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“I have personally witnessed many times, the magic light up in the eyes of young people, when they realize what the combination of art & science can summon within them – you can see potential start to shine, when they realize that it is their own lives which are the materials for growth and self-realization.” Prof Helen Storey MBE RDI

Yesterday, RSA Academies and the Helen Storey Foundation launched a new project involving all five RSA academies called ‘Catalytic Teaching and Learning’.  Working with ‘catalysed’ items from the Helen Storey archive, sixty excited and enthusiastic students and guests gathered at Ipsley CE RSA Academy for the unveiling of the ‘Field of Jeans’ and the ‘Limb Bud Dress’. 

Field of Jeans

The Field of Jeans at Ipsley CE RSA Academy. Credit: DED

These garments have been treated with a special catalysing agent (titanium dioxide – the same chemical found in toothpaste), which does the incredible deed of purifying the air around it. Interestingly, this works particularly well on blue denim as this fabric has such a large surface area – in fact, a tennis court sized worth of catalytic potential. And the jeans as items themselves spark an interesting debate, considering they are such an everyday item and that the environment is increasingly now an everyday concern.

There are two Field of Jeans currently standing in the open air, one at Ipsley and the other at its ‘big sister’ school up the road, Arrow Vale RSA Academy. Over the next six months, the work will tour round all five RSA academies, taking on a new position and perspective in each location.

Photo credit: DED

The Field of Jeans at Arrow Vale RSA Academy. Credit: DED

And as for the teachers and students? Well, now the interesting work begins. Professor Helen Storey MBE RDI spoke honestly and reflectively at yesterday’s launch about her work as a social artist and fashion designer and set the tone about learning as she herself was keen to learn from the students the best ways she could communicate her work to young people.  

We were also joined by Jon Nicholls, Director of Art, Creativity and Communications at Thomas Tallis School in London who generously shared what they did at his school on a teacher training day in response to Catalytic Clothing. This was inspiring to teachers, who could see what had happened in another school, and inspiring for students to see their teachers as keen learners. Dr Elena Riva from Warwick University further provided us with the chemist’s insights, explaining the chemical processes at play which make the catalysing possible.

dress image

The Limb Bud Dress. Credit: Pete Marples

So what’s the point of it all?  It’s manifold. The spaces the jeans and dress are occupying are considered to be unchanging, functional and ordinary, though now they are transformed and contain surprising, unexpected objects. On closer reading and inspection, they are also objects with a very interesting story to tell. They provide the starting the point for something imaginative. And when imagination gets involved the potential is endless. The work provides a fusion of science, art, design, innovation – you could go on.  It encourages interdisciplinary thinking and possibilities. 

It shows the power of creativity. Helen’s background is in fashion, but through exploring areas of personal interest, like biology, human development and climate change, and being open to working with others, it shows a process whereby amazing, new ideas come to life. A crucial part of this collaboration process is the need to take risks.  Helen said it is only by failing that you truly know yourself and what you are capable of because it is at these times that you find your inner strength and depth. Risk taking is fraught with possible failure. Helen also said to work out what problems are worth solving then approach them totally differently.

It shows the fine balance of creativity and commerciality.  Astonishingly, this catalyst is not commercial. The multinational marketeers don’t know how you market something that is essentially altruistic as the benefit of purified air is felt most by the person in your wake. Discuss.

Arrow Vale jeans

The Field of Jeans at Arrow Vale RSA Academy. Credit: DED

Students from Ipsley, Arrow Vale, Holyhead and RSA Academy in Tipton also participated in an afternoon’s workshop that wove together the themes of the Field of Jeans and the Limb Bud Dress. These newly charged ambassadors left with a mind map of ideas, a stream of projects that could take place in their schools and the anticipation of telling their friends what they had seen. We’ve been left with a challenge too by Helen and Jon – how to systematically support this way of learning. 

I could actually listen to Helen speak all day. Every sentence she said was loaded with thought provocation, intellect and wisdom. We’ve had the privilege of this inspiration, it’s now over to us.

And as for the title, ‘nobody’s afraid of a frock’? It is incredible what you can do with creativity and a purpose, please meet a dress 4 our time


with thanks to Helen Storey, Caroline Coates, Jon Nicholls, Susan Ibreck, Elena Riva and the staff and students at the RSA academies.


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