“Creativity is contagious, pass it on” - Albert Einstein
As a kid I always loved art. It was a chance to get lost in daydreams, play with new materials or create something I felt proud of. The benefits of art education (for young children especially) are multiple and significant. As well as promoting creativity and enabling them to have some fun, it improves other basic but important things like hand-eye coordination, dexterity, overall well-being and self-expression, which can prevent children from acting out.
In 2013 I set up a social enterprise called Cool it Art because I wanted to give back to my local community. I have been involved in Community Art for 7 years, working my way up from a student mentor in the 2nd year of my degree at City & Guilds of London Art school, to working as Artist in residence at variety of Schools and as Project Lead for Art events at ZSL London Zoo, Clarence house and Kew Gardens to name but a few. I felt it was extremely important to pay it forward with the art education I received as no child chooses the circumstances they are born into - Cool it Art is very much about leveling the playing field.
I saw the need for free art activities because funding has been cut across the board for the Arts, especially in schools. The London Borough of Lambeth (where we’re set up), has the 6th highest rate of child poverty, so parents simply can’t afford creative sessions for their children. Cool it Art aims to fill this gap by providing free art opportunities such as Pop up Art Schools and other stand-alone projects for the general public to engage with, though our core activity is providing free art classes for 3-12 year olds in the Lambeth area.
So far the project has been a massive learning curve. I was awarded my first funding through Well London back in June 2013 to work on the Vauxhall Gardens Estate, providing a taster of the year-long classes I was planning on running. In the beginning, it was very difficult to engage with residents - there was a distinct sense of mistrust (which there often is with new local initiatives). At first no one came at all but much like one of my favourite quotes, “Nothing in this world worth having comes easy”.
By walking the streets of the Estate for hours on end, talking to people, trying to ignite that spark of interest and never giving up, we eventually had 2 children turn up, then more trickled in until eventually, we reached the point we are at today - working with over 70 children. We have created not just community cohesion, but a sense of family; parents have made new friends within the group which has been fantastic, and I even end up going to the kids’ birthday parties.
Nearly all of our sessions focus on creating projects out of household junk - not only because it is inexpensive and anyone can do it, but it also breaks down the barriers and any fear around creating. Children are far less precious about exploring art if they have non-conventional materials as they don’t place the same restraints on themselves - we can all be our own worst critics from time to time!
Within Cool it Art, not only are there the art classes, pop up art schools and other projects to get involved in, but I also create teaching packs which can be found on the website and used for free, so even if you can’t come to the classes you can still take part. Cool it Art, to me, is the start of a creative revolution making art accessible to all.
Please help us to inspire children through art and develop its practice through supporting the Kickstarter campaign to keep the classes going for the next academic year. Cool it Art needs you!
Amanda Callis FRSA joined the network last year as part of the Centenary Young Fellows programme. She set up Cool it Art in 2013 and is currently running an RSA supported Kickstarter to ensure the classes can continue to run in 2015/16 alongside the academic year.