I was 10% braver today by presenting at the WomenEdLondon Conference. Here is my presentation:
‘Leading from the middle within the Arts – creating a Cultural Passport’
I first heard the phrase Cultural Passport from Professor David Woods, when he was talking about how he approaches and gets a feel for schools. From the first impressions of the foyer, to asking about a school’s DNA – their cultural passport. The phrase resonated as something I was well placed to lead within my own school, as an arts lead and cultural leader through A New Direction. And also, because it’s something I feel strongly about – every child’s entitlement to a creative and culturally rich education. And for many of the children I teach in Poplar, Tower Hamlets, school is the only opportunity for those experiences.
Coincidently, our school foyer actually has the advantage of having a huge tile mural by the artist Peggy Angus dominating it. A mural that spans two floors, which is a significant cultural reference from when the school was built as part of the Lansbury estate, for the Festival of Britain ‘Live Architecture’ exhibition. There is work by Angus throughout the school, and teaching the children the importance and history of our environment is part of our arts curriculum. From a creative cross-curricular viewpoint, working with what we have around us is both grounding and purposeful – relevant to children’s everyday experience.
Bow Arts recently commissioned a hanging sculpture by the artist Haidee Drew in a stairwell at the back of our school, adding a more contemporary piece alongside Angus. Can working alongside an art collection improve children’s well-being? Can a school grow and develop to include providing space for creative reflection? These are questions we are interested in exploring. Throughout the school, children’s work hangs alongside artist’s work creating an inclusive atmosphere of celebration and questioning.
Along with Bow Arts, we have developed relationships with other cultural organisations, and this has been a key part of our school development. We have appointed a dedicated school arts governor from Wigmore Hall, who we have had a brilliant two-year partnership with – hearing opera being sung echoing around school was definitely one of the highlights of last week.
We take full advantage of London’s Cultural Capital, knowing how fortunate we are to have so many leading galleries, museums, innovative exhibitions, architecture, design, theatre around us. Find those opportunities, make friends with like-minded people, build supportive networks and collaborate.
Embarking on the Artsmark journey can also help guide and provide focus, it encourages you to reflect on your cultural offer so far and structure how you are going to build upon what you already have.
Having creative professionals come in to school inspires children; not only to become an artist, actor or musician, but to learn about the wide range of careers a creative education can lead to. A recent project our yr6 children completed with the Whitechapel Gallery and architects, Matt + Fiona, enabled our children to meet, and learn from, not only architects, but a photographer, film maker, gallery curators and technicians too.
The Arts Council England’s recent diversity report, shows “significant” under-representation of people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, disabled people and – in some roles – women, in the organisations it funds. Over 92% of our children are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and we actively seek opportunities to engage them creatively and encourage ambition, to inspire the next generation within the creative industries.
Arts Council chair, Sir Nick Serota, said, “Our young diverse population is a national asset – a multitude of perspectives, ideas, talent and creativity.” As leaders, this is our platform to work from.
Leading from the place where aptitude meets personal passion will also inspire both the children and the adults you work with. Be in your ELEMENT, as Sir Ken Robinson says. Lead subjects you are good at and that you love; in my case that is art and design. Share your knowledge; lead in-school CPD, engage with your teacher training providers to ensure continuity. Involve your parents and your community. Blog and tweet about the impact your leadership is having.
Most of all, embrace the opportunity and responsibility a school has of filling the first few pages of that cultural passport, setting up a child for the rest of their life.