106/365: future transport hub

We’ve been busy in the Atelier again today! To see the future “airport” in colour and to read the description, click on my Flickr link here.

Resident Artist at Ellergreen, Norris Green, Liverpool

Over the past 6 weeks, I have been lucky enough to work as resident artist with children at Ellergreen Nursery School in Norris Green, Liverpool, taking over the Activity Room to create mini-Atelier sessions with groups of children. The project responded to the theme of the 'garden area' within the nursery conservatory - a space which extends the indoor classroom to the outdoors (or vice versa). The project aimed to provide an insight into different materials, processes and working with an artist - for both staff and children, build confidence in verbal and non-verbal expressive languages, develop social skills and a bond between children working in smaller groups, while at the same time allowing the children to relax and have fun, outside of the typical classroom environment.

Each week, the project focused on different processes and themes as children explored a range of materials. Children's responses to different materials were observed and their interests informed the following sessions as they adapted to the new work space and way of working. Time was provided for children to adapt to new materials and it became clear that there was a core group of children who would request to turn up to the art studio each week with an expectation of what was to come. The session also extended to the outdoor play area which allowed children to interact with clay in a different way.  The project was well-timed before children finished the school term - some to prepare to move up to big school. Hopefully, they will take some of these small insights and experiences with them. 

 

Toddlers' Choice: Whitworth Collections Centre Exhibition

This summer I worked with families with young children in the Whitworth Atelier to find out what their preferences were to viewing artworks taken from the Whitworth's art collection. Having drawn up a longlist with EY Learning Coordinator Lucy Turner and curators Amy George and Frances Pritchard, sample images of wallpapers and textiles were presented on a wall in the atelier over a number of weeks, for participants to choose their favourites. Weekly activity in the atelier also corresponded with an identified visual theme for each group of images (such as linear, geometric patterns; monochrome patterns and silhouettes; fruit and floral patterns; lines, weaving and movement).

The artworks selected by participants are now on display in the Toddlers' Choice exhibition in the Whitworth's Collections Centre. It's really great as some lovely examples of the children's artworks made in the atelier this summer can be viewed alongside collection artworks in the exhibition. You can also view a short film about the process made by filmmaker Jess Wild from Wild Bees. Today we officially opened our exhibition with an Art Party (preview) in the 'atelier of tastes'.

To take a closer look at the toddlers' choices ,  you can access images, as catalogued by the Whitworth curators. You can also follow my new Diary of an Atelierista blog on tumblr for more information, under the username the-scribble-kid. Finally, here's a glimpse of the exhibition below.


Diary of an Atelierista

As if I haven't got enough to do, I have now decided to up my game and start a Tumblr blog as the-scribble-kid ! This blog should hopefully act as my online Diary of an Atelierista. So do pop over there from time to time and see what happens!

 

Walkabout in Reggio Emilia

Resident Gallery Atelierista

 

Working as an artist, creative practitioner and atelierista for different galleries, children's centres and schools across the North of England, I have often referred to the Reggio Emilia approach within both my research and also on a practical level for guidance and inspiration. The wealth and depth of documentation, publications, seminars and academic papers from the schools in Northern Italy have underlined its influence as an exemplary education model where theory is tightly woven into practice.

Since the Whitworth re-opened in spring, I have been developing and delivering the weekly Early Years Atelier . This has provided the opportunity to observe a dynamic atelier space in action each week. The atelier runs in the Clore Learning Studio every Monday as a free, drop-in space for children aged 0-5 years. The fundamental difference being of course that in contrast to the Reggio Emilia atelier, our atelier is situated in an art gallery with a flow of different participants of mixed ages, dropping in throughout the day, rather than it being a space inhabited by one small group within a nursery or pre-school classroom. It is perhaps more informal too, in that there is no teacher present. Operating within the context of learning and interpretation within a gallery environment, there are also no Early Years Foundation Stage learning objectives to be monitored and assessed, although that doesn't mean that we aren't achieving the learning goals.

