Evaluation is a crucial part of all of our Circuit work here at the Whitworth. There will be a series of posts about the kinds of evaluation we do from the young people delivering it and professionals supporting them.
Hey, I’m Jo.
I first joined Whitworth Young Contemporaries back at the start of summer 2014, after leaving Manchester School of Art. I thought it sounded like a unique opportunity to gain some experience of putting on creative events and also a way to integrate myself into the local community a bit more, after the student bubble had well and truly been burst. It’s weird to think it’s only been 8 months since I joined the group. Despite us being somewhat homeless with the gallery being closed, it feels like I’ve been a part of the WYC family for much longer. After just completing our first showcase as part of the gallery’s grand reopening weekend, I feel pretty proud of everything we have managed to achieve together during this nomadic time.
One of my main roles within WYC has been acting as a ‘Young Evaluator’. Now I must admit, when I dreamt of working in creative events I had mainly imagined building installations, booking artists and creating visuals – e.g generally having a great old time doing all the arty/fun stuff. What hadn’t entered my head was how exactly these events come to be, where the money comes from (if they are to be free and all-inclusive for young people) and what the requirements are to release that funding: ultimately the nitty-gritty stuff that makes it possible to do it all in the first place.
So, whilst I have been able to participate in the creative side, what I am learning as a Young Evaluator is invaluable information about all the necessary behind-the-scenes stuff that forms the backbone of projects such Circuit. Therefore, despite ‘Young Evaluator’ not sounding like the most glamorous/ electrifying role within the programme, it has given me an important insight into the reality of how such worthwhile projects actually run – which is what makes all the background stuff worth it.
To give you a brief overview – the role of Young Evaluators is to gather feedback and reflect on events held both by WYC and the other Circuit groups around the country all with the support of our Critical Friend Roz Hall. It is our job to measure the events successes, identify their failures and ultimately enable ourselves as a programme to collectively develop the most effective strategy to engage young people & give them the best experience we possibly can. As well as meeting locally, we also attend national meetings to share ideas and to discuss and debate the programme’s progress.
The biggest challenge as Young Evaluators is to find interesting, yet thorough ways to evaluate. It is vital for funding to gather information from those attending our events. However, the cold hard truth remains that nobody enjoys filling out pages-upon-pages of questionnaires. Being approached with a clipboard sends most people into a cold sweat and – being brutally honest – the word ‘evaluation’ is generally followed by rolled eyes and a sigh of disappointment. The difficulty is that we are working so hard to change young people’s perceptions of galleries being boring, educational institutions and ideally we wouldn’t want those enjoying themselves at our events to have to stop and fill out information on what qualifications they have or if their parents ever went to university. It kind of undermines our whole aim!
We are working on ways that evaluation can be done in a more exciting, interactive way at our events. That’s why I have enjoyed our latest assignment as Young Evaluators – to produce a film documenting the views of young people from the local community and their experience of our showcase at the Whitworth’s grand reopening. I would probably never have thought of film as an evaluation tool before, but since working on the project I have understood just how valuable a tool it is for this purpose. It not only captures people’s opinions but it creates a portrait of those individuals themselves and for me this is what makes things interesting. As opposed to a faceless name on the top of a sheet, it is a personal journey – a real story.
The assignment has been a collaboration with Belle Vue, a Manchester-based production company. For the last few weeks, we have been going out into the local community and recording the views of young people – outside of WYC – about The Whitworth & galleries in general. We began with all four members of the Young Evaluators researching film styles that they liked. We then picked out what filming/interview techniques could work for us and began to piece together how the film may be structured. We felt quite strongly that we wanted the audience to really get to know the stories and characters of the people in it and therefore to decided to follow a maximum of 3 young people.
The next step was to go on the hunt for our victims! We listed a number of casting locations but settled on a local park, a youth group in Moss Side and a college that is 5 minutes walk down the road from the gallery. Unfortunately outdoor location + winter in Manchester meant extreme weather spoiled our hopes of filming at the park (probably should have foreseen that one). Luckily the other two (indoor) locations were much more successful and there we spoke to lots of young people and had some really interesting, frank conversations with them about galleries and the Whitworth. We decided to follow up with Sophie & Fatima, students from Xaverian College in Rusholme (a stone’s throw from the gallery) and Monet, from Kemoy Walker’s ‘Shout Out’ youth group based at Powerhouse in nearby Moss Side.
We selected each of the three girls as they all had very different reasons for not visiting the gallery. We wanted to do our more in-depth interviews in places that meant something to each of them. We began by filming Sophie in her Art Foundation studio at Xaverian, then with Fatima in her hometown of Chorlton and finally with Monet at her home in Moss Side. We then invited all three to attend our slot at the gallery’s reopening weekend and documented their experience of the event.
We have now arrived at the editing stage of the film, which is the bit I have been looking forward to the most. Up to now I have taken on the more practical role of a producer, so I’m looking forward to getting involved in the creative side and to build on my knowledge of film editing software. We really want the film to be informative but also to look good and feel professional. We have already been taught how to properly log all of our footage (something I didn’t know before), by categorising the subject & style of shot and transcribing each word to begin to piece together the story for the audience. As a group we are going to get to grips with Adobe Premiere, as part of a workshop arranged by our mentor Sally.
Aside from the technical skills I am learning, I think the biggest benefit of producing our film has definitely been gaining confidence in making that first approach. I guess I have always been a little apprehensive about filming or photographing people I didn’t know as I thought they would be reluctant to be involved. However, I have learnt that if you can approach them in the right way this isn’t always the case. The same goes for learning how to conduct interviews. I really like documentary-style filmmaking so it has been useful to learn the way to structure your interview questions in order to get the right answers. Documentary filmmaking is so much about making people feel comfortable, which is something I hadn’t really considered before working on this assignment. I have always loved short films and I am really looking forward to exploring filmmaking more in my own work after completing this assignment.
For those of you that see the film, I really hope the outcome of our hard work will pay off and give a real insight into the relationship young people have with art galleries & the Whitworth. Through the eyes of three very different individuals, I hope it tells you a story.