'What is Home?' Installation at the Avents Factory

Here are some lovely pictures taken of an installation space produced with young people from Crewe YMCA at the Avents Factory, Axis Centre, MMU Crewe last Saturday. Our installation responded to the question 'What is Home?' and took plenty of hard work to fill a large drama studio space at the Axis Centre.

The project aimed to invite people to participate in a workshop led by Crewe YMCA, asking participants to think about different aspects of 'home' and what it means to them.

Groups of up to 20 participants entered the workshop space and after the last workshop, we had just under two hours to turn the space into an installation complete with a film of the day by Mark Haig. The installation featured a 'shadow wall' entrance into our space, a comfy living room area complete with sound recordings, smells and people's memories, a 'dream couch' area filled with origami, a candle-lit washing line with life tips and advice, a large painting of people's ideas about where they see their future home, and a life-size shelter in which people had answered the question 'what is home?'

Despite the long days and sleepless nights thinking about what I needed to do and waking up early to write lists, I really enjoyed working on the project. I think we really managed to pull the installation together through good ideas and team work, even though we had very little time to get things done!

Here's a big, homely thank you to the young people, Chad Healey and Rachel Miller at Crewe YMCA for all their great ideas and hard work. Thanks also to Mark Haig for creating the film and making and manning a Punch & Judy set last minute! Also thanks to the technicians for helping us sort out the space and finally many thanks to Paul Hine for inviting me to be part of his Avents Factory.






'Catalyst' Teacher Training Event - Video Clip / Flickr Upload

Following my last post re. the 'Catalyst' Teacher Training Event at the Chinese Arts Centre (please see below), I have uploaded some pictures and a couple of short video clips on to my Flickr site. The pictures and vids show some of the activities the teachers participated in, both in the Chen Man exhibition and in the Jasmine Suite Studio downstairs at the Chinese Arts Centre.

The event was organised by the Prince's Foundation for Children and the Arts, as part of their Start Programme.

Please click on the link here to see more:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/michikofujii/sets/72157629271461558/



Pre-Raphaelite Experiment Project videos - currently being exhibited at Manchester Art Gallery

Just a quickie... To see the video for the Pre-Raphaelite Experiment project, worked on with Crumpsall Sure Start Children's Centre and Manasamitra, click here:


It's currently being exhibited in Gallery 6, First Floor of Manchester Art Gallery, along with other project work!


Also, please click on this link to see this lovely video of work carried out in the Far, Far Away story world / exhibition space during the summer:



Paper Worlds & Colourful, Musical Meadows - The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment

How do we engage very young children with collections of art in art galleries?

This was the question I have been attempting to answer, working on the Pre-Raphaelite experiment project with Ruth Edson and Manasamitra at Manchester Art Gallery.

Working with a very lively group of 0-2 year olds and their parents and carers, it was evident that the children were very keen to explore movement, space, sound and materials in the art gallery. This presented a challenge when visiting the Pre-Raphaelite Experiment gallery to see the four exhibited paintings, in particular, our selected painting 'The Hireling Shepherd' by William Holman-Hunt. We aimed to work with the children to develop a child-led story inspired by the painting, although it was clear that the children were keen to explore the rest of the spaces, running through the long walkways of the gallery, rather than spending a lot of time in front of the painting.

Dancer Shrikant worked on interpreting key elements from the painting into gestures and movement, dancing to music and drum rhythms. This was often introduced in the studio in a group circle before beginning a short journey upstairs up to the exhibition space to visit the painting each session. Here I would offer different paper props to bring a sensory element to movement, as the children could rip, scrunch, throw, blow and even smell scented paper as a way of bringing the painting to life as they moved.

Then the group would come back down to the studio to further explore my carefully created paper environment, incorporated with music and movement. This also included exploring shape and shadows through the inclusion of a thin, cloth projection screen and overhead projector.

Of course, we had to include wet materials and paint too, and this was a great way of combining mark-making with movement and music. It also provided inspiration for our performance of 'Dancing Through the Meadow' as the children began to associate colours and textures with landscapes and journeys, dipping our feet into the 'water' or 'pond', following 'train tracks' across the meadow, feeling the soft wool of the 'sheep' and looking for 'birds','fish' and 'flowers'.

