It’s a YAASS from us: the project that empowered young people by exhibiting their work alongside famous artists

Date Created: 25th Feb 2019

Scarecrow in a field

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Supported by Artswork in partnership with Canterbury Christ Church University, the Young Arts Advocates Special School (YAASS) project worked with 13 special schools across East Kent (part of the Kent Special Educational Needs Trust). We spoke to Programme Lead, Claire March, on the impact the project has had.

“Over the past 18 months, this project has focused on developing inclusive arts provision within the school curriculum, whilst also considering the relationship between the arts and identity, and how this relates directly to our pupils. It has given us the opportunity to bring together a range of artists and arts organisations, which has proven particularly powerful for the teachers, young people and artists involved. Arts organisations we’ve connected with include Kent Music, Turner Contemporary, Marlowe Theatre, Drake Music, Confidance, Jasmin Vardimon and Pie Factory Music. We have also been able to build links within individual artists keen to develop inclusive practice.”

For the schools involved, there were a number of key outcomes. Firstly, Claire explains, was “the opportunity to reflect on their arts curriculum through engagement with the Artsmark process.” She continues, “this has encouraged and empowered schools and their senior leaders to consider current provision and development opportunities across the whole school.” Teachers were also trained as Arts Award advisers, meaning that schools are now able to deliver many different levels of Arts Award for their pupils. “Arts Award has enabled schools to consider valid pathways for pupils who may not have access to arts-based GCSEs”, she says.

During the project, teachers met regularly with lecturers from Canterbury Christ Church, to engage in the sharing of knowledge and practice, and discussing their experiences and challenges with each other. “This helped to connect processes better across the network”, Claire explains.

Schools also had the opportunity to work with an artist to deliver a range of sessions that encouraged pupils to explore the theme of identity. “All schools were encouraged to work with art forms or artists that they had identified as an area for development as part of their Artsmark journey.” This meant they were able to acquire new skills and approaches to be used in future work too. The final artistic outcomes from the project were exhibited at Turner Contemporary, in an exhibit entitled YAASS: Empowered.

“Using these methods to enhance the arts curriculum meant that learning could be approached in a more inclusive manner”, says Claire. “We were able to support pupils to explore and experiment with methods and media in new and innovative ways.” The schools worked across a range of art forms, including contemporary dance, ceramics, sculpture, music technology, expressive arts, and photography. One school, Wyvern, worked with dance company, Jasmin Vardimon. Pupils were invited to the rehearsal studio for a bespoke performance of their recent show. Following this, dancers spent time with pupils back at the school, developing their understanding of dance. “Pupils were given the opportunity to develop expression and movement through dance, and both teachers and pupils were encouraged to take creative risks to develop different forms of communication.”

Turner Contemporary supported the project throughout, and also enabled the YAASS group to self-curate their exhibition, YAASS: Empowered, which highlighted a selection of the artworks created during the project, including images, films, and sculpture. “Turner Contemporary supported the exhibition process, enabling pupils and teachers to understand the space, whilst also encouraging them to rethink the norms of tradition. Pupils worked alongside artists to create interesting, high quality, and thought-provoking work, and the exhibition work reflected this”, Claire explains. The above image of a scarecrow is from a body of work where artist Matt Rowe and pupils from Laleham Gap School explored the use of pinhole photography. Students created scarecrows, linking with the theme of identity, as well as their relationship with their local environment. They then constructed their own pinhole cameras, made from a range of familiar objects, including footballs.

The YAASS: Empoweredexhibition gave pupils a platform and a place to have their voices heard. They exhibited their work alongside great artists including Patrick Heron and Cornelia Parker. “For many, this was their first ever visit to the gallery. It was powerful and exciting, but also challenging for many”, Claire explains. “One student described her visit to the gallery as ‘really educational for me’.”

Pupils were able to express their individuality and an understanding of their personal identity through the many different forms that exhibited work took. Visitors to the exhibition were inspired by the work, with NSEAD’s Peter Gregory remarking that it had been “a truly exceptional project that has extended knowledge, challenged thinking, and clearly been great fun”. Artist Keith Brymer Jones felt there was “some really wonderful work”, whilst Headteacher Adrian Mount commented how “wonderful, thought provoking and atmospheric” the pieces were.

The schools are now continuing their journey with discussions around provision and practice, along with a focus on the submission of their Artsmark case studies, and further Arts Award engagement. The focus on the Arts has been central throughout, with increased opportunities giving great value to the project. “This has included schools taking part in the Shakespeare for Schools programme, developing networks for music (supported by Kent Music), and upcoming work with Pop Up Festivals, which will be taking place over the next three years. The project has enabled opportunities for other schools within the Kent Special Educational Needs Trust to benefit from shared knowledge – in particular, through a teacher development project, Valuing Voices, funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.”

“For us, all of this highlights how important the support from Artswork has been in making the YAASS project possible, encouraging passionate teachers and supporting school leaders along the way. This investment has led to greater inclusivity in the curriculum through increased arts presence. Arts organisations and schools alike have been encouraged to invest more in a quality accessible arts provision for pupils.”

To find out more about how your school or education setting can use Artsmark and Arts Award to improve your pupils’ lives, see here

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Arts Award Artsmark South East Bridge

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