‘All schools should be art schools’ said Bob and Roberta Smith. We rather like this idea. It is our ambition is to bring contemporary art to schools in the RSA Family of Academies to support young people’s exploration of the world and what it means to be human.
In a new creative partnership, RSA Academies will work with Iniva, the Institute of International Visual Art, and with pupils who will co-design programme themes, develop their ideas and own this project. Our plan is to run the project over 3 years in 3 of the RSA schools; a first school (4-9 year olds), a high school (13-18 year olds) and a secondary school (11-18 year olds). Each year will see one high-quality participatory art commission per school.
It is our plan to invite groups of young people to explore the issues relevant to their lives they think merit exploration and discussion through art. There will be lots of opportunities for pupils to be involved, and to progress through as project managers, curators, makers and champions, these groups would be involved in the recruitment of the curator and the artists. The process of art-making will be participatory; involving the pupils, their teachers, and, where we can facilitate it, their families. Crucially, we are also planning that the commissions have an ‘engagement programme’ alongside, so that once the work is in situ there is also a commitment to engaging the whole school and its community with the work; inspiring critical thinking and reflection on the world around us, and provoking different ways of seeing things.
Importantly for this project the art is coming to the schools. No-one has to get on a minibus or train (though actually we will invite other schools to visit). It will meet communities where they are at. It will be site-specific. Visible. Unmissable. And for the most part, outdoors.
This factor is crucial, research that says cost and a lack of confidence are the two most significant reasons for young people not engaging in arts and culture. There is an immediacy to work that is on your own turf. It is about the type of school you go to, what that says about the ethos of your education, how you feel when you are there and how this may impact on your attitude to learning, as well as to yourself. It is about relatability – if it is ‘yours’ then you need to find arguments as to why is isn’t for you, as opposed to why it is.
ART31, who carried out the research, found that the barriers to participation were related to ‘anxiety, embarrassment and shyness.’ With this in mind, we will work closely with teachers to support engagement of pupils who may not put themselves forward, and find creative ways to involve pupils in contributing their ideas so that those involved genuinely feel like their voices have been heard – as well as involving those with an interest or ability in art, or those who would benefit from having a role in something exciting happening in school that has a different form of accountability attached to it.
Our aim is that this project will enable pupils and their teachers to develop new artistic, curation and programming skills, as well as oracy and literacy skills. There’ll be plenty to talk and write about: these will be spaces where inter-disciplinary connections are made – art and science, art and wellbeing/mental health, art and history, art and geography, art and maths, art and technology.
The project will begin with Iniva’s ArtLab to establish an understanding of contemporary art, visual literacy and critical thinking skills and how their space can not only show great art and inspire the making of art but how it can impact on the challenges that the young people face, which could be, cultural identity, race, gender, social media, transition between years/schools and future world of work.
An important consideration throughout this thinking is how is to share the practice. The plan is to hold a critical debate/learning event to share these experiences with other schools, galleries, artists and curators, and to hear from others who run learning programmes in and for schools and have interesting pedagogical approaches to engaging with art. The questions thrown up so far for us are around evidence-based practice vs innovation and the relationship between the two, taking an idea and planning for it to be scalable and be replicable, and how to capture outcomes in an effective, meaningful and timely way.
Schools in the RSA Family of Academies have a commitment to arts, culture and creativity – addressing the innate curiosity of children and developing confident and creative pupils through an entitlement to an education rich is arts, cultural and creative activities is a core part of what we are trying to achieve. Through a project such as this, it becomes one significant way in which we aim to deliver on our commitment, support the ambition for all our schools to become Artsmark schools and to encourage others to think, could this be a good thing for my school?
If you have suggestions about this project’s approach, would be interested in supporting it or if there’s a critical debate we could participate in, we would love to hear from you.
Starting from now we will begin to share our story, practice and (eventually) a resource pack with the aim of inspiring more contemporary art spaces in schools – which feel more vital than ever given the emphasis on ‘core academic subjects’, the reduction in the take up of arts subjects at GCSE, an increase in the number of pupils with mental health problems, and all the whilst living in a world where we have increasingly divisive politics on a national and global scale.
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Georgina Chatfield is programme manager for RSA Academies.