So, its been about eight months since I began the project teaching art on a voluntary basis at Oxford Gardens Primary School in Ladbroke Grove. It’s where my children went to school, where I had a studio and where I taught. I have a long relationship with the school and area, and it has a special place in our hearts.
Since September, on a Tuesday, I have taught a year one class, both year two’s and a small contingent of the year six’s in a free afterschool art class. The more art I do with the children the more they seem to need. At lunchtimes the children that I don’t teach pour into the art room and ask “Why don’t you teach art to us?” How do I answer that? There isn’t enough art to go round.
When I’m away from the children, I feel their disappointment. Although they all love the art some need it more than others. It’s levels the playing field in terms of academic ability. Some of the most vulnerable children need the art most. They may struggle to hold a pencil, make friends or control their temperament to suit the class, and the art can capture their spirit and engross them in pure making. Not phonics, not competing for a rightness like in the class room. Just pure wanting to make and indulge in that space of quiet contemplation. Sometimes little conversations bubble up, or a song from assembly or the charts.
The only pressure is the end of the class and like all children in state education being moved onto the next activity, even if they are only just getting started. Some children have interventions and need to leave art class early for extra support in learning or therapy. During the project there have also been absences due to illness and school trips. There have also been some wonderful visitors to the school, the theatre, writers, musicians, the circus – all priceless. Amongst these inconsistencies I endeavour to be consistent.
Currently, I’m sorting through all the art work in preparations for the children’s very own exhibition at The Tabernacle. I’ve organised for them to have their own private view and its ties in with the half term break. The art work is vibrant and an inspiration. The year 6s are keen to help with the hanging and the preparations for the exhibition. It’s all part of the art learning, learning how to make, how to present and how to talk about the art.
The hope is that in the future if they come across their sketch book, the memory of the exhibition, the art work, it will reconnect them with the art room and the experiences of making. Even better if it shows them that a creative voice can be a fulfilling and career path.