Tuesday, 25 November 2008

She Pushed Me!

Two or three weeks ago, I got a request from a highly regarded CRFR project, Connect in Care network 'for staff involved in caring for older people wherever that care takes place'. They were wondering if I had any ideas for workshops or sessions which would encourage and enable staff to share their own 'good practice' stories. It turns out that in training and staff development sessions, if there is a shift in focus from weaknesses and failings to strengths and successes, participants often find it very difficult to 'sing their own praises'.

My email response (informed by clay workshops I'd been doing) reads:
Warm up: working in pairs, people can 'shake hands' with a bit of clay filling the hollow between the two palms. Each space is different and unique to those two people. (Idea courtesy of artist Kate Foster).
Sharing: In threes each person tells their story to the other two and between the three of them they work out a sculpture which reflects the story.
Quite rightly the team thought these ideas would be more suited to a new start up group, rather than the established group they had in mind, so we left it there.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and I'm sitting in a coffee shop with Caroline. We are hoping to get funding to run some creative sessions with a group of parents deemed 'high risk' to get their take on the policy and practice changes in Health Visiting. We were very productive on creating a good context and atmosphere for the sessions, but when Caroline said, 'but what will we do in the sessions?', I found myself falling back into clay warm ups.....'Mmm....any other materials apart from clay', Caroline prompted. 'Well yes, there's loads of materials we could use...they could split into threes and make sculptures and tell one another about their experiences.' 'Mmmm...I think people - all of us in difficult situations can feel really awkward talking...' Caroline pushed. I felt the push. 'Well we could work more physically', I warmed up. 'Physical is good,' prompted Caroline. 'Splitting into pairs one person takes the part of the health visitor, the other the part of the parent, and they position themselves the way the feel- and they could use simple props'. 
Then I thought of Kathy Wilkes, feminist, Glasgow based artist, short listed for the Turner prize this year, who makes installations using domestic furniture and tools - ironing boards, kitchen tables, buggies and mannequins to comment on her life. We can use Kathy and her work as inspiration. We were really warming up now. The months of conversation, research and collaboration are beginning to pay off. An artist, evidently thrives on relational work too!

Friday, 14 November 2008


There was theme of 'boys' on the go last week. First I attended a gathering of men who have been interviewed by Sarah Nelson. She is carrying out research on the care and support needs of male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. The report is due to be launched at a Voices of Male Survivors Conference in February. We had gathered to hear the key findings of Sarah's research so far, to get the men's response to those findings and to explore ways the men, as survivors, might feed into the conference. One of the ideas that came up was to produce posters that could be exhibited at the conference. Various ideas were discussed. One of the group is an artist and the others have good ideas, so I am looking forward to collaborating with them. Next step is to have a look at the venue to help inform the style and design of the posters.

Boys were also the theme of the adventure lunch last week in the refurbished Chrystal MacMillan Building - the new home of the School of Social and Political Science. The idea of the adventure lunch is to spotlight a contribution from each of the  different disciplines on selected themes, in this case boys. It was fascinating to hear these different perspectives on a subject close to my heart. Every artist who works with children and young people as part of their practice has at least one story to tell about 'problem' boys and 'art' experiences which reveal them in a completely different light.

It was particularly interesting to hear from Lesley McAra and Susan McVie of the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime
 They were focusing on serious offending and vulnerabilities. Their findings show that the most vulnerable and victimised boys aged 12 -13 are the ones most likely to go on to serious offending.

The Edinburgh Study findings also show that nurturing advocacy at the point of transition (age 12 - 13) is the most effective intervention, but that agencies are not good at identifying vulnerable boys. Since serious offending is very common among boys aged 15 (50% according to some figures) it begs the question that maybe all boys should have access to nurturing advocacy. Perhaps argued for along the same lines as for universal school meals.

The Edinburgh Study demonstrates to me the power of quantitative research to back up personal experience, although what was also evident was the passion and commitment of Lesley and Susan to use their figures to argue for different ways of seeing and responding. Chrystal MacMillan would have applauded.

Chrystal MacMillan

Friday, 7 November 2008

Last Week's Art Session

animation concentration

clay figure