‘Boop! Boop! We’ve got the power!’ sang a chorus of students from Ipsley CE RSA Academy, Arrow Vale RSA Academy and Whitley Academy to a packed house in the RSA’s Great Room. Joined by fellow students from Holyhead School and the RSA Academy, Tipton, the full family of RSA Academies undertook a dive into the creative unknown at the RSA Academies' Arts Day.
Guided by the power to create as the jumping off point, the bumper packed day explored the theme of ‘power’ through spoken word, dance, film and music.
This was the annual RSA Academies' Arts Day held at the RSA at which the students were empowered to come up with an original creative response to ‘power’ and perform it as an ensemble collaborative piece to an audience a few hours later. No pressure then.
With a healthy level of trepidation the students were stirred into a creative awakening by Stephen Steinhaus, a teacher from Whitley Academy and Oliver Carpenter from the Upton Blues Festival who coaxed us into a bluesy gospel performance before we realised what was going on. All fired up, we dispersed throughout the RSA to the workshops considering how we might creatively collaborate together.
Groups of students and teachers set to with the super-enthusiastic facilitators from Beatfreeks; Amerah Saleh with spoken word and Sipho Eric Dube with dance; alongside Sid Peacock with music and Edwin Mingard with film.
The students had some very impressive applications of 'power': the power of love, arts, courage, intelligence, healing, words, fear, pain, energy, friends, money, mystery, democracy, passion, freedom, choice, leadership, music, hatred, happiness, control and equality.
Later, we heard from four inspiring creative professionals about their roles to better understand the types of jobs that exist in the arts. Our panel comprised the film director and graphic designer, Arnold Schwartzman, OBE, RDI; theatre producer Hannah Slimmon; and from the workshops, musician and composer Sid Peacock and spoken word poet/creative learning genius Amerah Saleh. Words of wisdom were imparted to the room – from Arnold: find and follow your passion and from Amerah: accept ‘no’ it keeps you humble but don’t accept ‘not’, don’t let anyone tell you ‘not’.
Hot on the heels Leadh Woolley also from Beatfreeks, got everyone’s attention early in her creative enterprise session by getting students to reflect on what they’d learnt. They offered up some stirring statements:
- You are never too young
- You are never too old
- Love what you do and follow your passion
- Creativity doesn’t always mean artistic talent
- Background doesn’t matter
- You are what you say you are
We also awarded the RSA Academies Art Prize, judged by Michaela Crimmin, curator and lecturer at the Royal College of Art, Arnold Schwartzman and our own Roisin Ellison. The brief set was: the power to create is the ability to turn your ideas into an image/images. What happens when your creativity is unleashed. All the RSA schools entered submitting an impressive array of responses. The stars to watch are:
- First prize: Nawal Jafar, Whitley Academy
- Second prize: Awais Javed, Arrow Vale RSA Academy
- Third prize: Molly Johnson, RSA Academy, Tipton
- Commended: Karl Sullivan, Arrow Vale RSA Academy
- Commended: Sofia Adburahman, Whitley Academy
Before the final performance we marked Arrow Vale’s achievement of Gold Artsmark for their excellence in arts and cultural provision. The validator had commented ‘it was clear that the staff and students at Arrow Vale all value the arts and recognise the role that they play in creating a cohesive learning community’.
And suddenly it was 3.30pm. The end of the day. Nowhere to hide. Joined by teachers, RSA colleagues and board members, this was it. We had to own the stage to pull this off.
And pull it off we did. Teachers modelled behaviours and got involved, everyone let themselves go a little and allowed the energy of being in the moment to take over. Dancers from the newly formed RSA Power Squad energised the room with their hip hop style clapping formation work, the artists’ work flashed up in film with almost a strobe lighting effect that punched into the performance. The musicians kept their groove and the brass section gave us the soul. The singers’ harmonised, freestyled, woooootsched and proclaimed:
‘Strength! Is all you need!
You have RSA Power,
There’s nothing you can’t do,
When you put your minds together’
The secret to one-day engagement? Start on time. Follow the programme. Leave space for young people to explore their ideas and find their feet in a new setting with new friends. Work with the best facilitators you can. Set the terms of engagement. Make it safe. Take risks. Make it fun. Set the bar high.
But this is real life stuff, so if half the group get stuck in traffic on their way?
Repeat the above, drop step one, keep smiling, the show must go on!
Political moment: at a time when schools are being pressured into offering the EBacc, and creative subjects (as well as RE and PE) are being marginalised it is worth knowing or indeed shouting about benefits for young people of participating in arts and culture: the Cultural Learning Alliance’s manifesto, the Warwick Commission on Cultural Value and the Creative Federation’s creative education agenda amongst others set it out nicely. Impressive huh?
When asked at the Arts Day to describe what it means to be creative the students responded:
- to be alright
- to have a free soul
- to have no rules
- to able to express your thoughts, feelings and emotions
With thanks to Sid Peacock, Amerah Saleh, Sipho Eric Dube, Edwin Mingard, Michaela Crimmin, Arnold Schwartzman OBE RDI, Leadh Woolley, Hannah Slimmon - and all the staff and students from the RSA academies.
Photo credit: Amy McCann.