I was asked to chair a panel at this year's Future Everything conference.
The theme of the session, provided by the conference programmer, was 'Post Craft'.
Three makers and designers of very different sorts were hunted down by the programmer and lined up as the panel.
I've never chaired a panel before but this year I'm saying yes to new things, to push my comfort zone a little. It's fair to say I was more than a little nervous, which I countered by going into hyper-organised mode. It seemed to work, once we took to the platform the nerves disappeared and the session flowed.
I felt it important to start by asking if there was such a thing as Post Craft because if there is, I had no idea what it is. (If you're wondering, we all seemed to agree there probably isn't such a thing).
The event was attended by a very digi-savvy crowd so I looked up the tweets about it afterwards to try and see if there was any feedback about how people thought it had gone. Luckily the responses was positive.
To try and capture some of the conversation I set up a little mini-site pulling together the panel, the questions asked, and the responses on twitter. You can find it all here.
One Small Step for Early Years, One Giant Leap for Children: a toolkit for creativity with young children
This time last year I was lucky enough to work with Isaacs UK and CAPE UK, exploring the work of artists and creative practitioners working with children and staff in ten early years settings across Leeds. They settings worked together as network, using Creative Partnerships' enquiry model of working to test out their activities.
My role was to pull together everyone's learning, summarising shared findings and exceptional experiences, laying these out in a way which might be helpful for others looking for new and / or creative ways to unlock potential in their children. To round up a few of the ups and downs, things that worked, things that didn't work quite so much, and some of the thinking the creative and early years practitioners travelled through together or separately. At the heart of it all, to tell some of the stories of the children and how their outlook on the world changed a little as a result of the projects. On a more formal side, we looked at a couple of different ways of monitoring the progress of children - both in terms of the Foundation Stage areas, and in their wellbeing and involvement through a system known as EXE (Experiential Education).
CAPE set some fantastic designers loose on the content I wrote with IsaacsUK, and the result is a really stunning and accessible looking publication. Please read, browse, enjoy and most importantly - pass it on to anyone who might make use of it.
Browse or download it below, or online *here*
Way back in 2006 I received a grant from Arts Council England to research the DIY / subversive / home grown - whatever you want to call it - craft scene in the UK. The likes of what is now much more widely known; Etsy, Stitch and Bitch, yarnbombing (knitting attached to things in public as you may know it - lamposts, bike rails, bannisters etc).It was all going on in the US, but I wondered to what extent that was happening here too - if at all...
In 2006 there really wasn't that much of this around. To set the scene, less than 300 UK people were registered on Etsy and people were still finding one another through MySpace. Which is where my research started.
This week I'll be at a two day workshop exploring what craft and communities have in common, and what potential there is for craft and community being in the same mix. Much of the topics under the microscope will be the exact same ones that arose in my research. Eventually there will be a website where the Connecting Craft & The Community project will be shared more widely. But for the benefit of colleagues I'll be meeting in the next couple of days, and anyone else who is interested, here is the report produced in 2007, which summarised the work, and laid out some options to take the themes on into a programme of exhibitions, projects and events (which I'm happy to say did indeed happen.)
So here's the report.
To give you a flavour the contents page reads as follows... Defining DIY :: A Potted History :: Textiles :: Gender Stories :: Inclusivity & Anti-elitism :: Anti-consumerism & The Individual :: Political Crafting :: Interdisciplinary Content :: Street Crafting :: Sharing, Authorship and Currency :: Art & Anti-Art :: Entrepreneurialism :: Quality :: Exhibition & Project Potential :: Options and Recommendations
Read or download as a pdf it below; or from google docs here; or contact me and I'll email it to you...
I spent a huge amount of last year working with some amazing academic staff, researchers and community groups as they learned more about one another through creative projects as part of the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement. My role was (and still is) to help what's happening at practice level link with a rather complex overarching evaluation framework.
The Manchester Beacon programme is, in a nutshell, about encouraging learning institutions to better understand how to open themselves up to communities more effectively. An important part of that process is to trial new approaches and reflect on what works, or what could be improved. It's an action learning model really.
