Reggio and I

 

Young children, art and artworks: participants selecting their favourite artworks for an upcoming toddler-selected exhibition at the Whitworth this October

Over ten years ago, I was inspired by the world-renowned Reggio Emilia approach in my practice as a visual artist and creative practitioner. This came after a time of soul-searching when as a graduate artist, I had already travelled to and lived in both France and Brazil, having had the experience of teaching English to children and adults, which in turn widened my perspectives of language, different cultures and working and living abroad. Here I began to recognise the importance of 1) participating in cultural exchange within education, the field of art and beyond and also 2) developing my own approach to conversing with a multitude of (creative) languages beyond English grammar! Subsequently, after a bit of globe-trotting, I returned to Manchester in 2003 to practically engage this experience and consider how to meaningfully apply my art and creative practice beyond the studio walls.

I first came across the Reggio Emilia approach when I worked on a project as a 'collaborative' artist within 2 local children's centres as part of a city-wide partnership project initiated by Manchester Children's Services. Here, the Reggio approach was highlighted as the guiding inspiration for a practical way of working, in which the teacher (pedgogista) and artist-trained educator (atelierista) work in a reflexive, co-constructive relationship with children to form an emergent curriculum, situated within the environment of the school / community as a 'living organism' and 'third educator'. My role within the project was to develop the creative learning environment, which for me, is still a big, warm, fuzzy cloud of ideas, aesthetics, actions, relationships and happenings that I continue to observe, consider, develop, engage with and reflect upon in my work to this day.

Having the Reggio Emilia approach placed on the pedestal in this project, I quickly began to question how much of it could be taken from the context of northern Italy and applied to the very different landscape of the English Early Years Foundation stage and beyond. At this point too, the previous Labour government's flagship SureStart Children's Centres (1998 -2010) were positioned as one-stop shops for children and their adults in socially deprived, diverse communities - a world away, I thought, from the prosperous Italian town of Reggio Emilia and its private nurseries and schools. Now, much has changed since the days of SureStart and creative education in England is being sidelined and trivialised more and more within education policies of the current government - which makes it even more important to look further afield in order to question the value and importance of exemplary creative education approaches.

Being recognised as a 'creative practitioner', I often question what use it is to be creative in a time where being creative seems less on the (political, economical and educational) agenda. What did my own experiences of art and creative education teach me? What does it mean to be creative and what does this bring to our society and the wider world? How do I realistically enthuse others with this creativity in ways that are meaningful and useful? How do I convince others (of all ages) to give their creative side a go?

The different learning programmes and studios in galleries I work in across the north of England, currently embody at least some of the principles of the Reggio Emilia Approach - co-constructing ideas, interpretations, knowledge, skills, activities, happenings, exhibitions with different communities of participants (many of whom) return again and again. The rich anecdotes, comments, positive feedback, learning journeys and inspiring stories, all help to answer at least some of the bigger questions. Creating carefully considered, playful aesthetic environments which are enjoyed, observed, inhabited; bringing peace, tranquility, relaxation and joy are all well-documented and evaluated (as my blog hopefully partially testifies).

It is, a privileged position to be able to work in such a way to engage others on this quest for creative, co-construction and so to remain creative, one needs to look beyond oneself and constantly formulate ideas and create connections with others in the wider world. For this reason, currently working in one of my roles as Atelierista developing the Whitworth's own version of the Early Years Atelier, I have been thinking that it is high time I pay a visit to the town of Reggio Emilia. An official Reggio research study trip would be ideal. However, I feel it would perhaps be equally useful to visit and get an overall sense of the town of Reggio Emilia while paying a trip to the International Loris Malaguzzi Centre

Watch this space to see how it goes...!

 

Footnote:

Words sometimes connected to creativity: abstract, alternative thinking patterns, art, artistic, childish, complex, concentration, courage, curious, design, destruction, drama, divergent, endurance, energy, enthusiasm, expression, fantasy, flexible, flow, ideas, imagination, impression, innovation, insight, inspiration, intelligence, interpretation, intuition, language, lateral thinking, left-brained, magic, mindful, misunderstood, music, naive, open, passionate, playful, perseverance, perspective, poetry, questioning, rebellious, richness, sensitive, theatre, values, vision, wisdom