It was Thursday 4th February 2016 and I had just arrived in South Shields at The Customs House, this year's host for the annual Arts Award Bridge Conference for the North East and an Arts Award Supporter. The conference was held for Arts Award Advisors and Supporters to help inspire them to run Arts Award in a variety of different ways. It was cold and breezy down by the docks but The Customs House definitely made a very warm welcome to all the delegates and attendees.
The Customs House is a venue that accommodates Theatre, Cinema and is a Gallery bringing a diverse amount of content to the venue. It was an asset to the day to have a gallery space to look around in the breaks between the sessions. I particularly enjoyed the work of Jenny Purrett and her pieces within the exhibit 'Making Sense' – working with individuals supported by Sight Service, Making Sense is a sensitive and personal relationship that individuals with visual impairment and blindness have with their local environment; a truly inspirational instillation.
The day took attendees though a number of interesting and insightful topics of how to run Arts Award. Topics included:
- Arts Award Organisations partnerships with schools, where we looked how Arts award is delivered in a school setting with a Northumbria National Park and the National Glass Center Sunderland.
- Freelance Artists as Advisors, discovering how individual artists for a number of fields facilitate Arts Award in parallel to their practice.
- Building a Portfolio and Getting a Moderation, where we hear loads of top tips from practitioners and Arts Award Advisors.
- Overcoming Challenges, where we all got our hands duty with pens and posit notes and shared personal challenges that have been overcome in the facilitation of Arts Award and general FAQs from around the region.
- Finally Plan Your Arts Award, were we all had some time to plan our next Arts Award Project.
A lot of great information was crammed into 5 hours!
I was lucky enough to have a front row seat and a brilliant view of the panel throughout the day. All of the delegates had really valuable things to say. Ray Spenser, Executive Director for The Customs House, kicked off the conference with these kind words, 'Arts Award enhances what we do and is an extra tool we use. It is a great way for the young people to reflect on what they see and adds to what they are doing at school. Arts Award it not a chore but is an extra value'. I also caught up was Ray at lunch and he stated that it was great to have everyone share their experiences as things work much more coherently when everyone shares and not keeps information to themselves.
Lily Clifford, Junior Learning and Engagement Officer at the National Glass Centre Sunderland, told us all about her projects within schools and said that 'Arts Award and the Glass Center provides the making bit for schools and that within my organization if I see an opportunity try and link it to Arts Award'. We also heard all about projects from glass printing to making musical instruments out of Glass! Many Roberts, National Park Engagement Officer Northumberland Nation Park, told us all about her project making story books inspired from the National Park and views out side the school children windows. She stated that 'Arts Award is a fantastic engagement tool, with a piece of creative work as an outcome and it adds to the value to schoolwork'. Nicola Golightly, Co-director of Navigator North and Programme Leader at NICE (Next Steps In Creative Experience) Middlesbrough, stated that 'Arts Award sits alongside my creative practice, Artists as Advisors bring different elements and can be more creative within the projects and can be directly inspiring'.
Overall it was a phenomenal day, partly just to hear about all the fantastic projects the North East have been running but also how much of a sense of community the conference felt like. I came away with some Advisors top tips that I collected thought out the day and these are as follows:
- -When working in schools make sure you Advisor, Teacher and Freelancer Team really works together.
- -Agree responsibilities within the facilitator team and keep to them.
- -Do not loose log books or portfolios.
- -Make sure you have a printer onsite.
- -Make sure you have a camera for documentation.
- -When working in schools make a good connection with the leasing teacher.
- -As an Artists, share and use your skills to deliver the Arts Award.
- -Make sure you have a clear plan and budget for the project.
- -Keep the organization updated on what's happening whether visiting of working within it.
- -Let the Young People make their own Portfolio in their own creative way.
- -Don't be afraid of the moderation, they are really beneficial.
We ended the day with some really inspirational words from the delegates about Arts Award. 'You will never regret doing Arts Award even in the darkest days. It's for the Young Persons development not for the organization. Arts Award Tracks a Young Persons personal Journey.' Finally we heard from Hazel Stewart, Learning Manager Education Northumberland EOTAS (Other Than At Schools Service) and Arts Award Good Practice Mentor. She spoke about her truly inspirational work with Arts Award helping people with severe Mental Health problems back into mainstream schools or even just to leave the house to see and do some creative work. Hazel said that 'Arts Award is the best thing we can do; it is a mechanism for unlocking the potential in anyone. If your determined enough and planned enough and organised enough you can do it'. As Arts Award Advisors that what we aim to do. A brilliant day at the Customs House and we all got a free mug!