North and South, local and International, traditional and modern: The story of a Cultural Education Challenge partnership between Batley Girls School and The Tetley, Leeds

14th September 2019 - admin

The Tetley Gallery in Leeds is part of a range of exciting programmes. One such was the New North and South programme, working with artists and partners from the UK and South Asia. When the chance to develop a school’s project came about, Batley Girls School was the first in the queue. This case study examines the processes that led to a successful partnership project.

This case study looks at a partnership project between The Tetley Gallery, Leeds and Batley Girls School. The project enabled young people in Year 9 to work with a professional artist film-maker to create work to be exhibited in the gallery. The case study considers:

About the Partners

Batley Girls High School is a single sex school in the Kirklees town of Batley covering Key Stage Three and Four plus a Sixth Form. The school’s demographic is predominantly of South Asian background and young people are drawn from a variety of backgrounds including those with English as an Additional Language. The school has maintained its identity as a Visual Arts College, highlighting the centering of arts and culture to the curriculum and is currently in the process of attaining Artsmark status.

The Tetley is a large centre for contemporary art based in the former Tetley Brewery in Leeds. A fairly new addition to the cultural scene in West Yorkshire, The Tetley was opened as a gallery space in 2013 and since then has housed exhibitions, incubated artists and welcomed a range of schools and young people in through their learning programme.

Before the Project

The project which this case study takes as its jumping off point is the New North and South project. Developed as a partnership between arts organisations across the North of England and South Asia, this programme enabled creative exchange to take place between artists and arts organisations on an international level. This project was a co-commission by the Tetley and Karachi Bienniale in Pakistan, supported by Arts Council England and the British Council. In the case of this particular project, the New North and South programme enabled young people from Batley to work with a Rajnish Madaan to create work that contributed to the greater themes of the wider project.

Before this project, Batley Girls and The Tetley had not worked together beyond students visiting the gallery on a few teacher-led trips. The impetus for the start of the project came from the gallery who sent a call to local schools asking for groups to get involved in a piece of work that had been developed through New North and South. The key challenge for The Tetley at this point, was simply to get schools signed up to this programme. Taneesha Ahmed, Participation Producer at The Tetley was only recently in post at this time and was tasked with exploring and expanding upon the existing network of schools contacts held by the gallery making use of existing contacts, developing new ones via the Local Cultural Education Partnership and seeking ways of encouraging schools to get involved in The Tetley, and this project in particular. Fortunately, Batley Girls became the first name on the list.

For Batley, the attraction to this project was through providing their girls with the opportunity to work with a professional artist and the chance to develop transferable skills through an arts project. Although the arts are strong at the school, accessing professional visiting artists has been a challenge in recent years due to issues around both funding and time and capacity constraints. This project offered the chance to give the girls a different experience to what they were used to.

About the Project

The aims set out by New North South was to create a digital international project, and it was decided early on that this particular project would be best suited to being moving image-based where young people had the opportunity to work with a professional film-maker to create an animation piece exploring the theme of libraries. This was mainly in response to Madiha Aijaz’s exhibition These Silences Are All the Words ( 9 February – 22 April 2018) part of the New North South visual art programme at The Tetley, which explores the legacy of literature, language and public libraries in post colonial Pakistan. The Tetley worked with the Karachi Biennale to digitally connect ethnically and the religiously diverse cities, Karachi and Leeds exploring language and libraries and how we use them and what they might become in the future.  In total 135 schoolchildren visited the exhibition with the view that some of these school children from both secondary and primary schools would work closely with the artist to produce a final outcome ready for the showcase at the end of the year.

The artist was asked to explore the role of libraries in connecting people and communities and what the libraries of the future could look like, a theme that also ran through the wider partner project that took place with a group of young people in Pakistan. The Participation Producer, was keen to recruit an artist from a South Asian background to ensure there was a rich dialogue, that reflected both the context of the exhibition and connecting with communities. With this in mind, all partners was keen to specifically work with young people from South Asian backgrounds in this project to explore what the similarities and differences between the appreciation of books in different cultures may be. This enabled a connection and comparison with the findings that were drawn from the UK project and the companion piece in Pakistan. The key artistic aim for the project was to develop a piece of video work to be screened at an event showcasing the participation work at The Tetley at the close of the project. Year 8 pupils from Batley Girls’ High School created two short films weaving their own poetry and opinions into their work, whilst expanding on how a diverse society functions with many international influences.

In terms of non-artistic aims, for Batley Girls, the project connected with key objectives around literacy and oracy. The use of film-making was a tool that enabled the young people to share their opinions and develop their voices in a way that was not over-whelming or pressurised. The development of teamwork skills was also important for the school in enabling the girls to support one another and take on different roles in the creation of the film and take responsibility for a final product.

The young people who took part in the project were Year 9 girls who had chosen to study photography for their GCSE course starting

the following year, therefore the development of subject-specific skills that would support them in their qualification was also an important aspect.

 

Key Aims

Building a Schools offer through professional artist opportunities

The New North and South project enabled a unique opportunity to add value to the existing schools offer at The Tetley by bringing in a professional film-maker to work with a group of schools. The presence of the professional artist was undoubtedly one of the key focal and selling points for Batley Girls, demonstrating that there is an important value to be placed on the Gallery as the conduit for enabling schools to connect with professional artists.

