Teaching Artists gathering

Recently ArtPlay convened a meeting for some of their regular artists – performers and makers who lead workshops for children at ArtPlay in a whole range of arts disciplines. The meeting was the first of several to take place this year, and the grand idea is to share ideas and thoughts on practice – how and why we do what we do, to start to identify and unpack the transferable knowledge between different arts disciplines, and that which is common to all disciplines. Different projects and practice will be offered as examples for commentary and critiquing throughout the year.

I think that all of us present were adamant about how valuable this gathering was. ‘Teaching Artistry’ (for want of a better descriptor) is something of an invisible artform – usually it is an adjunct to a more public audience-based practice, and frequently (because the work usually involves children) it holds a much lesser status than the ‘real work’ of the professional on their own. Those of us working in the area as a substantial part of our arts practice often do so somewhat in isolation, rarely getting to see the work that other people do. This series of meetings is a chance to hone, refine, develop and extend our arts practice as it exists in collaboration with young people and communities.

Everyone introduced themselves and it was interesting to hear the words that people used. Again, this is an area of arts practice that can be hard to label. My colleague Rebecca laughed as she admitted that her description of what it is that she does tends to change every day! I liked Simon’s explanation – he said that collaboration was a key characteristic for him, that his work exists in  collaborative environments. This is something that is also true for me. Simon also talked about his commitment to “empowering kids… raising the status of their work”, and of his enduring interest in what it is that happens when artists work across communities. “I believe artists are an essential part of the community, we have a role to play, we need to be there.” (I’m paraphrasing here, I hope I got the gist of his words right). Lastly, he admitted that he has realised that “this” (teaching artistry, collaborative projects, as opposed to artmaking on his own, eg. painting) is his artform, and that he needs to keep reminding himself of this. That is has taken him time to learn this.

The gathering finished with a bit of Sir Ken Robinson, who may well say the same things every time he speaks, but they are such damn fine things that he says, and are so valuable to listen to again and again, to be reminded of them. This is the quote that I wrote down:

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, then you’ll never come up with anything original.

Place that alongside the context of the performative (ie. test-driven and report-ridden) conservative culture of our schools today, and it rings alarmingly true.

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2 comments so far

  1. Fran on

    As a sole music specialist at my school I often feel isolated in terms of dealing with all the contextual layers specific to the arts,when the focus is on literacy and numeracy and standardised tests. More often than not, music is squeezed out to accommodate all the other curriculum demands. Just last week my 45min senior choir time after lunch was scrapped and now I have to take it at lunch time. However reading Sir Ken robinson’s book is a revelation and hearing him speak on the 7.30 report last year was inspiring.

    • musicwork on

      I haven’t read Sir Ken’s book but it will soon be added to the night-stand. These are not always easy times to be a music or arts specialist in a school, it’s true. So many whole-school or departmental decisions can undermine the value and importance of what we do. Links between music and literacy for example… how can a focus on literacy not include music-making and music-learning, which establishes the coding and decoding processing skills that are such core part of literacy? Lunchtime choir is also hard work – that happened to me at Pelican PS this year and the numbers have dropped significantly. All power to you in continuing to foster a love and connection with music in your pupils, and in advocating its importance to your colleagues.


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