Every Thursday, a quiet space in Fawcett Primary School in Cambridge becomes an artist’s studio.
Children come to visit and watch as the artist’s work develops. They are invited to participate. Work in progress and notes are pinned up in the staffroom for teachers to ponder over their cuppa. At lunchtimes, groups of children draw alongside the artist while they talk about the world around them.
Emma Pratt, co-director of Frameworks Education Group first apporached the idea of blending her work in education and her arts practice in Seville, Spain in 2016. Many years before she had overseen an artists in schools programme in her native New Zealand and had always held a strong belief in the place of community in learning and skilled practioners interacting with learners and sharing their knowledge.
“I had become involved in English language teacher training in Spain when I also tried out my first “Artists in Schools” project. With a group of older students, we looked at the history of a massive flood that hit the city in 1962, effectively wiping out the poorly built communal houses and shanty towns that surrounded the city as a result of urban drift. In their place were built the vast neighbourhoods of concrete blocks that you see today if you leave the touristic centre of the city. This displacement and breaking up of community and the shift of people living communally to living in separate apartments in these blocks had its affect. I wanted the kids to understand their cityscape better. That and the fact that they live above a network of long submerged rivers. A geographical history that fascinates me.”
A Cambridge Community in Need
South Cambridge has grown at an alarming rate in the last five years due to housing projects for workers coming to Cambridge as well as social housing for those in need.
“More than 36 languages are spoken in our local schools. Many children act as primary carers, paying bills and dealing with things online because their parents aren’t able to do it. When parents are isolated, financially, culturally and linguistically, it doesn’t help the school.
Funding and support for the needs that come with this kind of community change is falling behind. We are currently looking at setting up an ESOL centre for parents in our community. We won’t wait for anyone else to set this up for us.
The school where my children attend is 40% special needs (the whole spectrum: linguistic, social, financial, behavioural, academic etc). As a result, the school is stretched and they struggle with basic reading writing and math levels. It motivated me to continue with what I had begun in Spain and now forms part of my arts practice: the teaching artist.
The Teaching Artist
“The concept of a residency is important to me because what I do isn’t a one-off workshop in a school. I am there as a member of the community, a sharer of this space and this lived moment, an educator, communicator and an artist as well as a member of this specific community. It’s a slow cook relationship and a commitment. I’m not there as an art teacher, I’m there as an artist, doing my work, creating spaces for dialogue, building relationships, listening, observing, thinking of best ways to respond.”
Being from Aotearoa-New Zealand has its impact on Emma’s ways of seeing. The Pacific and its cultural perspectives are a major influence. In the words of Dr Huhana Smith, of Ngāti Tukorehe and Ngāti Raukawa descent, head of Massey University’s School of Art, long-term art practitioner, former senior curator Māori at Te Papa Tongarewa The New Zealand Museum, and proponent of Māori community-based responses to climate change:
“Because of what’s happening now, there’s a sense of urgency that overrides the individualist position that pervades so much of our society. All creative arts have the capacity to be totally trans-disciplinary and collective. How can we do collaborative and collective projects well? In that area, I think a background in kaupapa Māori [Māori protocols, policies and ways of working] is really useful. If you come from a Māori background it’s collective from the beginning. With the protocols around how you hui [meet and discuss together], how you wānanga [learn together], you are inculcated in dynamic dialogue and how to build platforms to take that dialogue further. I do believe colleges and creative schools need to be encouraging the ability to work well in groups. That’s an important part of being a 21st-century citizen. It’s far removed from the model of the individual artist or designer creating products solely for consumption.”
-Julian MacKinnon, Art New Zealand Magazine, Autumn 2018 Article Water Level Rising
Wild Spaces, Empathy and Our Children
“The subject matter that I draw from for my visual work also draws out conversations about the “wild” spaces around us. What is disappearing, what is right near where many of the children live, but never engage with. I want to raise awareness and empathy for these space. I also wanted to make my work in the school so children would have a chance to see an artist at work, see how images develop, and be able to engage in conversation with me. They could also get involved, drawing and mark making with me – either their own drawings, or helping me with mine. All the while, referencing these humble wild spaces under threat.”