As part of the RSA Academies’ Performing Arts Hub’s work to connect teachers and the arts and culture community in the West Midlands, we held our first Creative Gathering at mac in Birmingham last week.
There were representatives from around 15 different arts organisations spanning dance, music, theatre and visual arts, as well as organisations supporting arts participation and careers in the arts more generally. The group of enthusiastic participants workshopped ideas for collaboration and partnership alongside teachers, including arts teachers from Arrow Vale RSA Academy, Whitley Academy and the RSA Academy in Tipton.
The Creative Gathering was based on an approach used by the RSA in Wiltshire and Peterborough, designed to provide a neutral forum for developing fresh thinking and new perspectives, as well as making connections. True to the spirit of Creative Gatherings, the event was informal and encouraged creative responses to questions around the role of the arts in developing a shared sense of purpose for schools. It was heartening to see the optimism amongst teachers in response to a question around the role of the arts in schools’ sense of purpose, though many of the arts organisations shared less hope about the extent to which the arts are seen as integral to schools in the current educational landscape.Whilst it’s hard to argue with experience and evidently not all schools embrace the arts, hearing from schools that were open and willing to develop collaborative projects set the tone for a session that thought beyond the limitations imposed by the EBacc and school performance measures.
Case studies provided by City of Birmingham Orchestra and the Old Rep acted as starting points for thinking about effective collaboration and work with young people. They raised interesting points about the time and commitment needed to develop projects that utilise arts organisations’ expertise and respond to schools’ needs and highlighted the importance of placing young people’s voices at the centre of project design. Both of these emerged as central themes through the evening’s activities, as participants shared their experiences from previous projects and their passion for integrating the arts and education to provide positive outcomes for young people. Teachers were able to share their expertise in what motivates students, as well as asking for support with gaps in their knowledge about funding opportunities. Arts organisations and practitioners were able to express their eagerness for schools to come to them with their needs and ideas for projects. They also had the opportunity to learn from teachers about the impact of new education policy on the arts. For both groups, the evening was a chance to develop contacts that may lead to partnerships and, importantly, to stretch their imaginations about what those partnerships can achieve.
Participants were asked to describe their vision of what curriculum, student-led activities, community engagement and continuing professional development and learning would look like in a utopian arts-focused school. This inspired ideas for future projects within and beyond the arts and included different subjects working together and creativity playing a bigger role in shaping schools. One group proposed a ‘student watchdog’ giving students roles within teacher training and mentoring, school governance and other aspects of schools’ running, allowing them to test and review possible school improvements. Another group advocated for the importance of teachers displaying and exhibiting their own work, having ‘time to play’ and explore ideas with artists and other schools. Other exciting ideas emerged around engaging community through travelling flash mobs, You Tube videos and film projects integrating multiple art forms.
The Creative Gatherings will be held termly with the next one at RSA Academy in Tipton in September. Ideas for themes to explore in more depth at future events include diversity, student voice, evidence and research and the role of CPDL in supporting these relationships. If you are a creative practitioner/arts organisation based in the West Midlands and are interested in being part of future Creative Gatherings please email Sherene Meir.
Thanks to West Midlands Arts Connect for supporting the Creative Gathering, to mac for hosting us and to everyone who participated and contributed to building what promises to be a lively, exciting space for sharing knowledge and insight, inspiring innovative projects and developing new ways of collaborating.
Find out more about the Performing Arts Hub project