As part of the Inspired by British Art Show 9 Arts Connect Partner Schools Programme, we developed a series of professional artistic development placements for University of Wolverhampton students, Hannah Rollason was one of these Student Artists and here is her story:
British Art Show 9 in Wolverhampton
British Art Show 9 is a touring exhibition, consisting of 47 artists, taking place in Aberdeen, Wolverhampton, Manchester and Plymouth in 2022. All of the exhibit’s centred around three main themes – healing, care and reparative history; tactics for togetherness and imagining new futures. However individual artists have reacted to each of the venues, creating site specific pieces tailored to the historic and contemporary cultures and movements as well as other local contexts.
Discourse between the exhibition and the city began with the focus “on how we live with and give voice to difference.” 34 artists were chosen for the Wolverhampton exhibition due to their interest in investigating identity and reflecting on how this links in with Wolverhampton’s vibrancy and diversity.
The exhibition was held specifically at Wolverhampton Art Gallery and the University of Wolverhampton’s School of Art. Being a student and a graduate throughout the planning, installation and unveiling of BAS9 Wolverhampton, it’s not been hard to see the impact it has had on the city, University and its students, myself included. It has provided opportunities for local artists and students such as Offsite 9, the Inspired by British Art Show 9 Arts Connect Partner Schools Programme and the Inspired by British Art Show 9 Arts Connect Student Ambassadors programme.
As part of British Art Show 9, I have had the privilege to work on different roles within the exhibition including as an Inspired by British Art Show 9 Arts Connect Schools Learning Programme Student Artist, Tour Host, Front of House, Assistant for Mark Essen’s Underkraft Workshop and Gallery Supervisor. This allowed me to work with the University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton Arts & Culture, Arts Connect and local and national schools.
As one of two students who were chosen to be part of the Inspired by British Art Show 9 Arts Connect Partner Schools Programme, I was given the opportunity to work with Mark Riley a local artist and freelance practitioner to deliver workshops to Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) schools in the West Midlands. Looking at BAS9 artists and themes, workshops had to be inclusive and therefore had to be tailored towards specific needs, individual and groups.
Having worked and volunteered with school and gallery workshops previously, I felt fairly confident with applying for this opportunity knowing that it was a chance to learn and develop skills. However, I had little experience with group SEND workshops having only delivered 1-1 or part of a mixed ability group. Therefore, I felt compelled to complete research of both BAS9 and SEND Schools prior to the first meeting. Through this, I was able to understand the workshops and know what questions to ask of teachers and staff as well as Mark. With this prior knowledge and experience I knew that I wanted to keep a calm and confident composure that was both approachable for students but also respectful.
Within the first two workshops I took the time to understand Mark’s way of delivering tasks and talking to students: picking up techniques and ways of encouraging students without causing them discomfort or anxiety. Throughout my time there I found myself quite quiet as it’s what the situation required especially as Mark has an outgoing personality and mine being the opposite. Together the workshops worked well as SEND students often find it hard to communicate and express feelings especially to unfamiliar people. Therefore, having opposite personalities meant that certain students naturally gravitated either towards Mark or myself. With these students I was able to talk to them about their ideas, encouraging independent thinking, and participation while providing support where needed. With a few, it was much harder to interact and communicate highlighting the need for further understanding of individuals through talking to staff.
Initially the sessions began with a sketchbook task such as drawing, mapping or colouring in. A lot of the students were reluctant to participate. On further looking into this it was not that students were necessarily disinterested in the task but were anxious about sketching or even the thought of a blank page. Partially stemming from Primary school and societies pressures of creating ‘perfect’ art. Therefore, it was vital to communicate with teachers including reflections on each session, learning about students and what support was needed going forward. This shaped my approach, and further educated me on delivering workshops, working with young people and liaising with schools as a whole.
From there it was understanding how to overcome the ‘perfect art’ situation we did this by:
- Open Outcomes – “Open Outcome” where each session is determined by reflections on students’ engagement and how they felt leaving the session, proving how important the check-in and check-out is during every session. With this, students are allowed to express themselves and sway the project towards their interests and skills. This also means that the final piece can’t be predetermined by the artist or organiser. Therefore, by using an open-ended structure, pupils have the freedom to produce work on their own terms as the needs, interests and skills of each individual young person are accounted for.
- Atmosphere – The environment created allowed for freedom of expression which encouraged young people to engage with the workshop whilst triggering an open discussion as to what art is and its potential.
- Words of encouragement – A key element going forward was emphasising: “This is your artwork, you are the artist.”, “There is no right or wrong”, “What do you think?” and “It doesn’t have to perfect.”
From this experience I have assimilated methods to plan, deliver and tailor a workshop for a group or on an individual level, whether they be based on themes, movements, artists or my own practice. In terms of my own artwork, being able to disseminate my work through alternative methods further broadens the outreach of my artwork. With this, the role of the artist changes from producer to a supportive role: Main decisions are made by the young person while the artist provides skill development, critique/ advice as well as encouragement of creativity and ambition. Over the course of the sessions the project develops with either a single outcome or individual projects with the artist keeping the project(s) on track towards goal, deadlines etc. With this embrace of individuality greater depth of understanding is realised. Meanwhile a positive atmosphere is created, as without enthusiastic engagement there is no artwork. Making me question was the end goal really the ‘final piece’ or the act of making surrounded by fellow creatives.
This opportunity not only provided me with ways of working with schools, other artists and young people but a greater understanding of what it means to be a freelance art practitioner. Specifically their role within schools and practical elements that come with this type of work.