Emergent Strategies and Dandelions

Insights and reflections into the first Space for Change with the new cohort and what to expect next

3 October 2023

There was pure joy in the air at the first 2023-24 Space for Change session on Thursday 14 September 2023, as the new cohort joined together, full of fresh ideas and brimming with excitement to meet other like-minded people in the cultural sector at the Good Growth Hub.

The programme’s theme this year is Arts in Schools, the cohort will explore issues and address areas of priority for the creative learning sector using the recently published Calouste Gulbenkian The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future report as a call to action for the cultural sector.

Led by facilitator Sheryl Malcom, we learned a lot over the day about our focus for this year and about each other. The session began with a few creative icebreakers to introduce the new cohort. Participants were asked in advance to bring in an object that best described them, this revealed a mix of objects and accompanying stories - secateurs, a ceramic sheep, a mug and the list goes on! Impressively one person brought in their dad's copy of the original 1982 Arts in Schools report - which was quite fitting given the theme of this year to say the least!

The original 1982 Arts in Schools report
Original copy of Arts in Schools report Photo © Jalaikon

After a few more fun icebreakers, we moved on to an activity designed to make us focus on ourselves, our work, and why we do what we do. Taken from the TED Talk, ‘How to know your life purpose in 5 minutes’, the ‘My Who What Why’ activity asked us a series of questions: Who are you? What do you do? Who do you do it for? What do those people want or need? How do they change or transform as a result?

It was evident straight away that this exercise was a bit tricky, as it made us think outside of our bubble and think more profoundly about why we do what we do, and not only how our work makes other people feel; but how it makes us feel.

“We’re on a path and we’re not sure where we’re going – but it feels important.” - Space for Change 2023-24 Participant

This sparked a series of group discussions, asking how this could apply to the work we do in schools. We explored how we can best collaborate, how we can help each other and how we can shape change. Taking inspiration from Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by Adrienne Maree Brown – a consistent point of reference in this first session and for the future – we started to make sense of the chaos we found ourselves in and how we can share information in new and creative ways. Another short exercise asked us to write in our notebooks and explore how we respond to change in our own individual, unique, and chaotic ways.

Two people sitting on a bench outside in the sun, smiling and talking
Photo © Jalaikon

After a lovely lunch in the sun, we delved into the Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future report, watching a short introduction video featuring Pauline Tambling and Sally Bacon, co-authors of the report and A New Direction CEO Steve Moffitt.

“This report articulated the progress and many changes we have made since [the first report in] 1982. But also presents the challenges, failures in systems and structures, and the barriers that have created problems for the arts in schools. This report highlights the current state of play, together with suggestions for what needs to change.” – Steve Moffitt, A New Direction CEO

Published in March 2023, The Arts in Schools: Foundations for the Future reflects on policy developments over the four decades since ‘The Arts in Schools: Principles, practice and provision’, the influential 1982 Gulbenkian report. Foundations for the Future calls for creative subjects to be central to a rethink of England’s state education system, and recommends representation and relevance, allowing for empowerment of the teacher and the learner.

After learning and processing the recommendations of The Arts in Schools: Foundations of the Future report, we asked ourselves how and where we would like to share these recommendations. These recommendations, like dandelion seeds, need to be spread far and wide. So, where would we spread these dandelion seeds?

Two people sitting at a desk, smiling and talking
Photo © Jalaikon

There were so many ideas buzzing around the room on this sunny day and you could feel a sense of importance to what the cohort was starting to think and talk about. After a few more activities of talking to each other, sharing ideas and scattered moments of quiet contemplation and journaling, the session came to a gentle close. Sheryl asked everyone to share a word, or a sentence, that best described their experience of this first session. “Joy”, “Generative”, “Collaboration over competition”, to name a few.

After this first session, there was so much left to talk about and the general feeling around the room was that the cohort was just getting started. How do we take this new information, this shared feeling and start using it to shape change? How do we make it stick? It’s early days after all, and there’s still a lot of thinking, sharing, creating, and journaling to do – but as one member of the cohort so aptly put it, “We’ve got seeds to sow, not weeds to grow”.

You might also be interested in...