Every year the University of Cambridge Museums (UCM) run a 10 week bronze arts award project with a young parents group from local charity Romsey Mill. Our 2020 project had to finish early due to the first lockdown and our 2021 project had to be adapted and re-planned in a week, after the country moved from the tiered system to lockdown number 3.
What is an arts award?
An Arts Award is a range of unique nationally recognised qualifications that supports young people aged up to 25 to grow as artists and arts leaders, inspiring them to connect with and take part in the wider arts world through taking challenges in an art form. Learning staff across the UCM are very experienced in delivering all levels of arts award, but this is the first time in 14 years that I’ve ever had to deliver the award without young people in person, at a museum!
“With covid everything stopped, I had to give up my job. Having a group activity was great. I had goals and aims.”
How did we deliver the project?
Pre-Covid we had planned a project looking at inspirational women in the collections at the Sedgwick Museum, Fitzwilliam Museum and the Botanic Gardens but the third lockdown meant we had to plan a new project in a week and come up with a remote/virtual delivery offer. We were very conscious of taking into consideration the loss of the crèche facility that we normally offer, as we knew this would have a big impact on how the young parents could engage. Due to this we used several methods of communication and engagement;
- 3 x parcels through the post with artist quality materials complete activities linked to paintings from the Fitzwilliam Museum collections. With support from Nicola Wallis, we thought about activities for them to do with their children including sensory bags and children’s books that we linked to the paintings. But we always had an art activity just for the parents to do on their own.
- 3 x artist videos showing how to complete the activities
- 4 x arts award explanation videos about each section of the award.
- 1 session interviewing an artist about their career and progression routes.
- Set weekly zoom check in time with project lead and artist.
- Whatsapp communication and ongoing support with the project lead.
The young people worked from their homes over an 8 week period. Whatsapp has been invaluable as it’s a communication method the young women are familiar with, they can send photos of their work and can communicate quickly, which is easier as they are often looking after a young child by themselves. The evaluation shows that the participants found Whatsapp was the most effective way to communicate with the project. We also offered data boosts for any participants who needed them. I’ve found this ‘menu’ of communication methods has been really effective, it has felt inclusive and allowed a rapport to naturally build with the participants and we’ve been able to respond to individuals as they wish. For example one young person wanted to get a sense of how the artwork looked in the museum, so we then text them all 360-degree photos of Springtime by Monet in the gallery.
“I did a watercolour of the tree from the Claude Monet painting. I drew the tree with the wax resistant pencil then I added the colours over the top in layers to make the colours merge together”
What have we learnt?
We have learnt to adapt and be flexible with our delivery approaches. We have found offering a number of communication methods incredibly useful and helped us build a rapport with the young people. WhatsApp was a game changer for collecting arts award evidence and staying in touch with the young mums. Although we were able to successfully deliver the project, the museum and the interaction between the participants was missed. “Would have been nice to get inspiration from other group members.” When asked what they disliked most about the project “It wasn’t in person.” In future years, I will definitely continue to offer Whatsapp and Zoom support to any young people who want it.
- Engaged young people who were at risk of isolation
“It was nice to speak to you both. I’ve only spoken to my midwife and A in the last few months. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
- Encouraged creativity and supported young people to be artists.
“It’s helped me to try to do some art every day.”
- Created a chance for the young mums to involve their child in their arts award
[What was the best thing about the project?]“How it included my baby”
- Able to maintain our relationship with a local charity and deliver the project we had committed to running.
- Provided opportunities for the young people and their children to access paintings from the Fitzwilliam Museum and literature together.
“I found this book really inspiring especially now from a mother’s point of view, to use art and literature as effective way of teaching. I think Eric accomplished this so well by his colour choice, very bright and pigmented colours will hold a child’s attention and with the added sensory aspect with the punched holes is a brilliant idea. In my art activities I would love to incorporate all the sensory and educational uses to give my child a beautiful learning experience.”
- Improved the well-being of the young people involved
“It was nice to have a bit of ‘me’ time.”
- 3/5 of the young people achieved their Bronze arts award and one is “really excited to do silver.”