This August the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) were pleased to continue our partnership with Cambridgeshire County Council in offering a group of Looked After Children (young people, currently unable to be supported by their own families, who are in the Council’s care) the chance to complete a Bronze Arts Award in a week.

We were joined at the Fitzwilliam Museum by a fantastic group of young people aged 12-14, ready to take on the challenge we set them: to come up with a new logo for one of our Museums.

The aims of this project are to encourage the young people to feel welcome in our museum spaces and to enjoy their time spent in them; we also aim to give them the opportunity to respond creatively to our collections and to gain new knowledge about them. The project gives young people the chance to develop their critical thinking skills, to take ownership of their own learning and to gain confidence in collaborating with their peers, as well as museum professionals. The project also aligns with one of the Council’s key promises to the Looked After Children in their care: to support them to achieve their goals and reach their potential, in school, hobbies and interests.

The week started with receiving the brief to design a new logo and some time spent brainstorming what makes a really effective logo. The young people then had chance to explore not only the Fitzwilliam Museum, but also the Museum of Zoology and the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, where education staff Roz Wade and Nic Skipper kindly shared the highlights of their collections with the group. This gave the group chance to sketch objects in the collections for inspiration for their logos, as well as being able to write a review of a museum of their choice – a key element of the Bronze Arts Award.

On the second day of the week, our budding designers had to crack on with choosing their favourite museum they had visited and create a logo to represent the collection: no mean feat! The young people rose to the challenge and were ready to meet artist and printmaker extraordinaire, Ollie St. Clare Terry who helped the group to cut their designs into lino and print them. Designs ranged from a chisel to represent the Sedgwick Museum to a python skeleton to represent the Museum of Zoology, and managed to convey the Museums’ collections in a way that was simple, effective and instantly recognisable. While working with Ollie, the young people had the chance to interview him for one of the components of their Arts Award: finding out about an arts inspiration. They were fascinated to hear that Ollie’s printmaking has been used by designer Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection and by band Biffy Clyro for their tour posters.

As the week went on, the group learnt new art skills and shared them with each other to complete another important section of the Arts Award: they demonstrated strong communication skills in teaching each other how to do press-print foam printing and how to marble paper, although the latter proved a bit messy! We also found time to make short stop-motion animations which could be used in an advertising campaign by the Museums. We did this using the Stickbot app and everyone had a great time choosing the sound effects to accompany their animations.

The final day of the week was Kids in Museums’ Teen Digital Takeover day and the group were let loose on the UCM’s Twitter account for the day. They enjoyed tweeting about the activities they’d been doing throughout the week and were very excited when the Sedgwick Museum chose one of their logos as their profile picture. The week ended with the group setting up an exhibition of their work ready for a visit from their Arts Award moderator, who was very pleased to report that everyone had passed.

At the beginning and end of the week, the young people completed evaluation forms so that we could capture their responses to the project and track whether their attitudes had changed in the course of the week. All the young people agreed that the Arts Award project was inspiring, that they felt a strong sense of achievement after completing the Arts Award, and that they felt welcome at the Fitzwilliam Museum. We also found that overall the young people’s confidence in taking on challenging new tasks, as well as their confidence in identifying what they have done well and what they need to do to improve, had increased during the week. They commented on how they had enjoyed “learning new ways of art” and that they had gained “new skills“, with some young people remarking that their skills had improved during the project and expressing a desire to return to the Museums for more activities:

“It was all fun to do and I will be coming back to the Arts Awards”

“My art has got better”.

Many thanks to everyone who supported this project: to our partners at Cambridgeshire County Council, to education staff Roz Wade at the Museum of Zoology and Nic Skipper at the Sedgwick Museum, to artist Ollie St. Clare Terry, and to Rich White, the UCM’s Marketing and Communications Coordinator, for trusting us with the UCM Twitter account –we hope we did a good job!

But what’s next? We’re looking forward to continuing our work this audience and are in talks with our partners at Cambridgeshire County Council about how to make sure this project works best for the young people and their foster carers. We hope to programme activity spread out during the year, which would give the young people the chance to take part in regular activity throughout the year and to build up a relationship with the Museums and new confidence and skills over time.