Summer progress report

Since the end of Jacob Dahlgren’s exhibition things have been very busy for me – I had 4 weeks of full-time art-handling that took me away from Fabrica during the day, meaning a lot of catching up to do in the evenings and weekends.

I haven’t posted anything for a while, although lots of thoughts have been going round in my head. Now that I’m back from a fortnight’s holiday I’ve spent some time reflecting on what has happened in the last few months and how I’m going to go forward.

What has happened since May?

  • Two day-long workshops with schools took place – Towers with Longhill School and artist Nick Sayers on 10th June, and the Raumzeichnung (Reflection) workshop with Dorothy Stringer and artist Lulu Allison on 15h July.
  • Young People’s Preview on Thursday 27th July
  • Young Writers Private viewing on Saturday 12th July
  • Work Experience Students from Dorothy Stringer School, 14th – 18th July
  • RAW Teachers Development Day on Sunday 20th July – led by Jane Fordham
  • First Young Masters workshop on Monday 28th July – led by Jane Fordham
  • Home Educators Group workshop on Tuesday 29th July – led by Jane Fordham
  • Interim meeting with Lisa Finch on monday 21st July, to discuss progress

Reflections on what’s happened:

Sadly, I always find it easier to start with the things that haven’t worked! The Young People’s Preview was pretty much like the last one – I have singularly failed to get young people along. There needs to be some purpose for the event, such as a performance by a band, so that there is something for young people to actually want to come to see. Fabrica itself is not currently enough of a draw.

I attempted to organise the Young Writers private viewing in the same way as I did for the one during On Balance, which was to offer the opportunity exclusively to New Writing South’s Young Writer Squad. When I didn’t get any response from them I offered it out, at very late notice, to Brighton and Hove schools. As a result the turn-out was very low (3 people attending and no written work submitted). However, via Adam’s posting on Facebook I did receive a great poem from a young woman who visited the exhibition independently. Read the poem on Fabrica’s blog here  This makes me think that the private viewing event is not really necessary, and simply to have a call-out for young people’s written responses is enough. Then these can be posted on the blog. If we had enough we could compile them into a book… I start running away with ideas, forgetting that it’s hard enough trying to get anyone to engage with what I’m doing.

The schools workshops have worked well – the art teachers I’ve worked with do value Fabrica and want to get involved with it. The things that stop this happening more frequently are money (especially teaching cover if the art teacher is out for a day) and the curriculum itself (getting the school to see the value of taking time out from other lessons for the day). This set of workshops has been funded by TAP, so it hasn’t cost the schools anything, but how to make it sustainable in future is an issue.

Photographs of the Dorothy Stringer Workshop in progress by Mia Guiteres Oliva

DorothyStringer1

DorothyStringer2 DorothyStringer3

We had two Year 10 students from Dorothy Stringer School, Elsa and Toby, complete their work experience at Fabrica for a week in July. I’d been worried in advance that there wouldn’t be enough for them to do, but they both turned out to be so quick on the uptake, hard working and enthusiastic that people in the office were fighting to work with them! It helped that the Fabrica team had prepared really well, providing them with a range of interesting tasks, so that Elsa and Toby gained a good understanding of Fabrica its aims and ethos. This pilot work experience week bodes well for the future, although Toby and Elsa will be a hard act to follow.

Toby&Elsa Toby and Elsa, Work Experience students 

Toby&Elsa2

The RAW Art Teachers Development Event was a real success. The teachers who came along were really keen to do it again and felt it was nourishing to their own practice as artists (as it was aimed to be), which in turn feeds their work as teachers. I think this is a very good way of building Fabrica’s relationship with teachers, which I think in the long run will contribute to greater engagement by schools in Fabrica’s programme.

Half of the Young Masters sessions have taken place so far. Attendance has been low – just three people at the first session and four at the Home Educators group, although Jane has encouraged those Fabrica volunteers helping out at the sessions to take part and draw, and has invited her adult students to attend as well. In this way the sessions have been more lively and Jane has created a more relaxed atmosphere. I missed the first two sessions but will be around for the last two next week.

Working with Jane has been a really good experience, in fact it’s a privilege to work with her. It’s strange to be commissioning people to run workshops after so many years of being the facilitator myself, and I feel guilty not being able to recruit a bigger audience for Jane. I also feel really disappointed, as she’s a wonderful artist and I want young people to have the chance to work with her! Working and planning together we have had quite a few discussions about what we and Fabrica are trying to do. After the teachers event we both agreed that we’d prefer to be including young people in all Fabrica’s activities, rather than offering events aimed solely at them.

It’s hard not to feel that young people just aren’t interested, or at least they are not interested in what I have organised. I realise now that I was being far too ambitious in programming a series of workshops before I had any real audience. This is where the experimental art workshops in April and May fell down, and also where the Young Masters are, to some extent. It takes time to build up any audience, and young people are particularly difficult to engage. I’m really grateful to Jane for grasping the opportunity of the Young Masters sessions to implement our ‘stealth strategy’ of mixing up the age groups.

The aspect of my role that I find most challenging is event management. This is not where my skills lie. My skills are in art – understanding what it means to make work and go through that process. I respect people’s creativity, this is what I want to support, but unfortunately so much of my role seems to be about organising and publicising events to which nobody turns up!

Meeting up with Lisa to discuss progress was very useful, not least because it made me realise I have achieved some things! She has written up notes from our meeting that summarise what’s worked, what hasn’t and plans/ideas for the future, along with thoughts on fundraising. Without duplicating what Lisa has already summarised, here are some brief thoughts about ways forward.

Ways forward

Film Club – building on the In Transition project, which has identified the popularity of films and filmmaking to young people. I have been talking to Clare about the Older People’s film club and how these two might work in conjunction. Interestingly she agrees that there’s lots of potential for intergenerational cross-over – the older people and younger people do not need to be segregated! The two film clubs might have slightly different flavours (choice of film, type of event), but a person of any age might want to go to either club.

Writing – this seems to be an activity that young people are quite interested in doing outside of school. I’ve made contact with a young writer who is interested in running workshops at Fabrica. Jonathan is suggesting possible writing workshops to accompany the next exhibition, Reef, in the Autumn. I’d like to include a call-out for written responses to the exhibition in Fabrica’s publicity (e.g. the info boards in the gallery), so that the invitation to submit writing is out there for everyone. And I’d also like to do a more focussed invitation to schools – they could visit independently, or tell their pupils to visit and then write in response.

RAW – building the relationship with art teachers through Jane’s RAW sessions. As well as being in itself extremely valuable, this could also be the way to grow an audience of young people – through their art teachers. If each art teacher who attends could succeed in getting one or two young people to come to an event at Fabrica we’d have our biggest audience yet!

Developing relationships – I’ve made contact with quite a few different people and groups, which I want to maintain and develop. Claire and the home educators is a good example. I’d really like to continue working with her as home educated young people are an interesting group who are not served at all by schools and therefore miss out on opportunities for group working, educational visits etc.

In all of this, I realise I work in quite an organic way. I like responding to things and I don’t feel that confident about initiating things. I find it easy to get distracted by the details of event management and procedures, whereas I need to step back and remind myself of the point of all of this, which is actually ART! I think I also need to focus on a few things and do them well, rather than trying to spread things too thinly. I’d rather develop a couple of strands well than do many things ineffectively.

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