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Covid 19: Why the Arts?: Now more than ever

Christine Barling
Leader of Learning Arts, MYP Drama/DP Theatre teacher, DP Advisor
Sotogrande International School

 

Covid 19: Why the Arts? Now more than ever

 

Featured image by Banksy: Game Changer

 

I would like to share with you my thoughts about the place of the Arts within this current pandemic and why I believe that to be an Artist &/or part of an audience is more important than ever.

 

To understand

The Arts are life. Drama, Music, Film, Visual Arts, Dance; they all help us understand the world around us. Through these captured moments we learn more about ourselves and each other. They put life under the lens for us to explore and interpret. The world is FULL of drama right now and to stop and distil the whirl of news and social feeds for a moment allows us to reflect and consider. Through better understanding we can think about how we can best respond. Maybe we want to help bring about change, maybe we want to help support someone struggling or maybe we just need to find a way to get by and through this ourselves. These are challenging times and if we get lost in the stream of facts and stats then we will completely lose a sense of what is really happening and who we really are.

 

“Science helps us solve problems but the Arts is how we cope with them.” -Street artist David Zinn

 

Through the study of Verbatim Theatre M4 Drama students created monologues recreating a range of experiences of being in Covid 19 Lockdown.

 

The Lockdown Monologues performed by M4 Drama students (June 2020)

To be together

We all know how hard it has been being forced away from the people we love or care about. Many have found it very hard being in isolation with restrictions both on our movement and interactions with those around us. The Arts connect us together in a way like no other. Whether it is talking about a new series on Netflix, sitting together in the pre- show buzz of the auditorium or thrashing out power chords jamming as the guitarist in a band we take both solace and delight in having these experiences together. Best of all is when we can actually work together in creative collaboration. Creating a piece of artwork that can be shared with our own community or an even wider audience. This is a challenge with social distancing measures in place but with creative vision and a strong collaborative goal in mind we can break out of this restrictive confinement in a way that is still reaffirming, celebratory and still safe.

 

A great example is when the M3 Music students worked together to create this dynamic rhythm ensemble – Creating, collaboration, designing, performing, working to a schedule, and of course learning how musical notation works.

 

Drumming and beats performed & edited by M3 Music students (Oct 2020)

 

A highly impactful and pertinent exploration of what it can feel like to feel isolated and alone was developed through an M4 piece of film work. Many of us, during this difficult, time have felt strongly about not being allowed to be together. The Arts create an empathetic connection between the Artist and audience that makes us feel that in fact we are not alone and there are many life experiences that, in truth, we go through together.

 

I am not Alone: Music video by M4 Film student (April 2020)

TO LAUGH

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

Pablo Picasso

 

2000 years ago the Greek playwright and philosopher explained how an audience could experience catharsis or a kind of emotional purification through a performance experience. This is basically that feeling you get after you have had a tough day and then watch a movie that makes you cry or laugh and you feel a whole lot better afterwards. Stand up comedians are brilliant at doing this for us. They can turn the most horrific narrative on its head and have us in tears of laughter. Humans also have the ability to laugh at themselves and through this self mockery find not only emotional release but a fresh perspective through which to critically analyse a reality which at times is too intense and intent.

 

Our M2 students have been writing their own scripts inspired by “10 Ways to Escape a Zombie Apocalypse” by Don Zolidis. Creating satirical and ridiculously exaggerated scenes that mock the apocalyptic and dystopian narrative that they are currently having to live through during this pandemic.

With schooling on site shutting down and students in complete confinement they used their fully scripted scenes to write and perform satirical monologues focusing on one of the highly hyperbolic ´stories´ of a protagonist. This was also a great opportunity for some home spun creative explorations of  dramatic production elements.

 

Monologue by M2 Drama student (March 2020)

Monologue by M2 Drama student (March 2020)

 

The ability to laugh at ourselves is a unique and very human quality. This hilarious and touching parody of a dinner date is a gentle mockery of the vulnerability and need of us all.

 

The Dinner Date by M4 Film student (May 2020)

 

Amidst the stress of exam uncertainty, revising online, submitting final EA coursework the D2 Theatre ensemble took time out to create this gentle mockery of teachers and students learning virtually to share at their D2 graduation event.

 

Trailer for D2 Theatre Online Learning skit (June 2020)

TO ESCAPE

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Thomas Merton , No Man Is an Island

 

Time out. Time out on the pandemic, time out on the positive Covid counts, time out of the ´new norm´.  Enough already! Just a couple of hours in front of a movie, just half an hour to listen to a few tracks on Spotify, just an afternoon alone with a sketch pad and 2B pencil. The Arts transport us to an alternative reality where we can disconnect, realign and recharge.