Bringing in participants from a South Asian Background

One of the most important elements of the project from the point of view of the artist was to have young people involved who were from a South Asian background. The artist himself shares this heritage and the international link for the project was to a group of young people based in Pakistan who worked on the creation of a series of ‘pop-up’ library spaces. Batley Girls is a majority South Asian school and, although the arts are a strong presence, they still express issues around the parental view of the arts as a barrier to engagement.

Developing Literacy, Oracy and Teamwork

One of the key challenges and aims identified by Batley Girls was for the project to support their students to develop their literacy, oracy and teamwork skills and to be supported to better share their voices and opinions. In the process of creating the film, girls who would not normally speak up in class were happy to put themselves forward and be recorded sharing their thoughts and ideas. The girls were able to take leadership over the project and take ownership over the final product which led to their pride in what they had created. Lead teacher Karen Chambers has identified this as a key benefit to the project as the school have run team-based challenges through pastoral and curriculum systems previously but not specifically with an arts focus which seems to have been very successful.

 

Challenges

International Collaboration

The original aim for the project was to have time and space to collaborate with the Pakistani group digitally, however capacity wise this was a struggle. Primarily this was an issue connected to the time of working in the school term as opposed to the Pakistan group working in the school holidays. The issue of the different time zones between the UK and Pakistan also proved difficult to negotiate. In the end, although it was thought that perhaps some assets from the Pakistani project may also contribute to the UK film, the two projects were so different in their form and content that this would not have been possible. This helped to highlight the different values and issues that the groups had each foregrounded and any collaboration of the two pieces would have seemed forced.

Although there was mention of the International element to the schools, the lack of this did not impact on the project delivery or the positive energy that there was from the perspective of Batley Girls. The project as it stood provided what was asked for by Batley and the other schools involved and any additional elements may have disrupted the balance of the project and caused more time to have to be dedicated that could have proved more difficult.

Collaborators vs. Consumers

The nature of this project as one that had come about quickly, had a short time scale and had quite a set thematic approach from the outset meant that the relationship between The Tetley and the schools in the project, although positive, tread a careful line between consumer and collaborator. In hindsight, more time for collaboration and conversation with the teachers across all three schools involved would have perhaps led to deeper outcomes and for the schools to feel more ownership over the project. However, the highly skilled nature of the artist/ facilitator running the project meant that the Young People’s voices and needs were embedded into the project and the final product was reflective of their opinions and processes. This was particularly evident in the work around the future of libraries which was the theme that the young people picked up on as being the most interesting and attractive to them. Batley Girls were a successful partner due to the careful involvement of the teaching staff involved, their passion and interest in the project and their belief in the project and the artist’s ability to help shape the confidence and skills of their pupils. For Batley, the aims and outcomes of the project and its benefit to them were very clear from the outset, meaning that they were able to comfortably and confidently invest time and support.

Developing oracy and communication skills

The engagement work with the young people at Batley Girls proved a challenging and thought-provoking process for the artists and staff at The Tetley. Staff and senior leadership had really bought into the project and expressed a strong ethos around the value of the arts but this was the first time that the students had really had the chance to work with an outside professional artist. The artist observed that the young people struggled to express themselves and were not always comfortable with making their voices heard, particularly with adults. The artform of film proved both a struggle and a solution where this issue was concerned as, although some of the girls found hearing their own voices on the recording difficult, the anonymity provided by film and animation can be very important and freeing. Again, the skill of the artist despite the tight time schedules was to help facilitate the voice of the young people and make them feel comfortable in having those conversations as well as feeling the all-important ownership over the final product. Karen Chambers who led on the project from Batley expressed that the leadership that was shown by the students was one of the stand-out moments of the work for her.

The Future

The project closed with a final exhibition where young people and parents were invited to come and see their work exhibited in a professional setting in the gallery. This was not as well attended by the participants as the staff at both The Tetley and Batley Girls would have liked, demonstrating that there are still issues around the mobility of young people and families and the pre-conceptions of the Gallery space as one that is not familiar. However, Batley Girls have continued to engage with The Tetley. Taneesha has visited the school to run careers talks and presentations around skills and work opportunities in the arts to help to communicate to the young people that arts and culture are a valid prospect for jobs and careers.

Taneesha has expressed that the project has also helped to influence the way in which The Tetley works with schools into the future, particularly in terms of the themes that are selected and the importance of making the gallery space a more welcoming and familiar space, not just for the young people but for their families as well.

Batley Girls are now on their Artsmark journey and they are looking forward to taking advantage of more opportunities in the local area. Contacts and connections are key to making sure that the arts offer within the school remains a priority and of good quality so staff are keen to ensure that relationships are maintained with cultural organisations. Careers and future pathways are extremely important to helping young people and families from South Asian background in particular understand the value of the arts so talks and presentations from inspirational speakers who can help communicate this message are very important.

Quotations from Young People

“I enjoyed being able to create something as part of a team.”

“The most surprising thing I found out is that poetry can be very powerful.”

“The project was very inspirational.”

“The most surprising thing I found was how hard it is to actually make a film and get it perfect.”

“I enjoyed filming because I’ve never done it before.”

Credit: Photography by David Lindsay

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