We have to fight to make art matter in our schools. This isn’t an ideal situation but it is the truth. Despite Ofsted’s recent research review into art in schools, which describes ‘a high-quality art education’, schools frequently aren’t given the time or the funding to make this happen easily. And why should it be hard? As well as well-trained art teachers, what art departments need is time and money.
I’ve recently had a third of my curriculum time taken away from me at KS3 (where students are aged between 11 – 14) at the same time as the publishing of the new Ofsted review. The irony of this is not lost on me. KS3 is a time when we are usually fulfilling (or exceeding) the national curriculum and giving students the skills and confidence to move forward to a more independent course of study when they choose GCSE.
Initially despondent, I’ve had to pick myself up and get back in the fight. I’m not willing to let art be side-lined and so have been thinking about how I can raise of the profile of art in my school and community, with students being at the heart of my thinking.
You will already be displaying art in your school, but how can you do this more and better? Make it your mission to get art everywhere. What spaces get a lot of traffic? Ideas might be:
A1 Frames. These make it a little bit faster to get work up around school. Aim to have permanent spots around your school where you can rotate artwork. If you don’t have any frames, is this a purchase that your parent association could fund for you? Or, could you have a fundraising event to raise the funds which in turn would highlight your art department to students and parents?
TVs. Lots of schools have TVs in various locations around the school. Wouldn’t it be great if they had scrolling pictures of your student’s artwork on them? This is especially useful if you work in a school where exam work has to be kept locked away and can’t be exhibited. You want your younger years to see the great work your older students create.
Tabletop Frames. I recently saw on Facebook a teacher who had displayed work in frames like the ones below. (I’ve tried to find the post, but can’t, so if it was you who did this please contact me so I can give you credit!) What a great way to display artwork, including little treasures often found in sketchbooks. I think the example I saw had photocopied pages from sketchbooks but the images looked successful in black and white. Where could you put frames like these? You can get these on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
If you are a department that already feels stretched and perhaps doesn’t have a technician, how can you make the above happen without killing yourself in the process? Select a group of keen young artists within your school and give them the responsibility. Many students enjoy and are talented at creating displays and framing work.
Ask your school librarian to create an ‘Art Book of the Month’ section in your library. This could be just one featured book where you can pre-select one for every month of the school year. Alternatively, it could be more of an art table where there is a theme e.g. illustration, movements, female artists, local artists, Christmas crafts, Design, Careers etc. This will be just another corner of the school where art is highlighted.
You already run art clubs, but how can you run more? Give older students the responsibility of running a club for you. Let them plan it as they may well think of something that really engages your students. I’ve found that young students really like being taught by older students. Or think of a club that is really easy for students to run like ‘Pointillism Club’. All you need are pictures, paper, pencils and pens.
Highlighting that opting for art leads to a plethora of fulfilling and lucrative careers is a great way to make art matter to your students. Many students only see art as leading to a fine art career.
In the USA: The Arts Careers Project lists lots of creative careers.
(I’ve been searching for an Australian art careers website. If you know of one, please get in touch.
Organise an assembly about art. This could be anything from ‘Why Art is Important’ to ‘Three Artworks that Have Changed the World’ or ‘Diverse Artists Who Have Rocked the Artworld’. Alternatively, you may write an assembly that responds to something topical. If you don’t like public speaking, task your older students to each write about an artwork that has influenced their work or each write about an artist that reflects their cultural heritage. It is a great way to make your art department high-profile within your school. Why not time this assembly just before your students choose their options so they see older students loving the subject?
Use some subliminal marketing for your subject by putting up posters around your school each month that highlights the importance and power of art. Of course, Bob and Roberta Smith’s ‘All Schools Should be Art Schools’ artwork is the first one that springs to mind. However, posters that highlight art and well-being, diversity, feminist icons, or creativity generally are all good. I’ve created a Pinterest board of ideal artwork to make this easy for you. Find it here. Don’t be tempted to use them all at once, eke them out over the year, so there is a changing display. (It’s your mission, you know it is.)
Collaborate with community centres: Schools can collaborate with community centres, such as libraries, train stations or church halls, to display student artwork in public spaces. This will give students an opportunity to showcase their work to a wider audience. This needn’t be much more work if you build it into your curriculum. For example, could a particular year group always complete a project at the start of the year that goes into your local library or is exhibited in an empty shop in your town?
Share Work on Social Media. This is a great way to highlight the great work your students are making and to raise the profile of art in your community. It is also an effective way to reward students. My students love it when I tell them I’ve shared their work on social media.
Nothing raises your art department profile like winning a competition. At these links you will find UK School Art Competitions, and US School art competitions. (If you know of an Australian list of youth art competitions, do let me know as I haven’t been able to find one!) Think of all the schools that don’t find time to enter these competitions. You’ve got to be in it to win it.
Should you win, pick up the phone and call your local paper. Or involve the person responsible for this in your school.
If you’ve had your curriculum time reduced, and with the new Ofsted research review in your paint-splattered hand, approach your senior leadership team and request/demand an off-timetable art day for a whole year group. I’ve been thinking about what a model for a day like this would look like. To be worthwhile, I would want it to give students the opportunity to be creative AND learn new skills that they can take forward. You would need a space where a whole year group could work and some funds to finance this, and ideally, a space to exhibit their creations to give students a sense of purpose.
I will be blogging about the model I have in mind, and variations of it, so watch this space.
Trips to galleries give students the opportunity to experience art first-hand. The colour, the texture, being able to get up close, the scale or the way an exhibition is curated can really bring art alive. This exposure can help spark an interest in art and inspire students to continue with their art education at a higher level in school.
Photograph students on the trip. Promote the experience on your school’s social media. Display photographs in school and get a student to write an article about it for the school magazine. Make art visible and make art matter!
If you have ideas for making art matter in school, please get in touch, I would be happy to update this article.
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