It was really important to work with teacher Jenny who was able to identify what elements of the session would work, when making plans for the following week. The children needed to engage with songs and nursery rhymes that were familiar to them. This helped when Shrikant was encouraging the children to dance and move, as they were much more responsive to familiar music. It was useful to meet at the end of each session as a way of reflecting on children's activity and interests, which would then feed into the next session.

The 'Hireling Shepherd' provided the starting point and then the backdrop to creating a multi-sensory world of beats, smells, colour, paper textures, music, movement and giant mark-making meadows. A visit to the painting in the gallery each week reinforced the focus of activity, whilst the studio downstairs provided a safe space for creative exploration of different materials and art forms.

Coming soon: the 'Dancing Through the Meadow' project video!



The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment - Beginnings of a Visual Arts & Dance Project, Manchester Art Gallery

Playing with Paper

Playing with Paper

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been working alongside dancer Shrikant Subramaniam from the Yorkshire-based artist-led organisation Manasamitra, to develop and deliver a project at Manchester Art Gallery. Combining my passion for exploring, manipulating and playing with paper and Shrikant's exploration of dance, we aim to work with a group of young children (0-2 years) and their parents and carers, to develop and perform a visual story in response to a selected Pre-Raphaelite painting.

Currently showing at Manchester Art Gallery, The Pre-Raphaelite Experiment is an evolving exhibition project space, which aims to re-interpret key Pre-Raphaelite paintings from the gallery's permanent collection, through the eyes of Manchester residents. It seeks to question whether paintings such as William Holman Hunt's 'The Hireling Shepherd' (1851), James Collinson's 'Anwering the Emigrant's Letter' (1850),  John Everett Millais' 'Autumn Leaves' (1856) and Dante Gabriel Rosseti's 'Bower Meadow' (1850-72) are still relevant to today's audiences. It also attempts to focus on the radical spirit of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings and examine their concerns in relation to modern society, depicting landscapes and remaining true to nature. To visit the gallery page click here: http://www.manchestergalleries.org/the-collections/the-pre-raphaelite-experiment/

During our first meeting with the group of parents and children at Crumpsall Children's Centre, we introduced different visual art and movement activities. We also introduced the gallery and the Pre-Raphaelite paintings we would see through photographs and a short game. The following week the group visited the gallery for the first time and we were able to get a sense of their interests as they looked at different artworks. We were also able to gauge the young children's initial responses to the gallery spaces and artworks.

It was clear that Holman Hunt's 'The Hireling Shepherd' was a painting that the group found easiest to engage with, particularly as it is full of details and symbolism and was the most colourful and bright in the gallery space. The painting itself shows a young shepherd, perhaps hired help, who has abandoned his flock of sheep as he seems to flirt with a young maiden in a meadow. Perhaps he tells a superstitious tale, whilst holding a Death's-head moth close to the maiden. On one hand the young woman seems passive, on the other sceptical or suspicious. Meanwhile a lamb sits on her lap munching an apple, whilst the rest of the flock wander off into a corn field.

When stepping up close to the painting, we can see that Hunt wanted to idealise the English rural setting as the attention to details in nature are astonishing. Grass, plants, trees and flowers are painstakingly painted and the different animals (sheep, lambs, birds, insects) are as much part of the English countryside, as they are part of Hunt's symbolic criticism of the English church at that time. The scene itself seems rather chaotic and ambiguous as the sheep appear windswept and neglected and the relationship between the shepherd and the dishevelled maiden is unclear. What will the visiting group make of the story in the painting and how will this be interpreted by children of such a young age?

Shadows on the Run at The Bridgewater Hall

Urban Symphonies is a project led by Manchester Camerata at the Bridgewater Hall. Over the current season, Manchester Camerata worked with children and young people from across Greater Manchester to create an Urban Symphony inspired by the city's architecture. Different musicians and visual artists were asked to lead projects with local community groups, to create individual responses to the city's architecture.  The fifth and final movement used The Bridgewater Hall as its starting point, as each group was asked to respond to a different space within the Hall.

