Start date: September 2019 - Ongoing
Tell us about your project?
Schools of Tomorrow is a three-year action research project funded by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation. There are seven primary schools and one nursery involved (Edna G. Olds, Huntingdon, Jubilee and Milford Academies; Melbury, Robin Hood and Southwold Primary Schools and Nottingham Nursery School). Each school has an artist in residence for one day a week for the three years. So it’s in-depth and intensive. It’s about the artists and the teachers exploring creative practice, finding new ways of working together. We’re interested in building core skills for learning - thinking skills, collaboration, reflection – through encouraging open-ended artistic enquiry. We are working with teachers to develop enquiry questions that respond to school priorities and plans and then the children will shape this; we’re trying to respond to their interests and questions and build the projects from there.
There are six artists in the core group. Each school has got their own assigned artist but the artists also meet to share ideas, and so do the key teachers from the eight schools. We are building an Operational Group to help make connections and collaborations across the schools and a Steering Group to keep an eye on the bigger picture, whole school and sector level developments. Before the project started we had an 18 month long development process working with partner schools. We want to build on and deepen partnerships between Nottingham Contemporary and schools.
Young people are built into the design. Each school has a Creative Hub and students who are Arts Ambassadors. The Creative Hub might be a physical space, such as a gallery, or something more temporary. But it can also be a conceptual space. The Arts Ambassadors are responsible for helping to programme the school’s use of the space. They work alongside the artist to shape the programmme for their school.
Also, each year we’ll have a sharing event at the Contemporary – a conference, with exhibitions and workshops. Young people from the schools will have a period of residency at the Contemporary before the conference to help them get involved in programming the conference activities and thinking about how their own Creative Hubs can work in school.
What excites you most about this project?
We’re exploring really different - long term, embedded - ways of working with these partner schools. We want to see what’s possible if we work collaboratively and explore ideas together over time.
We’ve been working with some of these partner schools for about 10 years now, generally in pretty similar ways: gallery visits, workshops and in school. This is a different way of working for both artists and teachers. The artists are fully embedded in the life of the school, rather than just coming in to run sessions or act as consultants. We hope, as the project goes on, that the young people and the teachers will start to use Nottingham Contemporary differently – the space and the resources – to develop for their own creative hubs and ideas.
What have you learnt so far?
We’ve learnt how quickly staff can change in school! That it’s easy to be pulled in different directions. That we need to keep the focus clear. Also, that key individuals are really important. A university professor helped us a lot with the design of the project and with reading material and provided professional development for the teachers and artists. Key teachers have been very important in getting things going in school with the artists. Key artists have been important in sharing practice and developing the reflection processes.
It’s a unique opportunity to work with schools over a sustained period, to form different kinds of relationships and really push and interrogate our practices, so we’ll be making the most of it! We’re looking forward to sharing and reflecting on what we learn along the way with others and to being part of conversations across the city around creativity, partnerships and the role of galleries and artists in schools.
How has the project been affected by Covid-19 and the lockdown?
[May 2020] It’s been put on pause really, but we’ll definitely continue with it. When the virus first hit, we focused on developing digital resources using our own website and the platforms the schools use to communicate with families. At the moment most of the staff team are furloughed. But we’re starting conversations about how, when it starts up again, the project can change emphasis slightly to be more focused on care, nurture and wellbeing. Creativity can help with the healing.
Have you tried new ways of collaborating on this project?
Yes, we’re pushing existing strong relationships to see how we can work differently. We want to understand more about how to develop deep and sustainable partnerships with schools, and really creative partnerships between teachers and artists.
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