Breaking It Down

Whilst we luxuriate in the biggest privilege of all, freedom to construct a creative learning environment minus the constraints of a curriculum or results-related pay, we still have so much to learn from the formal education sector.

Colleagues presented me with a plan for a workshop recently, which really took me back to my time as an artist educator. Often, I would vision a workshop in the middle of the night or in the bath, growing it over a period of time until I could walk through the whole experience, confident in the creative journey. But it can be useful to get another take on ideas, to consider them afresh, with our audience foremost in our mind. So I asked some questions: What did we know about the particular young people attending the workshop? What might their prior knowledge of and attitude towards the subject be? Would they recognize certain concepts and codes, including the language employed?

Art workshop

Looking back, there were two turning points. Firstly, the need to differentiate the workshop – standard classroom practice – but are we, as gallery educators and artists, always prepared to work with a spectrum of individuals? Whilst, arguably, artistic practice has readiness for any situation embedded in it’s spirit, that’s not the same as designing and facilitating for difference, readily adapting for those who may not want to be part of a group, those who cannot write, those who don’t what to sit still or talk up and, perhaps, using that tension. If we are soliciting young people’s engagement then what are we offering in return? Do we prepare ourselves for barter?

The second turning point felt just as fundamental if a little more fun. Rather than talking the group through the project, we made it into a game. Again, not a revelatory approach; learning theory is old friends with the importance of play. But with a simple twist, we broke down the project into a menu of ingredients and enthusiastically mimed stirring them up. Turning a concept into a visual puzzle, which everyone could contribute to felt good. Humour in our planning was bound to resonate on the day.

It made me realize that whilst we luxuriate in the biggest privilege of all, freedom to construct a creative learning environment minus the constraints of results-related pay or a curriculum, we still have so much to learn from the formal education sector. Lets not waste that luxury.

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