The Beacon team and I identified that those involved in the practice needed support in being able to report back on their work in ways that fit the evaluation framework. So we set about producing some guidance for them, based on the input of community groups and a pilot cohort of academics and researchers.
Fast forward many months and the evaluation guidance pack / toolkit I created with their help, and the help of other colleagues, is now freely available. It contains some basic principles of evaluation, hints and tips, templates, and examples of creative consultation.
You can read or download it below; contact me for a copy; or read / download it here.
On this page, you can also find some very short podcasts and top tips from some of the staff and community groups who have used the document. At the end of the pack there are also lots more links to further evaluation guidance in public engagement and also support created specifically for the fields of science communication; community engagement; arts and heritage; and health and wellbeing.
All thoughts or comments welcome...
I currently have a number of clients who, in some shape or form, are involved in being part of museums who are trying to become better friends with their communities. In order to be able to assist them in this as well as I can, and refresh my own thinking on the topic, I assembled a quick list of everything I ever knew about this sort of work - what to look out for, what to do, what not to do.
I then sent a call out to all the lovely and helpful members of the GEM email list to see what insights they had on the same theme.
Three months later I've finally collated it all under sub-headings and here it is; a short paper on things to be aware of if you're a museum working with local communities. In fact I'm sure much of it will be transferable to other types of organisations.
I would especially like to thank everyone who did respond to the GEM email request, and sent me all sorts of papers, reports, observations, anecdotes and ponderings, particularly those who trusted me enough with what, in some cases, were quite hard lessons for their organisations to learn.
I'd very much like the discussion to keep flowing so please do add comments, or include links to other relevant papers, reports etc below...
04.03.11 update... for the few people who let me know they haven't been able to see or save the document below - it's now also available as a straight forward pdf to read or download here or drop me a line via the comments pageand I'll happily email it to you
I have an ongoing obsession with pattern.
In the summer I was lucky enough to turn that obsession into a small project by co-ordinating some workshops for people in Macclesfield.
(You can read more about that by looking at Macclesfield Silk Museum Heritage Trust here)
In the morning, members of the public were taken on a tour of the town, looking at pattern in architecture.
Armed with cameras and a professional photographer guide, we encouraged them to seek out the details that usually pass them by.
In the afternoon, I brought in artists / designers / printers from one69a to help them turn their photos into screen prints and transfer them onto bags and t-shirts.
one69a have just launched their new website and included the workshops as one of their case studies so take a fuller look over there...
And by the way - if you like architectural pattern, do take a look at the project with Rosie James at Ordsall Hall in Salford
As part of some research I'm doing for Earlyarts I came across this wonderful video which so beautifully and simply portrays everything that's good about children (and possibly everything that's missing with some types of education). For more inspiring input of this type, do come to or follow the Earlyarts international UnConference in November...
I'm endlessly fascinated by the way any object, let alone a museum collection, can become some personal to people and interpreted so subjectively. We bring to things that which we already know. It's only possible to see and understand the object the way you alone can see and understand it.
With that in mind I was fascinated to watch this short film of how some students of Manchester Metropolitan University worked with a collection of random domestic objects from Victorian times. These were items from the Mary Greg Collection at Manchester Art Gallery.
I also recommend you visit the blog for this research and interpretation project. You need know nothing about Mary, her collection, the university or the art gallery in advance. Just enjoy what you find at the blog. I suspect it will reel you in just as it has me. Enjoy this short film (made by Asta Films)
Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement (with whom I work, as part of their evaluation group) are looking for creative producers / documenters to record some of their outcomes of their work...
TENDER FOR CREATIVE SUPPORT TO CAPTURE AND PROMOTE LEARNING FROM UNIVERSITY-COMMUNITY PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT PILOT PROJECTS
Deadline 2pm 27th August
The Manchester Beacon seeks creative producer(s), organisation or consortia of creative practitioners to work alongside upto 10 collaborative pilot projects to help capture and promote the learning, benefits and impact (the difference a project made). Each pilot project involves university staff (researchers/ staff/ postgraduate students) working with community/ (not-for-profit) partners. We are looking for resourceful, people-focussed producers skilled at creating engaging narratives using media-based tools and techniques to produce a portfolio of stories to document the challenges, successes and lessons learned from project activity and collaborative working. Applicants are encouraged to present approaches that present a learning opportunity for participants to engage in the process and use media to disseminate their stories themselves beyond the life of the projects.
teacher tom. Who wouldn't love to arrive at a school where your teacher wears a cape? A teacher who says his blog is from the children?