 

In DP1 Music students discussed, If you could only take 3 tracks with you into Lockdown, which ones would they be and why? This was very thought-provoking as it raised all sorts of ideas about escapism and connecting with other moments in your life. One D1 Music student chose tracks by Ludovico Einaudi, Drake and Hang Massive. All tracks are very different in terms of genre and instrumentation.

 

Warmth of the Sun’s Rays by Hang Massive

 

During lockdown where students were not even allowed to step out of their front gate for nearly 3 months we invited students, parents and staff to submit their best 10 photos of the week to be shared and enjoyed with the community on social media platforms. In total over 1,000 photos were submitted where each and every one was beautifully evocative  in encapsulating a moment within this surreal very personal experience. Through these photos we gained an insight into how this artistic initiative encouraged the individual to step out of their more repressive mental and physical confinement. Escape was through a lens that focused the mind elsewhere and captured an alternative perspective of the reduced world around them, often celebrating the miniature of what they now had time to note: A view from a window, a flower in the garden, a family pet.

 

These are a selection of the winning photos, judged by our online visiting international professional photographers.

TO GIVE VOICE

Through the Arts we can choose to transform from passive spectators to the unravelling events to active participants on the stage of life. Knowing how to effectively voice an opinion and present an impactful message is increasingly vital in a society where the authentic voice is drowned out or even manipulated by the barrage of news and social feeds we get on a minute by minute basis. Never was truer a word said than “Don´t believe all you read in the (pandemic) papers.” It may all be ´good and true´ but we should be a questioning audience who can voice an opinion response to what we have been told. Through the Arts we ourselves gain a sense of audience and develop the ability to take ownership of how we ourselves want our own voices to be heard. Often this voice is not a personal one as we step into someone else’s shows to explore, interpret and present alternative perspectives and ethical viewpoints

 

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

Edgar Degas

 

In M3 Drama SIS students explored the work of Brazilain theatrical practitioner Augosto Boal and Forum Theatre to analyse their own assumptions and investigate the perspectives of those around them. These were then voiced in performance work that asked the audience to consider the impact of messages conveyed through social media.

Three step collaborative, visual exploration of Boal´s alternative narrative structure. Individuals drew on ubiquitous experiences – social distancing and mask wearing – to asynchronously formulate the story of a dog that is adopted and confused by a family voluntarily wearing muzzles. This led to a practical exploration and analysis of the different perspectives considered during the creative process (May 2020)

TO DISCOVER

….or even rediscover. Through the Arts we learn more about ourselves and the people around us. Through creative exploration we can develop and present shared experiences and narratives. Recognising or recalling moments that we have in common. Being taken on a journey of another person or travelling down a path of personal self discovery is life affirming and provides us with comfort in troubled times.

Our M1 Visual Arts students were asked to recall a moment of feeling loved. These moments were recreated using the soft and warm focus of Impressionist artistic technique. With some young (and older) people feeling unsafe and insecure, how validating to remember that we are loved and cared for.

Moments of Feeling Loved by M1 Visual Arts students (Oct 2020)

The artwork below is a by SIS DP2 Visual Arts student (March 2020) exploring the concept of how the artist can symbolise the constant liminality of identity and therefore symbolise how herself as a young girl is drifting into the unknown. The self discovery of your identity as you come of age and grow up. Representing this in a body of water helped convey fluidity of how identity is always changing and the path to self discovery is constantly in flow.

 

Floating into Abyss By Leonie Withoeft 

TO FIND JOY

You may have seen the latest viral trend. Doctors, students, firemen, famous pop artists…all recreating a South African Wedding choreography to the song Jerusalma. Someone asked me “ Why do you love this so much? What is the point of it?” That is EXACTLY why I love it so much. There is no point as such. In a world so meaningfully serious and ridden with viral anxiety, how wonderful to celebrate life in a way that is essentially meaningLESS and so joyful. The Arts remind us that there is light in the darkness of all this madness and reason. Reason enough is just reason for being. The joy of being here, now and in the moment.

 

All our M3 students joined together to recreate Jerusalema in a moment of pure, uncomplicated enjoyment.

Jerusalema Dance by M3 students (Sept 2020)

TO EXPRESS

Arts is all about expression. Self-expression, group expression, expression of the other. Artists take risks in exposing a truth that cannot or would not otherwise be seen or heard. A truth that often needs to be shared. The Arts are a highly impactful platform through which to communicate something essential about ourselves and/or the world around us. Through this expression, we can learn and grow and often bring about change for the better.

 

During Lockdown DP1 Music students were looking at atonal music and serialism. This music was developed by Arnold Schoenberg following a difficult period in his own life but it also gained popularity following WW1 as it was felt that it reflected the emotions of people at that time.

