Arts Educators must aim high

Response to Helen Nicholson and Lyn Gardner's preview and review of Boy Child.

“True education flowers at the point when delight falls in love with responsibility”

How I welcome the challenge both Lyn Gardner and Helen Nicholson are throwing down to arts educators. We have to aim so high…to aim for delight, to aim for an aesthetic that is truthful – if it is truthful and there is integrity to the process – it will ring true to others and it will stay with those we have worked with. The many artists, teachers and children who have worked with Mark Storor over the years know this. They know also that it can be difficult, that there is little compromise, and it may not be possible for him or them to articulate what is happening – it is not so much that the learning is ‘secret’, but that we cannot interrupt the learning to break it down and identify its component parts. We can reflect on learning at a distance, but to be asked to identify it whilst it is happening, or even before it has happened is impossible. It is only with reflection over time, returning to memories, and buried meanings that the richness reveals itself. Pullman talks of responsibility – this is something that I have thought of constantly as a Producer. We have sought dozens of permissions, consents, assessed risk….., even sat before an 18 person strong NHS ethics committee – all completed before we could begin to describe what the work would be. But I don’t think Pullman means any of this – I suspect he is referring to the responsibility we bear to the ideas and to those we work with, children and adults, people who may have no frame of reference for innovative arts practice, who may think it weird, ‘a waste of money’, who pulled their children out because they didn’t want them to miss ‘literacy and numeracy’. There is no blame here – all parents know the pressure of the dominant culture of mechanistic achievement perpetuated daily by the media. But the vast majority held on, trusted that their children’s complete commitment was what counted, like the father, who, after an apple bobbing workshop at the School Christmas Fair admitted to the Head later that he had thought it a load of ‘tosh’. But he could not resist his 7 year old son’s huge engagement with the project, so he decided to wait and see. He is a man of few words and on Sunday as I was reading some of the audience feedback to the children on the coach home, he stopped me at the card which said: “Boychild is like nothing I’ve seen before. I am inspired.” and said that’s how he felt. The people who have never wavered at any point in this process have been the children and Mark, closely followed by a Head Teacher who write my research paper online is nothing short of extraordinary. For work of this kind to exist we need visionary artists like Mark Storor – and artists with collaboration in their bones, like Jules Maxwell, and of course we need funders who will support risk. But above all we need imagination and time and we need heads, teachers and others who are prepared to trust that the process of the experiment is as important as the outcome and who believe that children need magic in their lives. 

Related discussion on Lyn Gardner Blog July 2011