Who wouldn't love to send their child to a teacher who loves their job so much he says, "I intend to teach at <insert your school name here> for the rest of my life".
A teacher who not only shares what your child has done, but why and how. Who makes learning looks like such good messy fun. Who can make anything out of anything and show you how to do it too.
At a time when the future for creative learning in the UK looks quite depressing, it gives me hope to read what people like teacher tom are doing, it makes me smile about what children can achieve in good hands.
Imagine if all teachers were like teacher tom.
Incidentally if you go to his blog and click on his profile, you'll see a list of other blogs teacher tom follows, many of which are equally wonderful. If you know of any other great teacher blogs, so share them in the comments below, I'd love to see more.
I'm now part of the network exploring the SROI model of social returns on investment. It's way of putting monetary values on the sorts of evaluation and participation outcomes that occur in the projects I work with, and demonstrating what difference the investment has really made - what happened that coulnd't or wouldn't have happened without.
It's also a way for me to offer organisations the sort of robustness they might expect from an academic research team.
A lot of it will be new to me but I'm hoping it will ad a layer of technical formality to the likes of MLA's Generic Social Outcomes. Indeed MLA have already commissioned large scale pilot evaluation projects testing SROI's capacity for analysing the values of specific library and museums schemes.
Exploring qualitative outcomes, impacts and benefits is something I really enjoy. There are times though, when stakeholders need more quantifiable results and this should enable me to provide that too.
SROI has been developed, and continues to be developed by it's members, to support arts and culture, public services, science and education - all of which are fields I work with. It also supports employment and business, environment and climate, and health and care. So I hope this means it will become a tool that is recognised across all organisations.
I should add though, that for me this will be an additional way of identifying what works and where things can be improved. It won't be the only one. I don't think any single tool can really capture everything that's important about a project. It's important to create a variety of tools bespoke to each separate project to cross-reference information and help pick out trends, similarities, patterns but also individual stories - the illustrations of people who have really felt something change as a result of taking part. But this does offer a way to create evidence of quantifiable outcomes alongside the qualitative benefits I'm always keen to advocate based on evidence.
Interestingly DEMOS have just released a report suggesting that the approaches underpinning SROI are sound though a range of shared outcome measurements across the public sector, which can be gathered more simply than SROI is able to, is desperately needed in order to help smaller organisations demonstrate their worth. I can't argue with that kind of logic, but until it arrives, SROI seems to be the closest there is to different sectors speaking to the same language.
It's the start of a new learning journey for me, and a welcome addition to what I will be able to offer the organisations I work with.
In evaluation, looking at outcomes is vital. When you've invested in a project of course you'll need to know what was achieved and where there are still gaps. But it can be cumbersome reading mounds and mounds of text in a report. Charts, graphs and percentages can help clarify, but can still make for dull reading (and for some feel too much like maths homework).
To help busy partners to any project, finding a variety of ways to report on activity can make all the difference between people remembering what went well and being able to advocate the value of their work... or not.
I've recently been creating a toolkit for early years practitioners looking at how creative engagement can help achieve new and unexpected results. Its aim is to be quickly digestible and highly practical. The toolkit is based on the activity of ten creative early years projects in schools and Children's Centres in the North of England.
The projects were mapped against the Early Years Foundation Stage six areas of learning. To illustrate which of the EYFS outcomes the projects really brought to life, I used wordle to create this at a glance illustration. The larger the word, the more presence it had in the projects. You can see here Personal, Social and Emotional development was the strongest feature across the programme overall.
It doesn't replace the need for writing other information in the report of course. However the teachers, children's centre staff and creative practitioners involved, and readers of the toolkit, can now instantly see where the projects thrived and what kinds of outcomes similar work might expect to achieve, so much more quickly and easily than deciphering a big chunk of writing or trying to analyse a graph.