Working with a group of young people from Positive Moves, Irlam & Cadishead Youth Project and artist-teacher Jocelyn Arschavir, we created their response to the Undercroft – a dark and mysterious space hidden deep below the Bridgewater Hall auditorium.

Upon visiting the Undercroft, the group immediately noticed the contrast between this space and other parts of the building. The Undercroft provoked sensory and imaginary responses as the young people observed the contrast in light, sound, texture, temperature, surfaces and interiors to that of spaces upstairs. Thoughts of other worlds, science fiction, films, computer games and ghost stories were discussed and it was this rich imaginary response from the young people that we wanted to develop.

An Undercroft-inspired installation space was created back at the centre in Irlam, where the young people composed, performed and recorded their story. The aim was to playfully reveal a glimpse of imaginary stories and secrets from the hidden Undercroft space downstairs, as mischievous shadowy forms creep upstairs to capture the attention of visitors.

Photos were later printed onto acetate and exhibited in windows at the Bridgewater Hall. A silent movie created by the young people, called 'The Escapees', was also screened at the Hall as part of  a series of tours of the Final Movement 5 of Urban Symphonies.


Creative Partnerships - Staff Training Day

"How can we deliver a sustainable, creative, stimulating environment to enhance investigative play in the Foundation Stage and especially challenge more able children?" This was the rather long-winded enquiry question posed during a Creative Partnerships project at Athelstan Community Primary School, North Yorkshire.

Beginning with a staff training day, I worked with teachers, challenging them to question what the word 'creativity' meant to them. Questions posed to them were as follows:

  • Is creativity inherited and a natural talent/ability or is it something that is developed through interaction with others and different learning environments?
  • Does creativity come about through having more time, space, resources (money) and freedom? Or are we forced to be creative when time, space, resources are restricted?

Teachers were also asked to consider their own personal creativity. Furthermore, they were invited to think of examples where they may have restricted or encouraged creativity within the classroom.

We also spent time exploring materials, experimenting and considering the way open-ended approaches to so-called 'art'-related activities could also enrich and develop other areas of the Foundation Stage curriculum and beyond.

Interestingly, the staff seemed to enjoy having the chance to 'play' and also seemed keen to introduce new materials and processes with their children. Practice and experimentation tended to triumph over theory (through presentations related to other pedagogical approaches - I asked them to think about different learner styles and also introduced the Reggio Emilia approach as a key example).

It was really important to run this event before the project actually started. I was able to introduce the aims and intentions of this enquiry project, as well as the Creative Partnerships agenda in the current political climate - funding cuts! It would also prepare the teachers for a sense of what was to follow, enabling us to identify a collective plan of action and generally provide some food for thought before the project started.



Story Catching Project for Creativity Culture Education

As a way of celebrating continuing creative work with young children, I was asked to take part in the Story Catching project for Creativity Culture Education. Two recent Early Years projects were identified and a positive story or learning journey was captured in each, following the Story Catching framework. This involved identifying the main characters within each story, the setting, their mission and achievements.

Stories were captured for the monthly Mini Art Club I run at Manchester Art Gallery, and also for a positive learning journey of two boys - 'The Gunpowder Plot',  identified during the recent Midas Touch project for National Museums Liverpool in St Helens.

In both, time was given to capture images and sound recordings, interview participants, collate information and put together a story. The stories were originally designed to sit within two micro-sites designed by Rachael Kearney at Grassroots Creative. Unfortunately, time and web development restrictions on CCE's side, meant that it was sadly not possible to support the two beautiful micro-sites that were originally designed.... I am still hoping to find somewhere else to host these so watch this space!

In the mean time, content for the two stories can be viewed on the Creativity Culture Education website, although not as originally planned and created:

Mini Art Club at Manchester Art Gallery:  http://www.creativitycultureeducation.org/our-programmes/story-catching/mini-art-club,448,AR.html

The Gunpowder Plot at Midas Touch, St Helens: http://www.creativitycultureeducation.org/our-programmes/story-catching/gunpowder-plot-at-midas-touch,449,AR.html


You can also see the original microsites here by following these links:





For general information about Story Catching and to read one of the other 14 stories selected from across England go to: http://www.creativitycultureeducation.org/our-programmes/story-catching/