 

DP2 Music student composition using serialism and the twelve tone scale to express anxieties caused by Lockdown (Sept 2020)

 

 

´Leap of Faith´

Photograph by D2 SIS Visual Arts student (March 2020)

TO CHANGE

Good Art brings about change, even if only in the most infinitesimal amount. Good art changes the way we see the world and/or the ways in which we see ourselves. Good Art makes us want to bring about change. It prompts us to action for the better of ourselves or others. Arts can also be personally transformational and even more so if you are involved in the creative process itself. Making Art can make you more confident, more expressive, more knowing and more empathetic. Whilst many of us are coping with a loss of identity and a confusion of emotions as we wonder what kind of person we want to be throughout this time of crisis, Art can help us become the best versions of ourselves.

 

Afternoon written and performed by M3 Film student exploring the concept of relationships and making personal connections.

 

One Minute Movie by DP1 Film Student exploring how even the smallest of gestures can make a big difference for those struggling during this pandemic.

SO WHY THE ARTS?

I would like to ask all those data-driven, stern and apocalyptic voices out there “How can being an Artist NOT be vitally important given the way of the world at the moment?” “Who else is going to fill the huge void left if we slice out the soul of our society?”  As a teacher and parent, I believe more than ever before that we need to help our children find a way to source, access and become involved in some form of artistic outlet. I would like to ask YOU as an adult in this struggling world to do everything you can to help the next generation find their creative voice and encourage them to shout, dance, act, rap or blaze in a bold array of colours across this grasping world of ours.

 

When things seem to be falling apart around us we look to each other and we look to the Arts. It is now that we need to see, hear and feel the Arts more than ever.

 

The examples of linked work above have been created since the outbreak of Covid 19 by MYP1-DP2 Arts students at Sotogrande International School. Some of these were experiences created whilst all of our students were confined within their homes for 3 months and some are from when most were able to return to school, with some still joining the creative explorations as online students working virtually.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Christine Barling teaches MYP Drama and DP Theatre and is Leader of Learning for the Arts at Sotogrande International School, Spain.  Even in a non ´new-norm´ world, Christine is a staunch supporter of how the key skills taught through the Arts are absolutely essential in helping students become fully effective people and learners. Christine also is a strong believer in using the Arts as a platform for change and for better understanding the world around us. When returning to site after lockdown she started the term thinking we should just temporarily  ´move to bin´ Drama…considering all the restrictions of masks, distancing and limited movement.  Better to give the drama studio over to put out desks 1.5 metres apart for other subjects so desperately searching for more space? How wrong she now knows she was! As the term has unravelled it has become more apparent than ever how important the Arts are for the well being of our students. Every Arts teacher out there will testify that delivering an Arts lesson in Drama, Dance, Film, Visual Arts or Music is far from easy at the moment but even on the most difficult of days we all know deep down that does not mean it does not need to be done.

Museums and Teachers

Joe Nutt
Author and Educational Consultant

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Museums and Teachers

 

The recent appointment of Dr Douglas Gurr as Director of the Natural History Museum in London caught the attention of some news channels because of his unusual background. A senior executive at Amazon UK (he was President of Amazon China from 2014 to 2016) he worked as a partner at consultancy firm McKinsey, was Board Director at Asda-Walmart and the founder and CEO of internet start-up Blueheath. However stick-in-the-mud or rigid his colleagues may have been, I can’t imagine he had many dealings with fossils or stuffed Dodos in any of those jobs. His previous roles include teaching mathematics and computing at the University of Aarhus in Denmark and he has two degrees in Mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD in Computing from the University of Edinburgh. None of which seems to point to him being the kind of person any museum would regard as a key leader. In all fairness, he was Chair of the Board of the Science Museum from 2010 to 2014 too, but his appointment made me sit up and pay attention because of something I’ve written about before.

In my most recent book, I argued that English teaching is now dramatically out of synch with the real world of English usage, a world dominated by technology. As one of Eton’s own English teachers recently discovered, when one of his online lectures resulted in his dismissal; almost everything you do with English these days is mediated by the technology you use to do it. So I can completely see why The Natural History Museum might want someone with a strong technology background at the helm. But I wonder if anyone there, or indeed in the wider cultural heritage sector, has really thought through the umbilical link between the astonishing wealth of material they own and maintain on behalf of the nation, and education.

Over decades, my work has involved partnering on several projects with a number of leading museums, galleries and archives. I discovered that if you are tasked with implementing a new educational project reliant on technology, one thing you can guarantee is an interest from museums, galleries and other collections. Many of these organisations have annual targets to meet that involve schools and visits. They are all incentivised to get teachers and children through their doors. One major museum I worked with had a laboratory teaching space, sponsored by a famous global brand, which most schools would die for. It was empty most of the time. In fact, so concerned were they about how difficult it was to get schools through their doors, they had funded a white van and a man whose job was to go out to schools. A wise investment because most of his trips resulted in a return visit by the school, to the museum.