Since opening, a range of materials and immersive spaces have been set up to form each atelier, inspired by key artworks and exhibits as starting points. Atelier themes have included black & white, natural materials, indoors-outdoors, geometric patterns and movement, light and dark, heavy and light. As the images below show, a range of materials have been used in both conventional and unconventional ways as children have brought their interests and imaginations to the space:

Reggio Emilia - impressions of a town

 

Having run the atelier for over six months, I decided it was time I visited the town of Reggio Emilia to research atelier spaces at the International Loris Malaguzzi Centre.  I was also keen to see whether there was something about the town of Reggio Emilia itself that reflected the work that was going on within the world-renowned schools. It is impossible to visit the schools without signing up to a paid research study trip, so this time I wanted to get a feel for Reggio Emilia as a place beyond the schools.

On a fast, cool train from Bologna, we arrived at an ultra-modern and rather deserted high speed rail station just outside the town of Reggio Emilia. The light and shadows cast by the extraordinary white beamed 'ceiling' above the platform were highly impressive and once in the main atrium below, each time a train passed over at high speed the building was filled with an immense burst of sound. Already our senses were alive in the sweltering heat! It was here at a vacant information desk that we also discovered that Reggio Children have created the Children's Park at Milan Expo 2015 , which runs until the 31st October.

Taking a bus into the town centre from the high speed station, Reggio Emilia felt like a typical, sleepy little Italian town with tree-lined stradas, useful for people to find shade under in the intense 37-40 degree heat. It was also clear that the recession has taken a bite even in a prosperous town like Reggio as, upon asking for directions from a friendly Nigerian man, we were told that many people were struggling with long-term unemployment as jobs in the town were hard to come by. This perhaps explained the number of men hanging around in the shade in the parks and outside the train stations at midday.

As with most hot countries, in the the afternoon, the town seemed to become completely deserted as the heat intensified. However, night time in Reggio was a different matter as the streets were filled with activity. A number of free, large-scale, outdoor, cultural events took over the piazzas in the centre as live musicians played in the street, DJs took their decks outside, ballet companies performed on temporary platform stages in the central square, and tango dancers and circus acts entertained the crowds. In one small square, some local women had brought out vintage toys and games for families to play with as children stayed up well past the average UK child's bedtime. It was also really impressive to see the huge crowds of unsupervised teenagers and young people welcomed in the street for the events. Here there was a sense of the whole town community (young and old) coming today as people set up fun, free, DIY, pop-up interventions.

 

The International Loris Malaguzzi Centre

 

After absorbing the tastes, sights, sounds and atmosphere of the town, we took a day to visit the Loris Malaguzzi Centre. Named after the visionary educator and founder of the Reggio Emilia approach, the centre showcases different aspects of the movement in a large, former Locatelli warehouse. It was well worth visiting the centre in mid-July as the building was virtually empty, so we were able to take in all the displays, images, videos and spaces in our own time. Perhaps the week earlier would have been a different matter though as the website had advertised a study visit and conference for educators.

Upon entering the building we bought a swift americano and biscotti to wake us up. The first stop was the Pause cafe - one of the designated areas of the Atelier of Tastes. A nice touch to this area was the open-ended materials placed in a small children's area in the corner of the cafe, giving a taster of the Remida creative recycling project. Here, different samples of materials, image flashcards and words in different languages provided an insight into the way Reggio have worked to create a local, creative, recycling, resource centre, receiving industrial waste materials which are then sent on to the local schools to be used as open-ended resources in the classroom and ateliers.

Moving into the exhibition display areas, long, detailled documentation boards charted the history of Reggio Emilia as a partisan town whose citizens bravely resisted fascism duing WWII. A long timeline charts the influence of this progressive, forward-thinking town, whose inhabitants wanted to insure that such atrocities would never happen again. This strong sentiment led to the decision to create the Reggio schools and the displays illustrate how the visionary education approach came to be. To mirror this progression, in another corridor, a rich documentation board describes the way children were consulted in the development of the current Children's Park at Milan Expo - which focuses on engaging children with the theme of sustainability through interactive, sensory exhibits, games and activities. The boards document the ways Reggio schools worked with young children to develop ideas and content for the Children's Park.

