Sunday 30 September 2012

Tony Benn on art and work

I read the following text today in the latest edition of the Tate magazine. The piece is a discussion between Barbara Steveni and Tony Benn about his role in helping to establish the Artist Placement Group (APG) in the early 1970s. The group sought to position artists in large organisations, in industry, the health service and in government.

In response to a question from Steveni about why Benn was interested in lending his support to the APG he has the following to say:

"I believe that the really interesting things in life are when two disciplines interact. I don't believe in breaking people up into little sections. I think everyone has an artistic, an administrative and a creative talent, just as they have a destructive and bureaucratic capacity. What you did with the APG was to bring out these aspects in everybody. I think society finds it easier and more convenient to maintain the hierarchies so that nobody gets out of their place. It's designed to keep us in our place by using words we don't normally use and making us feel inadequate. I think what you've done is to break down the barriers."

I love several things about these observations, primarily Benn's commitment to the value of the arts in ordinary life and his understanding of the need to facilitate inter-disciplinary conversations. Having seen a fairly impenetrable exhibition in a contemporary art gallery today, the arts are as to blame as any other institution for reinforcing the separation between artists and non artists through technical language (jargon) and modes of production and display.

However, Benn's words also seem to me to be a powerful argument for the importance of artists (and other creative practitioners) playing a role in articulating the tensions, opportunities and energies present in all places of work. There have been several initiatives like the APG, Creative Partnerships being just one example. Imagine how exciting it would be if every workplace had its own artist in residence. It's clearly an idea supported by the current government since Eton College has at least four artists in residence working with the school at any one time.

Isn't it time that all schools (and other places of work) had the same resource at their disposal?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

An alternative curriculum

As part of the Hayward Gallery's Wide Open School in July 2012 members of the Huddle, the Southbank Centre's young people's group, worked with artist Yara El-Sherbini to come up with an alternative syllabus. Exploring important life lessons you can't take a class in -- how to avoid people you know on the bus, how to believe in government, how to stop comparing yourself to people you went to school with -- the Huddle staged an intervention in the Royal Festival Hall, taking over the public announcement system to ask the public what they thought. 

This would be a fantastic cross-curricular project to undertake in school, drawing on the experiences of young people and their curiosity about life and learning. Like cultural institutions, schools are equipped with public address systems, bells that tell you you where to go and when, a programme of activities and a team of backroom and front of house staff. Wouldn't it be interesting to try to disrupt this system of activities, roles and responsibilities, even for just one day, to reawaken our curiosity and love of learning?

Sunday 16 September 2012

Pif Paf: creative computer science from Al Ma on Vimeo.

 When we decided that the school uniform needed refreshing we could have adopted two different strategies:
  1. decide on an off-the-shelf solution from known suppliers and not worry too much about the design or the ethical or environmental impact of the production process
  2. establish a student led design group to work with a qualified designer experienced in ethical fashion to create a bespoke solution
Obviously, we decided on the second strategy and we were lucky enough to work with the fabulous Alina Moat, a recent graduate from the Centre for Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion. She came highly recommended by the equally fabulous Professor Helen Storey with whom we have been on a number of creative learning adventures. The entire project is documented on this blog.

Alina recently visited our new building to see the students wearing her designs. It was lovely to see how pleased she was with the end result of the project and we are equally proud of the fact that our students are wearing clothes that are genuinely sustainable and distinct. Alina's real reason for visiting however was to tell us about her latest design project and to ask whether we would be interested in collaborating with her. Entitled Pif Paf, the project aims to teach young people how to use programming software by employing a number of creative learning strategies.The video above describes succinctly how a playful combination of physical, emotional and intellectual enquiry results in students mastering complex processes.

We are hopeful that we can support the next phase of the project, testing the model with a class of Year 7 students over several months as part of our Tallis Lab curriculum. We are very excited about the potential of working alongside Alina again on such an innovative solution to the issue of rebooting computer science education in the UK.