(Photograph: Simon Way)
It felt like a very special day was beginning as me and a few other colleagues from A New Direction were waiting to greet teachers and groups of pupils from the four London schools that took part in our 'Creative Industries Day' at the Barbican last Tuesday.
Set in the context of the CENTRES programme, a multi-country project co-funded by the European Commission and the British Council which aims to develop the teaching of entrepreneurial skills in schools, the event is part of a pilot project that gives pupils the opportunity and the necessary support to shape a creative idea that aims to make a difference while gaining a Social Entreprise Qualification on the way.
The aim of the day was to enable schools taking part in the project to meet professionals from the creative sector and get a taste of some of the key skills that are needed to make a creative enterprise successful.
In a context like the UK where the creative economy is thriving and accounts for some 8% of GDP and the arts are by far the most common background among young entrepreneurs an initiative like this felt well placed and also well timed, given the increasing relevance of the social enterprise model in the last decade.
For us at A New Direction, there is always something exciting about bringing the education and the creative sectors together through our events. Somehow, this feels even more powerful when young people are themselves the protagonists of the day and we watch them connect directly with creative professionals, learn, absorb and let their own ideas gain momentum.
The Keynote speakers
The day kicked off with Tori Flower, Creative Director at We Are What We Do, introducing pupils to the idea of an 'indirect' approach to promoting actions that make a difference.
Drawing on real examples of campaigns and products developed by We Are What We do, including the celebrity endorsed 'I am not a plastic bag' handbag, Tori showed how embedding big issues such as recycling, climate change and intergenerational dialogue into people's everyday actions and habits can be a powerful way of raising awareness, changing behaviour and – ultimately- create a better world.
Maria Lisogorskaya from Assemble, a London based architecture and design collective, talked about the importance of 'making friends' when developing a creative idea – that is, connecting with who is around us and gaining their support by taking them with us on the journey. This is key for an idea to gain momentum and to be successful.
But a day dedicated to supporting pupils in developing their own creative ideas wouldn't have been complete without an opportunity to roll their sleeves up and do some real thinking (or in most cases doing!) about what is needed to bring an idea to the next level.
Artist Thor McIntyre-Burnie took pupils through the process of creating a viral marketing campaign by using stop frame animation, a technique that involves creating the illusion of movement in an object by playing a series of frames in a continuous sequence.
The enthusiasm in the room was palpable as flip chart papers were handed out to create story boards that pupils were to produce and later on act out scene by scene under the vigilant eye of a video camera placed at the top of a tall ladder.
As work suits, plastic bags, wooden sticks and other unanimated objects were assembled to bring marketing messages to life, Thor, whose background is in fine art, explained that his studies didn't just teach him to be an artist in the traditional sense but also to develop a creative approach to solving problems and to think outside the box.
Echoing what Scott Noppe-Brandon recently pointed out at our The London Picture event, this was a reminder that imagination, creativity and – ultimately innovation- are at the basis of any business enterprise.
Under the guidance of Sarah Byrne from the Southbank Centre, they then moved on to focus on learning the principles of marketing and branding by reflecting on the idea of tailoring a product to a particular audience and getting to grips with creating their own brand of objects, from socks for men aged 40 to umbrellas for teenagers.
Kat Joyce, from physical theatre company Tangled Feet gave some top tips for managing events by focusing on the importance of devising a plan of action and creating a team that is ready to deliver it.
By reflecting on the What? Who? Where? When? and How? of their creative idea and by building a timeline of their actions to see them through to completion, young people had a real chance to practice some of the principles of project management.
The last reflections of the day
Perhaps one of the most memorable things that stood out as the sessions drew to an end was the ease with which throughout the day creative professionals managed to engage young people in a dialogue and in an interaction that went far beyond passing on useful practical skills.
Passion and belief in their own creative venture were feelings that permeated all of the sessions and to which pupils responded incredibly well.
Watching their reactions as Thor talked them through a selection of his stop frame animations for example –asking questions, debating on how a certain effect was created, answering other questions - it was clear that this and many of the other exchanges that happened during the day were not just about passing on knowledge but, perhaps just as importantly, about bringing young people closer to what it means to be a creative entrepreneur.