John Cleese talks about the structure of thinking, being creative, and writing. When I was pointed in the direction of this video it was just what I needed to help me focus on a report I'm writing. Take 5 minutes to watch it, it could save hours in the long run.
Following earlier posts about proposed changes to the child protection initiatives which would add to the CRB systems already in place, today it has been announced that the proposed changes have been halted.
This means the scrapping of the vetting & barring scheme run by the ISA (Independent Safeguarding Authority) with a view to producing a slimmed down initiative in the future.
You can read more in this *BBC article*
For several years there has been debate about the potential for using the arts to help improve literacy and numeracy (and other subjects). For many arts organisations being able to find ways to achieve this has been a necessity to survive. For some this raises discomfort, those who feel it's not what the arts are for and can run the risk of people losing sight of other benefits that perhaps are more intrinsic to artistic practice. Personally I don't choose one side or the other of the argument, there are truths and benefits (and no doubt pitfalls) either way.
Though I do know this - for children and young people who for whatever reason are not as developed as their peers in language and numeracy skills, the arts can present a more accessible way to unpick learning that some other formats. I've seen it happen first hand. I can't say for sure it's specific to the arts - I do think it's something about a creative approach generally and the opportunity to work in different environments and include kinaesthetic activity. All of which is common, but not exclusive, to arts activity.
However - last year I was asked to work with the inspirational arts producer Elizabeth Lynch to evaluate Performing for Success. An arts based project building on the proven achievements of Playing for Success (which used sports to improve young people's numeracy and literacy skills). It was a unique programme in that it met Extended School agendas and relied on partnerships between extended school deliverers experienced in sport, and arts or cultural organisations. However there was no national model, each pilot area approached the structure in different ways, some more effectively and successfully than others. It was DCFS funded initiative but not via the 'usual' channels (such as Find Your Talent or Creative Partnerships) but through an independent education contractor, Rex Hall Associates.
In the current climate who can say what will happen to these kinds of initiatives. However if you'd like to read our response to the programme you can download it *here*
UPDATE: I have learned that Rex Hall sadly passed away on May 31st. My experience of working with him was brief but so inspiring to see first hand the difference one person can make. My thoughts and wishes go to all of those close to him.
The new Museum of Museums in Trafford has opened, quietly, without much fuss. Which is an unusual way to enter the museum world.
Its websites say,
”In spring 2010 the Museum of Museums will open to the general public exhibiting the most comprehensive programme of multi-themed collections in the UK.“ and
“A breakthrough concept in cultural attractions, The Trafford Centre has brought together a wide range of heritage exhibitions form public museums and private collections to create a stimulating and unique experience“
Since it was on my doorstep and no-one I knew inside or outside the museum world seemed to know anything about it, I went to see it first hand and blog it thoroughly to help satisfy the curiosity bubbling up among my colleagues, contacts, clients and friends. Read the full account on the mini-blog *here*
There are some things I've thought it would be good to do for a long time, but it's never been part of my paid work to do them, and so they haven't got done. I'm noting them here as a reminder to myself and an invitation to anyone who is interested, to commission me to do them, and share them freely and publicly (or at least under creative commons) for the wider benefit of those who can use them:
1. A list of what managing, researching and evaluating many projects has taught me about partnership - what it does or doesn't mean, what it looks like, the different shapes it takes, the benefits, challenges, pitfalls, successes, opportunities and more
2. A top ten of findings / recommendations that arise in my evaluation work. Mostly around the process of managing projects - resources, processes, staffing, communication, planning, sustainability and legacy - those sorts of things. There are so many shared benefits and challenges I see time and time again, to the point it makes me sad that these things have to be learned afresh each time with publicly funded activity. Wouldn't it be better if we can do more learning from each other and move things on?
3. A portfolio of what creative consultation / creative evaluation can look like - examples of things I've tried myself and examples that other people have developed in their work.
There might be more to this list of lists but these are the freshest in my mind just now. So if you can't afford a specialist consultant for these things, do keep popping back, maybe one day someone will have commissioned them from me and they will be available to you for free.
