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On the Importance of Chatting and Eating

Submitted by Education on Wed, 03/09/2014 - 14:37

Back at the beginning of the school holidays, Rob S set the whole education team a ‘summer challenge’. Each of us were tasked with thinking about and researching an area of our programme that we could potentially develop. That was basically it. No other parameters. Blue sky thinking at its purest.

We got together to share our ideas about a month later, and they took the form of both projects and general approaches. They ranged from facilitating unforgettable immersive experiences, to partnering with our neighbouring architecture firm to deliver projects, to questioning our relevance to the community we live within, and considering what risk-taking might mean to us.

The next stage was to get valuable input from some of our artist educators. We were keen to hear what they thought of our ideas, whether they had any feedback and advice and, importantly, if they might be interested in working on projects like this.

Here at Bow Arts Education, we know that the way to an artist’s creative spark is via his or her stomach, so we set up a picnic to celebrate the end of summer and fuel the conversation. We deliberately invited people with different backgrounds and experiences to contribute: an artist who has recently retrained as a teacher, an ex-deputy head teacher and artist, an artist-in-residence at a local primary school, people who have worked with us as volunteers, and some of our more experienced educators.

We each facilitated discussions on our areas of focus which resulted in a few things; affirmations that we were onto something, surprising perspectives, and useful challenges to the rationales behind our ideas. I can’t say we came out of the picnic with fully-formed next steps, but we definitely gained further food for thought to continue to hone our emerging ideas. For example, I learnt about the Theory of Loose Parts and was surprised to hear that in a recent inspection, Ofsted were praising lessons in which risk-taking took place. And there are a few cross-cutting themes throughout our ideas - more child-led and co-created projects, working with and in response to environments, and supporting schools to be more ambitious to name but a few – which we were pleased that our lunchees were very enthusiastic about.

The picnic served another important purpose around exploring the different ways in which we can support our artists. The first forty five minutes were spent simply catching up and exploring common interests around and beyond Bow Arts. Such get togethers are testament to the small size of the world we operate in, and people had met before in other contexts or previously encountered each others’ work but failed to put a face to the name up until then. Lots of the picnickers reported that they had found the experience of having time to converse with others about what they feel passionately about, as well as having the opportunity to feed into programme developments at an early stage, energising and revitalising.

As well as our summer challenges, we are currently looking at our professional development offer for artists, a hot topic at the moment and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation ArtWorks initiative provides much interesting reading on how best to approach this. Our provision will include a formal programme of training built around the needs of emerging artist educators. We also want to organise more social and facilitated meet ups – like the picnic - for artists at all stages of their career to ensure peer-to-peer support takes place.

Food for bellies, food for thought. All in all, this looks set to be a busy and exciting year.