A collection of small clay statues holding a sign that says Arts isn't just a way of life, art is life.

As we pass the Artsmark baton on to Goldsmiths, University of London, we would like to celebrate and reflect on the wonderful eight years we have spent as the champions and providers of the Artsmark support programme for schools and other settings, including Pupil Referral Units and Youth Offending Services, amongst others, in the West Midlands. It’s been eight years of a LOT of hard work but also of joyful partnerships, firm friendships, and a wave of West Midland’s creativity. But most importantly we have, in partnership, impacted upon the creative lives of 279,000 children and young people across the region, who are now in places where their creative growth is valued and nurtured.

The proof is always in the pudding and our numbers speak for themselves: from 2015 to July 2023, we welcomed 677 settings onto the programme and ran over 60 Development Training sessions with 1,080 passionate and committed teachers and senior leaders to kick-start their Artsmark journey. We delivered over 60 support sessions to 600 teachers. We guided our participants through their plans for developing creativity in their settings and then supported them with the evaluation of the change they’d seen when these plans were implemented. We then were delighted to see 234 settings re-register for Artsmark and continue on their journey towards the Platinum award.

We know that the region is a flourishing hub of creative, cultural and heritage organisations and professionals, who want to work with children and young people. To help connect schools with our region’s cultural offer and enhance their Artsmark programme in 2018 we launched an Arts and Cultural Directory. The directory held information on arts organisations across the West Midlands, giving teachers and adults working with children and young people, access to a curated list of local organisations and artists who could enhance the creative offer in their setting.

We celebrated the success of our partners, so between 2018 and 2023 we held four in-person and three online (during the pandemic) celebration events, highlighting the achievements of 55 schools. These days of celebration at the Midland Arts Centre, gave children and young people a chance to shine; they shone a light on their artistic achievements and highlighted the successful partnerships between their schools and arts organisations. Our in-person events were attended by teachers, children and young people from awarded schools and VIP guests from across the civic and arts community, such as Preet Gill, MP. Children in the awarded settings were treated to afternoon tea and awarded with their Artsmark certificate by the invited VIP’s. They also had the opportunity to dance, sing, act and play to a live audience, showcasing the incredible projects they had undertaken during their Artsmark journey.

Even a pandemic didn’t stop us or our partners. In 2020 we took our Artsmark offer online, running all training and events remotely. This gave us a greater reach of teachers attending sessions. We also took our Celebration Events online, sharing stories of everyone’s Artsmark success via our website and social media channels (You can still see some of the brilliant work that happened in our awarded settings on our YouTube channel here). And it didn’t stop there – we hosted a series of ‘Meet the Partner’ sessions, giving our Artsmark Partners the opportunity to present their online and remote offers directly to teachers in bitesize lunchtime sessions, encouraging partnership and collaboration, even at a time of great challenge.

We were agile with our offer, responding to the Black Lives Matter movement by creating the Anti-Racist Toolkit to empower teachers to start conversations in their classrooms and to take positive action.

As we bring our Artsmark story to a close we have to say some heartfelt thank you’s to the people and organisations who worked tirelessly with us to support as many schools and settings as possible with their Artsmark journey:

Arts Connect want to thank:

Our colleagues at the Artsmark Team at Arts Council England, The West Midlands’ Local Cultural Education Partnerships, and Music Hubs.

Our amazing Artsmark Associate Team:
Our reach, the level of care and commitment to schools and settings would not have been possible without our Associates expertise and dedication. Our Associates delivered all Artsmark training, provided feedback on submissions and worked with the Artsmark team at Arts Connect to create the tools and documents used by schools throughout their journey. Thank you so very much to – Baz Chapman, Peppy Hills, Fiona Howes, Jane Ralls, Claire Pring and Emma Watson.

And none of this would have been possible without the dynamic duo – the Arts Connect Artsmark team – led by our fantastic colleague Helen Frost and supported by our equally fantastic colleague Eleanor Rattenbury.

And finally, a huge thank you to all the schools and settings who embarked on their Artsmark journey with us, championed the arts in their school communities and created unique arts experiences for the children and young people in their care.You can read some of our Artsmark stories here.

We wish Artsmark under the stewardship of Goldsmiths, University of London, all the very best. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been a party of its story.If you are interested in starting your Artsmark journey, go to the Artsmark website here.