Unintentionally I have carved out something of a niche in my repertoire, in the form of evaluation. I'm not sure if its because I naturally love to disect and deconstruct what is seemingly apparent to see what else is really going on; or whether it's simply because other people don't enjoy it and are happy to hand it to someone else. (I'm lucky in that much of my evaluation work comes through recommendation).
I know at times it's because organisations know in great detail so many things about what they do and the way they work, but need to be able to show that they have explored this objectively, and so hire an external consultant.
Often I never know how much it influences organisations to change, adapt and experiment, though I have one client who I know does read them with a fine tooth comb, come back to me query and delve deeper into some parts, and act on it annually, which is very rewarding indeed.
For reasons not exciting enough to share here, I spent much of today re-reading past evaluation reports and realising how fascinating this process of reflection really is. It was refreshing to read these again, with space and time, for what they really say, rather than in a proof reading and contract fulfilling, deadline looming frame of mind.
About four years ago I was asked to work as cultural and educational consultant for a Culture Online funded pilot project called MyArtSpace. We worked with three venues - Urbis in Manchester, The Study Gallery, now KUBE, in Poole and the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth. MyArtSpace was one of the early systems for interpreting and sharing collections and exhibitions digitally using mobile phones. Organisations listed exhibits or artefacts on a database, along with images and interesting facts. These were then transferred to a system which visitors could access via specially programmed mobile phones.
As visitors encountered an object showing a code around the venue or site, they entered the code into the phone, which brought up a corresponding image and information. Visitors could then take a photo, record sounds, and add additonal notes, thoughts, facts etc to this object's 'record.' This was then saved to a personalised storeroom belonging just to that one visitor, which they accessed on the internet later on. Through their collection in this on line storeroom they could then select, order, and present items to create unique exhibitions; then share them with other users through the MyArtSpace website.
After the pilot phase, MyArtSpace became OOKL as we realised the potential for the service expanded way beyond just art, and we didn't want to restrict usage. Museums, botanic gardens and a wide range of other spaces and places began to come on board.
Now, with leaps and bounds of advances in digital technology and a web revolution, the power of OOKL has stepped up to gears previously incomprehensible. January saw an i-phone app launched which has opened up access to the service and its thousands of objects. More than three venues per week are now signing up to use OOKL.
If you want to find out more about using OOKL as a venue or a visitor, read on...
"Micah is a knitter"
That was about all we knew from the tweet on creativetallis twitter stream but it was enough to hook me. CreativeTallis is a part of one extraordinary school's social media activity I've been following for some time now.
Most schools now have something called a Virtual Learning Environment. It's a bit like an intranet but with some real web functions like blogging and podcasting. Personally I don't quite understand their purpose. If you want young people to experience the potential of broadcasting and publishing their work 'out there' then in my view the internet is the better way to do it. I appreciate schools have a responsbility for safety, which means many still sit behind resilient local authority firewalls with not much of the real world getting in or out. But if young people are going to access the web anyway in their own time, and they are, is it not more responsbile to help them understand how to do that safely, rather than pretend the world wide web isn't really there?
And so CreativeTallis (actually Thomas Tallis school in London) is a leader in this approach for schools in my view. They present a range of websites, blogs, twitter streams, webcasts and more. In the past I've watched them create a 3D city-scape thorugh a live webcast, and been able via twitter, to ask them questions about what they were doing and why, and have students reply to my questions in real time. Through this kind of innovative approach, the school is able to demonstrate how students learn with a passion and excitement, stimulating curiosity and sharing, celebrating and exploring individuality. Importantly students are encouraged to help steer and develop their own learning, and have the know-how to recognise and reflect on their experiences.
And so it is I knew that unusually, Micah is a knitter, would be the starting point to find out more about one student's experience of education. Micah is also a person, an individual, and knows how to celebrate that thanks to the realistic, practical, relevant, yet utterly 'out-there' work of his school.
I'm most interested in how the public, your public, whoever that may be, engages with culture and creativity.
If there's a design angle (be it contemporary design, textiles, built environment, engineering, social history, visitor flow, use of space and architecture etc) then I'm even more interested.
And if it nurtures creativity and develops personal, social or professional skills I'm absolutely all ears.
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Post Craft :: click image for details