A member of the British Museum staff told me she found it exasperating that school visits were so tightly determined by the curriculum that their Egyptian galleries were crowded for example, while the rest of that vast museum, remained largely untrodden by tiny feet. It’s a depressing truth, but schools do not benefit as much from the immense treasures and resources owned by the cultural and heritage sector, as they should.

The Victorians who actually built the Natural History Museum and most of our great galleries and archives knew something of immense educational significance we’re at risk of forgetting. They grasped the educational value of a physical artefact. They knew that contemplating a fossil, an illuminated manuscript or even a stuffed Dodo was fundamentally an educational experience because, at the very least, it added to one’s knowledge. Their desire to collect and catalogue was extraordinary and, as any curator will tell you, what’s on display today is a minute fraction of what we possess. The material stored up in the sector is educationally priceless.

If you’re a teacher, think for a moment about the way you might put a lesson together. I know from my own experience that many of the best lessons I taught were so often simply a matter of choice. Innumerable lessons were constructed around a single or series of educational assets, which, because I was an English teacher, often meant texts or extracts from larger texts. Choose something dull and you only have yourself to blame. But English teaching also offers you enormous scope to use assets that enhance the texts and, to resort to what I hope is a forgivable cliché; bring them to life. Images of authors, places, scenes and facsimiles of original documents, all have tremendous power in the English classroom. Imagine you are teaching a tiny little poem like Tennyson’s The Eagle, for example, six of the most compact lines of verse in the English language.

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;

Close to the sun in lonely lands,

Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;

He watches from his mountain walls,

And like a thunderbolt, he falls.

Now imagine how much educational value is added by looking at an image of an Eagle, viewing a video clip, or simply an ornithological illustration; especially in an urban school. These asset choices are so often the key to good lessons because what matters, is the relationship you have with them. You choose them because they captivate or appeal to you. That’s what it means to own the lesson. Any teacher who has ever tried teaching someone else’s lesson will understand this immediately. I’ve no doubt the same basic principle about choice of asset is just as true of music, science or history, as it is of English teachers.

If I’m right, then there is indeed an umbilical connection between teaching and the entire cultural and heritage sector. Archives, galleries, museums are in essence, repositories of knowledge. If you think about conventional textbooks in a whole range of subjects, isn’t this partly what they do? The best textbooks are full of reproductions of these assets, often objects held in our most famous collections. Even science textbooks find invaluable material in these knowledge repositories. A slight sketch or illustration by Darwin is just as valuable as a Shakespeare Folio.

Many institutions have already digitised their collections and made them far more accessible and I’m sure the appointment of Dr Gurr by the Natural History Museum was partly in the hope that he might advance the technology cause even further. But I have a much more radical suggestion.

Why do we not actually educate our secondary school teachers in our great cultural institutions? Why not relocate the secondary teacher training industry, which is already under considerable scrutiny by government (in England at least) to the places where knowledge is stored?

Consider the message that would convey about the teaching profession to the wider population. Instead of being taught generic pedagogy and remote theory at a university, and then finding you have to completely relearn the job in real schools, as so many NQTs in recent years have claimed was their experience; teachers could be linked from the outset to prestigious institutions and organisations that own the educational assets which will form the centre of so many of their lessons to come.

We have become used to complaints from the museum and galleries sector about the shortage of funds. Would it really be impossible to transfer money and responsibility for teacher training to them, especially given that so much digitisation has already taken place and their assets are more easily located and shared than ever? The university sector is already bloated and being criticised widely for developing a wide range of courses the real world simply doesn’t value.

For far too long, schools have been unwitting victims of technology change, not beneficiaries. The history of technology in education has largely been one big con, repurposing tools designed entirely for business and pretending they have education value. It would be easy to compile a long list of tools and applications here that begins with Powerpoint. If appointing a technologist to lead The Natural History Museum is going to replay the same old con trick yet again, I’m definitely not interested. But if it’s going to make the treasures it holds in trust for all of us, more available and powerful, I’m all for it. Maybe the best way is for them all – to start training teachers.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Nutt is the author of several books about the poetry of Donne, Milton and Shakespeare and a collection of essays, The Point of Poetry. His most recent book, Teaching English for the Real World was published in May by John Catt.

He is an international educational consultant who spent almost 20 years teaching, unusually in schools ranging from the highly selective, private sector to challenging, inner-city state schools. The second half of his career has been in business and he has implemented a number of major educational projects including the national intranet for Scotland, Glow, which won the Global Learning Impact Award in 2009.