolling hills which acted as a backdrop for everything that was to follow. As we got just over half way around the yurt I noticed the landscape was changing and the rolling hills were becoming mountains! Was that allowed? Are you changing the idea, do we need to go back to making hills? We had a quick democratic vote and the mountains won (easily actually). So by the end of the perimeter we had tiny ski lodges on the slopes and it looked like the Alps. The suggestion it was the Scottish Highlands made it indigenous and everyone was happy then.
I was getting urgent messages towards the end of the morning to come to the tree station WITH TOOLS. So I spent the afternoon making trees. Thougherly enjoyed my afternoon drilling and sawing thick carpet tubes for the trees. I worked next to the head teacher who was right in the thick of the melee of pupils, making branches and leaves. The branches made went into the holes I cut on the tree trunks. Some branches were rather limp and gravity was winning, seeing them slowly sag downwards. She poked the branches into the holes and selotaped then in place with a figure eight style wrapping which put me in mind of hospitals, bandages sprained ankles and Plaster of Paris casts for broken limbs! The branches she put in were rock solid and very robust. I asked her if she had been a nurse? She said no, but she had done a lot of first aid.
Now everything was being carried to the yurt for assembling together. This went much smoother than expected considering how many children were involved. Except for my entrance feature which was going to be extremely tall trees and visible across the school site. I banged in what I call ‘pig sticks’ into the grass with my club hammer. These are metal bars 4-5 feet tall used to cordon off areas on building sites with orange netting. I was going to slide my tall trees made with carpet tubes which were probably over 3 meters high trees onto the sticks so they stood up. Two of these either side of the path with branches above so you could walk underneath, an entrance arch.
What could possibly go wrong? Nothing I thought confidently.
But I had used the longer carpet tubes which were narrower than all the others. The shorter wider tubes would have been better as these slide over the twist of metal at the top of the pig stick. However, my tubes were narrower and did not fit over this twist of metal. #Gutted.
I have to say Mrs Mogg masterminded and pulled off this ambitious double school creative bonanza.
My second school is in a seaside town with very much an emerging arts scene. Seaside towns like St. Ives in Cornwall and Appledore amongst several in Devon have strong arts identities. Many seaside towns in Kent are striving for this kind of identity. We are working in an Infant school and I can’t help comparing it to schools in Devon where I worked in seaside towns on arts projects. The schools I worked in Devon seem more advanced in terms of arts and creativity, but then I only worked in a small number. There was an arts agency who had wide reaching connections and very good working relationships with all the schools in the region. Another arts project was welcomed and the schools were accustomed to fitting in the irregularity an arts project causes.
Perhaps I see Animate as an organisation at an earlier stage of development to Beaford Arts who have really become established and have invested time and resources into the exploration cultural heritage of North Devon. There is nothing quite like this in Kent, but Animate are working with the same kind of interest in creative development in schools.
Back to my seaside town. I have not worked with years 1 -2 -3 possibly even a few year R as well in there for a while. They are so young and I had forgotten just how young, and where they are in basic development. Using scissors, cutting Sellotape are major hurdles for the very young, skills I don’t think about like driving a car. The children are not good at listening too impatient to start making, they are not listening to information and instructions. Understandable.
I listen to children’s verbal descriptions of what they are making and I am seeing some very happy with their results, their expectations realised. I see a few wasting time unable to progress disappointed with the results. Their expectation not realised and no plans to move forward. Impasse. You suggest a way forward and in 60 seconds the child comes back saying ‘Yeh I have done that’. This repeats for as long as you let it while you rotate around the class dipping in and out of the other 25 children little creative worlds. Some really give you a running commentary and take you on a personal exploration of their ideas, while others work alone and they are easily missed and you don’t know what they have made.
A day is not long enough to foster and enable creativity.
I have a very small rural primary school as my first school to start their own Big Build. They are very ambitious and completely embracing the ethos of more creativity and arts activities within their school. The children they have chosen as ‘Art Leaders’ are not the oldest in the school, this to make the most of their experience in taking part in this project. Their experiences will be required next year when the school repeats this June of creativity and their skill and knowledge called on again to help deliver the event.
This year the European elections we have just had, has had a big impact on my schools’ approach! The village hall is usually used as the polling station, but this year it is under repair. The solution was to close a near by school for the day to use that as the polling station. So my school has invited this homeless school over for the whole day to co-create a Woodland Scene inspired by The Lost Words book by Robert Macfarlane.
Two complete schools in one, making a cardboard installation to go in the communal School Yurt over one day of total creative output and team work.
So we devised a plan. The ‘Art Leaders’ (a class of 25) made a large model of the Yurt with the woodland display inside. This would then be shown to the rest of the school and the visiting school, showing what the idea was and what we are trying to achieve.
The idea then to create a scene or a landscape with trees, hills, water fall with rocks and a stream. All in a day with two schools. When the school returns after half term they will continue to populate the scene with flowers, animals and other details. This phase two being what they describe as ‘art week’ activity.
Cardboard has been collected by everyone far and wide and the school is inundated or awash with it. Enthusiasm and ambition very high.