Artsmark Connects: exploring consortium working

31 October 2019

Our first ever Artsmark Connects event showcased an innovative model of artists working with schools. A New Direction Advocate Ben Jones tells us more

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How can arts organisations work with schools in a more sustainable and ambitious way? This was the question Bow Arts asked themselves before setting up the Poplar Partnership Consortium 5 years ago. The resulting partnership between Poplar schools and artists was celebrated in a publication launched at the first Artsmark Connects event at the Nunnery Gallery last month. This new series of events for both schools and the cultural sector aims to celebrate Artsmark schools and explore the issues surrounding creative and cultural learning through discussion and practical CPD. The event, hosted by Bow Arts, was the perfect start to this new series, giving A New Direction an opportunity to showcase an innovative model of artists working with schools that has evolved year on year to become a truly collaborative project.

Various speakers contributed to the event and spoke about the impact the consortium has had on themselves as practitioners and their settings.

Aidan Adams, a former education project manager at Bow Arts, spoke about his involvement in the project and how it developed each year. The consortium began life as a project including artist-led projects in each school, a CPD programme, regular meetings for art coordinators and an annual celebration event. As it developed, artist led projects became increasingly ambitious with particular themes emerging such as pupil voice. This coincided with a number of schools forming groups of cultural or arts ambassadors. The importance of the pupil’s voice is now a key focus in all aspects of the consortium from developing projects in schools to involvement in the celebration event.

Kerri Sellens from Lansbury Lawrence Primary School then discussed the impact that Artsmark has had on her school. She spoke about the award being a valuable process to identify areas for development in arts provision. Once she knew where she should focus her efforts, the school was able to significantly improve its arts offer and as a result achieve Artsmark Gold. The school re-registered soon after and are now halfway through their journey to another Artsmark Award, with collaborations with Bow Arts and Whitechapel Gallery forming a part of this.

I was the last speaker, and described the value of the consortium as a forum for sharing of ideas and collaborating. The regular meetings for art coordinators at each school began as opportunities to share information about the practicalities of the consortium. However, they quickly evolved into a means for each participant to share ideas, thoughts and good practice. For the last two years, the group has spent an away day exploring arts education in the widest sense with artists and teachers leading sessions. This shared understanding of the value of collaboration between schools, artists and arts organisations is what has made the consortium so successful. Both Kerri and I acknowledged how essential support from the senior leadership was to ensure this collaboration with Bow Arts was sustainable.

In the second part of the event, participants were invited to take part in a series of practical activities to engage with the artwork on display in the gallery’s current exhibition, Bow Open Show. The activities were selected from a resource I am developing that aims to support non-specialist teachers with quick and simple ideas that encourage children to engage with artwork through drawing, oracy, and writing.

The group began with an activity called 'back to back drawing'. Participants worked in pairs to select an artwork to use, and then sat back to back with one person viewing the artwork while the other faced away. The viewer explained what they could see to their partner who then drew the description in a simple sketchbook.

The second activity involved looking carefully at the artworks on display to select two or three shapes or outlines which could be cut out of coloured card. These 2D shapes were then joined together using a simple slotting technique to create 3D sculptures. Participants were then asked to place their sculpture on the floor of the gallery or to join theirs with another to create a collaborative piece that added to the exhibition.

Finally, the Bow Arts team introduced a 'gallery bingo’ activity which involved us looking around the gallery to see how the different artworks could act as provocations for different cross-curriculum or PSHE style activities. It was a dynamic approach to planning and led to some great ideas being shared over wine and canapes in the café afterwards.

Click here to find out more about Artsmark Connects and browse the other upcoming events.


Ben Jones is Creative Arts Lead at Mayflower Primary, and is also part of our Advocates programme.

Find out more about Ben