Wednesday 29 September 2010

Bright Space beyond creative partnerships

My workshed is coming on a pace now.  I've already spent a fair bit of time on it, and temptation is, in present economic climate, to spend a lot more time in there, head down and get on with work, while all the cuts hit.  Bright Space, the organisation I've worked with a fair bit, which 'promotes brighter futures for young people through arts and culture' is one of countless organisations in Birmingham under threat at the moment.

More than a decade ago, I started an organisation with a few friends, 'Birmingham Lives' - celebrating the lives of older people in Birmingham. At it's zenith, in 2003, I think we had a dozen members, including our cat, Poppy. I can't remember how many meetings we had - it wasn't many. Me and Poppy were the most regular attendees, but the existence of an 'organisation' opened up opportunities for funding, and, for a time, we did quite well.

The end of the Millennium was a good time for oral history based intergenerational projects. Carl Chinn opened our first exhibition, and shortly after began his own, much bigger, Birmingham Lives Archives. Chris Upton, academic, local historian and writer for Birmingham Post was fantastic in supporting our modest contribution to local history, and the more important work of valuing the lives of young and old in Birmingham, but as time went on, funding became harder to come by and people started to move on.

My first experience of Creative Partnerships in Birmingham, to become Bright Space in 2008, was an invite to Marie's house, the then creative director, for xmas meal 2004 with Nikki.  I remember having a long chat with Katy Aquaye-Tonge, and it was then I decided I'd start looking out for opportunities to work with CP.  In 2005 I worked with the Quinzone 'Associate CP' Cluster (Qunizone Action Zone is another org likely to disappear soon) and Birmingham archives on two projects - the Ballad of Baskerville with John H-D and 'Playground games' with Worlds End Infants, Graham Langley and John H-D.

Since then I had the best training experience ever with Vivien Hampson to become a creative agent, working under a number of talented creative directors - Rob Elkington, Lesley Green and now Deborah Kermode.  Being part of the 'family', supporting each other, we deliver some really exciting work with young people, sharing our experiences to make for a better future.  Working for Bright Space has been a life changing experience, for me personally, developing my practice and influencing the lives of other creative practitioners, teachers, and of course, young people.  We have, right now, one of the most extensive networks of teachers, creative practitioners, and others interested in working creatively with young people in the West Midlands.   We are highly experienced in delivery of a range of diverse creative activities.  We are best positioned to champion creativity in our region.

It would be easy to go our own ways, keep our heads down, get on with things - afterall, we all need to earn a living.  But if we don't get out there, promote the work we (Bright Space and all the other endangered creatives) are doing, stick together, share experiences, develop our community, what are we saying about the future for young people?

Sunday 26 September 2010

Don't let the bankers get you down

I've just received a letter from Birmingham City Council announcing a doubling of allotment costs to £40 a year.  We will carry on, and in the grand scheme of cuts and so on, will largely go unnoticed.  Costs haven't doubled in the year since the last rise.  I guess, if anyone was bothered, the right wing press would have broke news days before like, 'Winging middle-class allotment holders don't dig over plots', or 'Lousy layabouts need to pay more'.  But what about encouraging healthy living? People on low incomes encouraged to feed themselves cheaply?

A little earlier I had a chat with a Tory relative about pensions, public sector cuts, so on, and got the 'Well you've got to realise there's a pot of only so much money, and we can't keep paying out more than there is' argument.  Thing is, if there's only a small pot, why is it the bankers always seem to get first dibs?  If you think it's complicated and hard to understand, it really isn't - try here.

It's a recession - recession hits everyone?  So how come sales in luxury goods are up? (try googling luxury goods boom)  Why is there a worldwide boom in yacht sales and luxury cars?  It's pretty clear those with bags of money are picking up the bargains, and those with a little less money are squeezing those with less, and so on (the trickle down effect), so those who are poorest, with least are paying the most.  And what is the government doing?  Protecting the most vulnerable?  Nope.  Cutting services and raising taxes for the poorest, while at the same time cutting taxes for the richest.

If it make's you mad too, try Tony Benn's Coalition of Restistance, try listening to Divine Comedy 'Complete Banker'.  It's not going to end allotment cost hikes, but maybe we should try to protect those who most need it.
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Saturday 11 September 2010

Pompidou's lady in a black dress

Only one day in Paris - Arthur wants to go up the Eiffel Tower, Jago wants to go on a boat, Freya wants to do steps, Nikki wants to go to an art gallery. I'm not sure, but Pompidou Centre seems like a good place to start.

Starting from the top. working way down, we spend the next three hours there.  Escalators popular, films great, giant moving beanbag is it art?  Too much for any 18 month old, and have to admit I wanted to jump on it too.  The thing that most entertains children was a series of silent movie type films where lady in burqa does unlikely things, like water skiing, ice skating, sunbathing.  Reminds me of Heard and not Seen.

I ask Arthur what it is and why it's funny.  'It's a woman in a black dress being funny'.  It's not like he hasn't see a burqa before and, thanks to his primary, his knowledge of religion is better than mine including why muslim women wear burqas.  Jago adds, 'She's so funny when she picks up the fruit' [one of which is a phone]  Why it is a little uncomfortable for me and Nikki to watch?  They just sit there and watch the three screens looping the ludicrous lady in a black dress.

