We met up last week with two old friends, Jack and Mike. ‘Old’ is a relative term in this context, since Jack and Mike are barely into their 20s. But they first worked with us way back in 2006, when they were secondary school students contributing to our Einstein’s Dreams project. When we say ‘contributed’, we mean it: Jack created bespoke stop-motion animation for the piece, while Mike among other things created a wonderful photo montage. Both creations were key parts of the piece and both lads, along with several of their peers, worked alongside our professional creative team to devise and troubleshoot key elements of the work.
Five years later, both lads are deep into their university studies, Jack at Bristol and Mike in Australia. What was so heartening was to hear how excited and inventive they remain about pursuing a life in the creative universe….this despite austerity, a perceived devaluing of arts-led work specifically, and questionable economic prospects more generally. Thing is, they know all of this; and yet, they’re determined to push forward with their ideas and energy.
We will keep in touch with Jack and Mike as they move from uni into the working world. Collaborators with us in the past, we surely want them as collaborators in the future…whatever that may be.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of listening to 13 presentations, in pecha-kucha format, from some of the most interesting and innovative arts-based companies in London. This was part of A New Direction’s programme “The Biggest Learning Opportunity on Earth,” already mentioned in our blogs. The workshop was held in the View Tube, a space overlooking the shell of the new Olympic Stadium. I was concerned that it might be hard to keep my focus in the room especially as £16,000,000 of steel was literally being put up before my very eyes. How wrong I was.
The day was a constant stream of ideas, dynamic in their range and scope, as well as an opportunity to collect other people’s insights whilst sharing my own feedback. I was introduced to projects that had puppets from another planet, giant sculptures made from recycled materials, clay collected from around the globe, immersive theatre, site-specific ideas using the body as a site, I even found out Arnold Schwarzenegger trained in Canning Town. Who knew presentations and networking could be so playful!
Being a cultural producer in a crowded market, and in an even more crowded city, sometimes feels like a very competitive place to be. But yesterday was a healthy reminder that open, honest, dialogue with organisations working with the same aims (and the chasing same pots of money) is an essential part of our creative process. It enable ideas to grow, it leads us into uncharted territory and encourages us to be a little bolder, as well as challenging ‘baggy’ ideas. It’s also fun. Walking back to the DLR, past the stadium, I was once again overwhelmed by the magnitude and scale of the Olympic site. I wondered to myself: what would happen if all the arts companies working with young people in Camden decided to come together on one project, all the arts companies in Leeds or Edinburgh or the South West, etc? What could it mean? What could it achieve?
In that spirit of sharing, here are the details of two brilliant organisations who work with young people to make accessible architectural and design procedures in building, and who are also our partners on The Biggest Learning Opportunity on Earth. Please have a look at what they are up to.
Fundamental Architectural Inclusion is an architecture centre that seeks new ways of communities to participate in the transformation of their neighbourhood.
Rolling Sound creates and runs multi-media courses. Their design courses are being used by young people to create plans and designs as if they were planning their very own public monuments.
You might argue that everything that 4-year-olds do is site-responsive: what do any of us do at that age but respond, viscerally and playfully, to the world as we find it? And at that tender age, we have no particular concerns about health and safety, no worries about risk assessments (not even by instinct, yet), no concerns about whether or not our work will withstand aesthetic meta-interpretation. As has been said before (and probably more eloquently), those are the days in which we inhabit a kind of creative Eden, unaware that adulthood will soon gradually erect fences of inhibition that we will then spend the rest of our lives hiding behind and, if we’re both brave and lucky, gradually tearing down so that we can return to the place we started from.
None of this new, none of it Earth-shattering. Still, finishing up a lovely project with little tykes this week–focused on creating narrative and story in non-traditional school spaces–reminded me just how rewarding it can be to put oneself in this kind of headspace. Over a period of weeks, the children and I created a sequel to that children’s classic ‘Room on the Broom’, in which we asked lots of questions about what might have happened next…after the icky mud monster had scared off the red dragon, after the witch and the cat and the dog and the frog and the bird magicked up a deluxe broom and whooshed off into the moon-set. It was easy work for me: I just laughed a lot, asked loads of questions, and let the children do the rest.
The result? The Witches of the Mall and the Silly Dragon Family (cousins of the scary one…a bit of black sheep, he, as it turns out) travel to the London Eye, China and ultimately to the beach for a picnic, where they find that a group of pirates has stolen the water and sand (a beautiful, unconscious metaphor for climate change). The witches and dragons work together to get them back and then fly back home to their safe homes and warm beds. In their outdoor play space, using a few ‘found’ props and some sweeps of colourful chiffon discovered in a store room, we created these worlds and their journey. The children weren’t done, though, as they spun off even more sequels involving caves, castles, robots, trains, police cars and fire engines…you get the picture.
If anyone ever manages to harness and focus the creative power of little children as a tool for social change, folks like us would be out of business. That’s a thought I don’t mind very much. As the man once sang, what a wonderful world it would be.