7 July 2014

Cloudmaker 2

At a recent Curious Minds conference for their Specialist Leaders in Culture Education (SLiCE) programme, I was given the opportunity to advocate for Cultural Education, and the difference it can make to young people, communities and schools. I wanted us to consider how young people advocate for Cultural Education in their everyday activities, and how we might meet them where they are, to raise the bar on Cultural Education and the difference it can make to young people, communities and schools.

At FACT, we are particularly interested in visual art, new media and creative technology.  Let’s consider how children are accessing these spaces before we get involved.

If we start at the beginning, the simple act of mark-making is a statement of intent.   Whether it’s a stick in the earth or a crayon on a wall, making a mark is a starting point for development, in imagination, creativity and physical growth. By making a mark our children can tell stories, express feelings and, more formally, make in roads towards writing. Children are natural producers of visual culture, so when we make an investment in them towards making new work of a high standard with artists, we can support their development as individuals and creators.

Moving that forward, our children are making marks in digital spaces left, right and centre. And they’re experts. On a recent project entitled Cloudmaker: Making Minecraft Real, we worked with partners to consider how we can use Minecraft as a basis for learning collaborative design. Working with artists and technologists, young people used their skills in Minecraft to work together design buildings and think about the construction of urban spaces. But what other learning could we enhance, by better understanding children’s interests and motivations? How can we better support their work as educators?

Similarly, this project made us think differently about how we worked with families.  Parents were initially cautious about this Minecraft thing. What were their children up to – blowing things up, fighting monsters and ‘getting griefed’? But through family learning, parents developed a new appreciation of the type of learning their children can access online.

Creating in the digital world gives us a new way of understanding community. In order to produce online we need to be skilled makers, but we also need to understand how to work with others. As a step in the design process, we provided young people with the opportunity to make and destroy at will – very quickly resulting in chaos and a completely overloaded server. Having been through this process, young people then understood the rules of the space, and were empowered to set parameters for understanding how to create something together effectively.

Moving forward, young people are also able to take experience in the digital world and use it as constructive tool that directly supports the communities with which they identify.  Over the last 18-months, for example, we’ve been working with young people and our partners to produce a new app ‘In Hand’ that aims to support young people’s wellbeing. These are young people learning from their cultural experiences, and applying them for the benefit of us all.

By committing to high quality cultural education, we have the opportunity to take the best that the arts has to offer, and meet children in the future that they are creating.