On the first floor there is the children's area.  Kawamata has been making a cardboard city with children.  Actually the cities made for 'Faces and Places' project with Taryn Coxall run by Birmingham Archives and Heritage were superior in both quality and apparently depth of experience.  Sadly, as no Kawamata, children can't add their own building.  So lots of scissors and carboard, can't make anything.   Shame adults can't have a go too.

For families Pompidou was definitely an improvement on Eugene Boudin in Honfleur.  We were being followed there by security to ensure no loudness or other distractions for art experience of all.  Even in the enlightened Pompidou, you've got to ask why do art galleries find families so hard?

Friday 10 September 2010

Net works or networks in Frankley

In 2007, we had just completed training as the first cohort of Creative Agents at Bright Space.  Holly Hill Church School had funding to prepare for their Change application and for us to trial our new creative agent roles - I took more the role of the creative agent at Reaside, and Juliet Raynsford was more the creative agent at Holly Hill, although both of us shared roles.

Juliet’s specialism matched Reaside’s drama interest, becoming an enquiry on ‘How can drama change the world?’. At Holly Hill they were interested in developing and supporting the wider school community with no fixed media. This became ‘What makes School?

At Holly Hill, we started working with the school council. Previous council minutes were dominated by school dinners, which seemed like a natural starting point. Inspired partly by the work of Stan’s Cafe in a local primary, we started to ‘make school’ out of school dinner. We explored archives, made our own bricks from clay in the playground, experimented with cakes and other materials before creating an art installation made entirely from bits and pieces brought in or found in the school.

There were difficulties, and although a number of creative partnership projects had run at Holly Hill previously, this appeared to be the first attempt at a ‘whole school’ creative project. The groundwork had been done for our ‘Change Programme’ and although over the next year we worked mainly outdoors, our area of focus did not change. We were interested in promoting creativity across the whole school, to support and develop more general social skills, and look to the wider school, Frankley and Birmingham communities.

In those early tendering, real paper database days, I contacted a few people we thought would be good, and introduced them to the staff on a staff training day. Everyone liked each other, and itching to get going with the work, we arranged a visit to the wonderful Bishops Wood Forest School Centre with staff, parents and children, in what was to be a fabulous start to avery productive year, working with Sarah Jenkinson, Gillian Twaite, Marcella Erskine & Nick Williams. The real find of the year turned out to be on the doorstep - 100 yds away was the ancient Balaam Wood, previously unknown to most of the staff, and apparently never before ventured into with children.

The end of the year came suddenly, and so ended the funding from Creative Partnerships.  There was no opportunity to continue with CP. The project had been a wonderful creative adventure for all involved, but where was the embedding of practice? How could we continue? Caroline Proctor found additional funding to carry on. Initially the nursery and music specialist teacher employed Marcella to continue weekly music workshops and related CPD. Then in Spring funding and time was found to work on ‘Our Community’ - a project I had suggested, and was invited to come back as creative practitioner to deliver.

For ‘Our Community’ I had grand plans of involving parents, community leaders, local organisations, everyone in school in a project working mainly outside school, supported by digital media. I don’t think I’d properly considered we would be working with a tenth of a change school budget, or indeed that although I felt digital and social media would really help, I don’t think anyone else did.

For initial research I googled Frankley, and found ‘Frankley Travelodge’ top of the list, followed by houses for sale, more ‘Travelodge’ references, ‘Frankleytalk’ - a local schools podcasting site set up with previous CP funding, the parish council site, a local businesses site claiming ‘Frankley is much more than just a motorway service station’, and Frankley Library site.

Initially I contacted Podnosh, responsible for Frankleytalk, thinking this could be the start of
something interesting. Over the course of the month or so I was inputting to the site, I watch it steadily move from tenth to first on the ‘Frankley Birmingham’ google-o-meter. Looking back I
should have taken more notice that Frankleytalk had ceased to be used for nearly two years,
and that the low number of visits to any Frankley websites meant that my usage of ‘Frankleytalk’
was probably the sole reason for its rise in popularity. This, my first experiment in blogging, was useful to me, but probably not to anyone else in Frankley.

I had, however, made contact with a number of different community partners, and the
workshops included visits to Frankley Library, Frankley City Learning Centre, and several visits
back to Balaam Wood supported by the Park Ranger service, Adam Bates from OPAL, Nick
Williams and the wonderful Friends of Balaam Wood. For me it was great to see connections
made in the previous year being developed. Teaching staff regularly use Balaam Wood
creatively for a range of different curricula areas and year groups. The Library were renewing
links with teaching staff and children, and the City Of Learning Centre developed further
work with Holly Hill after our visit. We had, of course, other outcomes, including the creation
of ‘Steve the Colourmaker’ - a giant collaborative chalk silhouette artwork outside the school
(see chalk images above), and created a lovely home for Steve and cutouts of all the chalk monsters made from silhouettes in Balaam Wood. We also had a lot of fun and achieved a number of learning objectives too.

Maybe digital networking hasn’t worked here, but the contacts and networks made through Holly
Hill’s Change Year have made a big difference and continue. Although Creative Partnership's funding ceased over a year ago now, a creative philosophy and practice continues at Holly Hill. The hard work of staff, parents and children at Holly Hill, together with their community will maintain outstanding creative practice.
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Tuesday 7 September 2010

CA networking day

As promised, below is how we grouped our schools.  We were not all there, many schools and conversations not started and complexities of grouping schools, it is an incomplete picture - more of snapshot.

Great to see you all and catch up a bit, and here's hoping you had good summer holidays.  Looking forward to seeing you all soon.

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