The main reason I visited the centre was to get an insight into the way Reggio set up their atelier spaces. Both the digital and light ateliers are really worth visiting as they are huge rooms set up to demonstrate the numerous ways children can encounter and question light, transparency, translucency, shadow, reflection, objects, images, landscapes, projections, film, colour, rainbows, refraction, etc. in thoughtful, aesthetically pleasing spaces. Provocations and open-ended questions line the walls alongside the exhibits, and for further insight into how the ateliers in the schools would work, a Reggio atelierista runs a paid guided tour for visitors. Unfortunately, taking photos in the centre was strictly forbidden, so I spent much time taking notes and watching extensive video footage of children in the Reggio schools, exploring the world of natural materials, pens, mark-making, etc. 

You would need at least a day (if not longer) to explore the Loris Malaguzzi centre as there is a lot to see and absorb, such is the nature of the approach. Hours passed quickly as we focused on the detailled displays, documentation and discourse. There is also a bookshop in the centre which sells all the publications which provide further extensive information to carry away. AND the Pause Atelier of Tastes restaurant is really worth a visit too, especially if you have a starving husband in tow. He was happy to return to the centre for Day 2, on the condition we return to the restaurant which is run by friendly, talkative chefs and seemed to be the place where all the Reggio staff spent their lunch hour - in true Italian style. 

Unfortunately, there were no children to be seen though, as it seems most were either out in town or on holiday. The centre is more for educators and professionals to meet up and learn more about the thinking behind the approach. Reggio Children had also taken over part of the subway underneath the railway lines nearby as further documentation showed how adults and children had illustrated bicycles through drawing, wire and bike parts - quite apt as numerous adults and children zipped past as I took photos, in the region of Emiliano Reggiano - known to be the most progressive, bicycle friendly region in Italy.

All in all, I definitely think a return visit to this town and region is on the cards again soon. Hopefully along with a trip to Milan before the end of October!


Flickr Upload: The Early Years Atelier at the Whitworth

A moment of focus amidst a buzz of activity in the Atelier.  Image courtesy of Karen Hewitt, 2015.

How many pictures do we take in a lifetime? Every Monday I take at least 20-50 images in the Early Years Atelier alone! You can see some of these images on the Whitworth's Flickr  photostream here.

The Early Years Atelier is a new concept in the Clore Learning Studio at the Whitworth. It runs every Monday from 10am-4pm and is a free, drop-in space for families and community groups with young children.

I have been developing and delivering the Atelier since the gallery opened this February 2015 and each week different materials and objects have been introduced as provocations for open-ended play, socialising, exploration of materials, expressive language development, conversations, role play, action, movement and positive interactions between participants.

At the time of writing we have had over 1500 visits to the Atelier - which is very exciting. I really hope that a wide range of people come to use the Atelier as a valuable community resource and space which they can return to again and again. To get a sense of some of the ways participants have encountered the space, click here. Activity in the Atelier is observed, documented and evaluated each week and respond to interests, ideas and interactions of all those who use it.

 

The Whitworth Way

Since the Whitworth Art Gallery's re-opening on February 14th, I have been tasked with managing an ambitious and fun-packed Early Years learning programme. This has kept me very busy as I have tested out the new Welly Walks guide with families and school groups out in Whitworth Park, woken up as an early bird to simultaneously set-up and run busy, weekly Toddler Art Club sessions x 2 and also the new Early Years Atelier which runs all day every Monday. 

It's my last week of covering the role of Early Years Learning Coordinator and I'm excited to be switching to the position of the Whitworth's resident Atelierista or studio artist as I immerse myself in fully exploring the possibilities and developments of the weekly 'atelier' space . However, before I start this role, I will set up one last sensory, gallery installation designed especially for small babies and their parents (in the form of Brass Baby and Art Baby - Music Baby) as musician and vocalist Nancy Elizabeth creates a melodic soundscape with her mini harp. It has been an absolute treat to take over a different gallery space each week. It has also been extremely useful to talk to the many mums/dads who have told me what a godsend the weekly sessions are, as they provide the perfect excuse to leave the house, spend some quality time with their little one, socialise with other children and adults and experience stimulating gallery environments and artworks.

The photos above give a snapshot of the numerous activities on offer each week and demonstrate how lucky Manchester residents are to have such a variety of free cultural institutions and weekly / monthly activities for all ages from birth onwards..